I wonder if a country as a whole can have intelligence. And if so, can that intelligence be increased?

I'm not talking about average test scores in schools, or average IQ levels. Those things are important, but they are only part of the picture. I'm talking about how effectively a nation as a whole can make decisions and navigate its position in the world. For example, China has a political system that seems to produce intelligent decisions. You might criticize China's leadership for being heartless and brutal, but that's a separate discussion. If you consider how effectively they pursue their country's interests, their national intelligence seems quite high.

The United States, on the other hand, produces laws and foreign policy that don't always seem to be the result of intelligence or even good intentions. Our actions are a weird stew of religion, politics and randomness. A sentence you never hear in America is "I wonder what the smart people think we should do."

I was thinking about National Intelligence (NQ) in relation to the debate on health care. It seems that most American voters have a strong opinion on the topic while perhaps 1% of the public fully understand the issue. So whose job is it to educate voters?

It certainly isn't the government's job to educate voters. Our system is designed to make candidates compete for votes, and the most effective way to compete is by appealing to emotion and ignorance. The last thing a politician wants is to be labeled professorial. That's the same as boring.

It's not the job of news organizations to educate voters either. The point of the news is to inform citizens of what is new and noteworthy. It wouldn't be practical for the press to do a complete history and context for every news item.

In our system, citizens are expected to self-educate. That probably made sense when issues were simpler. But in today's world, that would be like expecting people to become doctors and lawyers just by doing some reading in their free time. It's unrealistic.

Our only real hope is the Internet. Recently I stumbled across a site -- http://Diffen.com -- that allows users to create their own comparisons of any two things. It's generally used for simple comparisons such as the differences between two models of cell phones. But I was struck by the power of putting information in a handy grid so you can compare things line by line. It's a great way to simplify complicated issues.

Diffen.com probably isn't the answer for educating voters, but it makes me optimistic that a solution is possible. The problem, as I see it, is that there isn't any profit in educating the public, so private industry is unlikely to wade in. That leaves us with the government, and the government isn't equipped to educate voters because we expect leaders to be opinionated, not objective. It's never a good idea to trust the cat to guard the canary.

So I put the question to you, my brilliant readers. Suppose you start with a website funded by private donations from a variety of citizens, with a mandate to operate independently, and your task is to find a way to populate the site with unbiased and useful information on public policy. What system could you devise to guarantee that the information is unbiased and, importantly, it appears that way to all observers?

I will seed this discussion by suggesting that the Diffen.com model of a customizable, side-by-side comparison is a good start for most topics. But you also need a way to rank the importance of each dimension of the discussion. And you need an easy way to view dissenting opinions on each "fact" in the matrix.

The genius of capitalism and democracy is that both systems embrace the destructive forces of competition and self-interest and channel them in a positive direction. Something similar needs to be done with information. What we need is a Founding Father or Mother who can find a way for arguments and information to compete in a way that kills the weak ideas and leaves only the strong.

Any ideas?

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Jul 3, 2012
1. For starters, The Website can begin by nailing lies, falsehoods, FUD, and misinformation on any issue. Tally the total untruths on each side. This way, at least you know who the are the bigger bullsh*tters.

2. Anything that has not been researched, peer reviewed, and published is deemed to be an 'untrue' statement (a.k.a. opinion, lie, falsehood, FUD....)

3. Grade each side of the issue (and there may be more than two) as "% crap". So if a statement has 10 sentences (or paragraphs or bullet points), and 7 of them are false, that statement is 70% crap.

I can already see the holes in this method, but it would be a good start. Once people understand how much is uninformed junk, they are more likely to begin thinking about issues.
Jul 3, 2012
Most people don't want to be rational because most people don't like to think... it hurts their heads.
So instead they just pick a side in a "my side is good and awesome, your side is wrong and the root of all my problems" view of the world.

So even if you find a Dr. Spock to fill the website with unbiased analysis, most people will just keep doing what they do today, i.e. agreeing when the website demonstrate that their side is right and disagreeing when their side is wrong.
That's why Fox news and MSNBC are so popular, they only say stuff their viewers (that already have a side) agree with (by being completely partial).

The only problem with the current system is it has no moron filter.
Unrestricted, universal, unweighted voting will produce bad decisions over and over again.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 2, 2012
"For example, China has a political system that seems to produce intelligent decisions."

Really Scott? China's political system has produced the worlds largest system of corruption, you can not do anything in China without paying someone off. Your mother is sick and needs to go to the hospital? Pay a bribe. Take a look at this article: http://www.npr.org/2012/06/29/155773618/a-portrait-of-chinese-corruption-in-rosy-pink
Jul 2, 2012
You're equating two things that are not the same: IQ and knowledge. If the real question was, "What would the smart people do?" (I can see a new item at the Dilbert store: a wristband with the letters "WWSPD"), then we should assemble panels of Mensans and turn over all of our national decisions to them. But that's not the question. Intelligence does not equal knowledge.

Book knowledge is not enough, either. If it were, we should just get a bunch of academics together and turn over all our national decisions to tenured professors. But that's not a good idea, either. Academics tend to live in a fictional world of their own making, and often ignore the real-world principle that not all people in all countries act with the same motives as them.

Your premise is also flawed. You hold up China's totalitarian government as a good thing, while deriding ours. If they're (the Chinese leadership) so great, then why aren't you living there? Making good decisions when you are acting in your country's national interest is pretty simple if that's your only goal. We don't do that. If our foreign policy decisions seem sometimes disjointed, it's because we rarely work in our strict national interest. Which China always does.

Others have said in this post that making unbiased statements is difficult if not impossible. I agree. I further think that elitist snobs ignore life experience and thus tend to downgrade the opinions of ordinary Americans. Those who are the ones who are most affected by Washington decisions are being told by some that they're just not smart enough to make good decisions; decisions about what they should eat, or how much water should be put in their toilets. Decisions about how much salt to put on their food, or if they should have the ability to object to a massive government debt.

Education is the key; but when education is biased, as it is in our government-run schools, it's up to the people to get alternate sources. No one is going to tell them this, but the information is all our there. One just has to 1) know it's there, and 2) take the time to search it out.

Sure, the information will be biased, but that's what differing opinions will always have. Trying to do otherwise is trying to pretend that opinion equates to fact. Take Global Warming, for example. It's called a theory for a reason, yet its proponents have lifted their belief in it to an almost religious zealotry. How do you present facts to people who have already made up their mind?

I think the best model is the FOX News model: bring out strong proponents for both sides and let them duke it out. That in itself won't convince anyone, but it at least puts the differing views out there so people can follow up on their own.

That's far better, IMHO, than trying to build a web site that pretends it is giving plain, unvarnished truth, when what they're really presenting is watered-down opinion.
+17 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 2, 2012
I have no idea how to solve the problem, but I do have a caution: Remember that not all issues have only two sides to choose from. Make sure any approach works for non-binary choices.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 2, 2012

I believe, informed involvement of voters will not change the nature of politics. Elections may be won by managing information, but real politics is about managing wisdom. It sounds a bit naive to me that human politics can be simplified like electronic logic gates of a micro-chip. I don't think politics runs on engineered algorithms like business models.

Political outfits, like those in the US or China, are designed to operate an organized society. A career politician fits into any idealism that can keep that machinery running. No matter what position the voters take on issues raised for elections, the political status-quo always wins.

Money too has become a commodity in the US and China - its the fuel that runs your social engine.

I don't count homogenous ethnic societies in this scenario. Those communities function on a platform which is quite distanced from political economics, both at home and in the market places.

Jul 2, 2012
news and events are meaningless without a world view prism.

a discussion has many aspects, and every person is operating with a different prism.

reminds me of matrix math.

seems to me a discussion of a topic, without continuous analysis of worldview interpretations is meaningless.

ppl never get to core reasons dems think they do, and repubs think way they do. imo its all about emotional judgment calls. freedom vs kindness, freedom vs security. but ppl are arguing logical points (or emotional points) instead.

that core stuff is opinion. until you work out value assessment differences and establish a workable bridge then 2 competing ideologies will have a rough time talking about a complex issue.

as best i can tell, repubs arent so worried about freedom when it comes to security, and dems arent too worried about freedom when it comes to being nice/compassionate.

each side wants to appeal to principle of liberty when it suits them. isnt that the highest value for this nation? thats what i was lead to believe by history class and own interpretation of constitution/declaration.

i dont mind liberals prefering forced compassion over economic liberty for individual, but i think they ought to realize it and own up to it. the mandate in healthcare is forced tech biting a chunk out of economic liberty. its totally lose-lose.

its only when you assume they will incur costs on rest of society that dems start calling them freeloaders. they transition from compassion to ill will. over a group they want to control.
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 2, 2012
Ideas? No. Comment? Yes.

First, it remains to be seen if China's NQ is any higher than the average country (or the U.S.), because what they are doing to their environment is far worse than what they are doing to their people. We should wait for another 50 years to pass judgement.

Second, Scandinavian countries (Island, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland) have the highest NQ, in my opinion.

Third, I think educating the voters will be extra hard since (as you said it) almost no one can read anything longer than a paragraph or a tweeter line. But then, there is always Wikipedia...
+20 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 2, 2012
Isn't this the Wikipedia model? I just donated $20 so they wouldn't require corporate sponsorship and could remain free from bias.
Jul 2, 2012
Unbiased is impossible. Best you can hope for is equal presentations of both biases while keeping out the venomous name calling of the two sides against each other.
+15 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 2, 2012
People who are smart and want unbiased information realize that all advertising in all forms comes from a group of professional liars, commonly called marketers, whose job it is to drive the sales of a product whether or not it is the best product of its kind or the best value for your dollar.

People who are smart and want unbiased information realize that the only way to get data based comparison of products and therefore the best value for your dollar is from Consumer Reports, an organization that refuses to host advertisements because of the bias it creates. CR therefore relies entirely on subscription and donation for its budget.

According to the source of all truth (Wikipedia) Consumer Reports only has 7 million subscribers.

Therefore, only about 2 percent of the US population is smart and wants unbiased information.

The rest of us seem to be OK with making decisions based on lies and misinformation.
Jul 2, 2012
First thing I would do is teach people how to come up with abbreviations. NQ for National Intelligence? At least make it NIQ for National Intelligence Quotient...

Yeah, I know. Pissy comment about format, not substance. Just what you were looking for, eh?
Jul 2, 2012
"...If you consider how effectively they pursue their country's interests, their (China's) national intelligence seems quite high."

Not sure 'intelligence' is the correct word. Perhaps "exploitative effectiveness" is more the phrase you are looking for.
Jul 2, 2012
Basically you seem to be looking for a Consumer Reports website for political choices. California voters guides already have a section where proponents and opposition views are summarized for each proposal (something I find useful), so where is lacking is more of a neutral evaluation. I already pay for a subscription to ConsumerReports.org - I'd be willing to pay a few bucks more a year for a team of evaluators to provide input. For most decisions you'd need evaluations regarding the social and financial impact to a specific group targeted by the law (smokers, kids in school, retirees, etc.) as well as those outside that group. I'd particularly be interested in any historical information that could be provided in similar laws that had been passed either here or elsewhere. For example, what is the estimated tipping point where taxing cigarettes stops reducing smoking and significantly increased illegal cigarette trafficing and sales?
Jul 2, 2012
Scott said: A sentence you never hear in America is "I wonder what the smart people think we should do."

If graduating from an Ivy League school would define someone as smart, then both Bush and Obama would qualify as smart. Considering one half the country hates one and the other half hates the other, it stands to reason that that phrase will never be used.

Scott Said: "It's not the job of news organizations to educate voters either. The point of the news is to inform citizens of what is new and noteworthy. It wouldn't be practical for the press to do a complete history and context for every news item."

I find this ironic because chief dumb a** Roberts changed his opinion because he was watching the (leftist) news every night and was worried more about what an overturn would do to the economy than whether or not the constitution allows the government to tax people for not eating meat, not buying guns, or not smoking. So here is a case (good or bad depending on your point of veiw) of the news informing a voter. If you liked the decision, then think of Fox news.

The real irony in that decision is the moderate of the court, Kennedy, was the one trying hardest to get Roberts to switch back. I mean if the 3 conservatives and the moderate could agree on something...

Scott said: "So I put the question to you, my brilliant readers. Suppose you start with a website funded by private donations from a variety of citizens, with a mandate to operate independently, and your task is to find a way to populate the site with unbiased and useful information on public policy. What system could you devise to guarantee that the information is unbiased and, importantly, it appears that way to all observers?"

No such system will ever exist IMO. You can fake unbiased, but you'll never really be unbiased. Generally the money trail of who your donors are will determine how you are biased.

If you wanted the real deal... I don't know what you'd do. I'm trying to think of something but nothing is coming to mind. I mean you've got two problems: the people doing the comparison might be baised and their sources of information might be biased. You'd have to eliminate uncertanty and dishonesty from both. Going back to the Roberts thing, you'd also have to eliminate outside pressures trying to bais you one way or the other. I don't see that happening.

Jul 2, 2012
Another key element you have to consider is highlighting the assumptions each side makes to make his/her point. Skillful politicians can play with numbers to make them align with their ideology. Highlight those assumptions - point them out. And if those assumptions have a significant impact on the "answer" or "solution", then host a debate on those assumptions.
Jul 2, 2012
Not that I think it is the answer, but a Quora-like system would be an interesting element to include in the solution as a way to generate the data. But right now, Quora gives everybody an equal vote on voting up answers. I think it may be better to have a weighted voting system, where answers/votes by experts in the field rise to the top faster than Joe Schmo who thinks he is a constitutional scholar.
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 2, 2012
How about this (note, this is just the site design, not the financing...):
A moderator creates an "issue page," for any issue that people are debating, e.g. Obamacare. Then anyone is allowed to post one "fact," about the issue, with a very short limit on characters to keep it at about one sentence (say 80 characters). Anyone who comes to the site can vote up any facts they agree with, but you are only allowed to vote up 2 facts on one side of the issue until you vote up a fact on the opposite side. Not only will the best facts float to the top, but the balance of votes will gradually not only show the concensus opinion, but also the most important parts of both sides, which gives room for compromise. For instance, the mandate might be slammed in a Obamacare discussion, while not allowing denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions would be rated very highly.
The danger is that folks might put "facts," on a side of the issue that are actually arguing the other side, for instance "The mandate makes insurance companies more profitable on the backs of healthy young workers." as a pro-obamacare argument. The solution is to have moderators looking for those, and deleting them. If such a comment is deleted, not only does it go away, but everyone who voted for it has less "credit," to post arguments on the other side, which may make their votes on the other side go away. This would discourage people from voting for such snark facts...
+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 2, 2012
I think the biggest issue with a Diffen comparison would be the fine line between "fact" and "opinion". For example, take an issue like abortion. What makes a fact? Does a peer-reviewed study that shows a fetus responding to stimulus PROVE when life starts? How about the word of the Pope? I think you will find similar difficulties with most issues, even if they are less politically-charged, with the differences between the rich and poor and what each class values more and defines as "good".
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