February 4, 2005
I learned that half of all bankruptcies in the United States are caused by medical bills, courtesy of Rebecca's link. I wish I had learned this from John Kerry about six months ago. This is the core of the health care debate in this country, not edge-case stem cell research.
Modern political organizations have fantastic research resources available to them, but they squander these resources on finding weaknesses in their opponents. The reality is, Americans still make their political decisions based on issues. We've had questionable people holding positions in every level of political office, but regular folks don't care if they agree with the core goals of the candidate. (This is why conservatives got so frustrated with Clinton's personal life and liberals today are bugged by Bush's inarticulacy. Neither is a fatal flaw, but both are among the most egregious ways to offend the opposition.)
A similarly useful demonstration of the power that research could have on civic life is the results of data mining from urban 311 services. They're one of the many reasons that I think that quality of life is higher in cities than in suburban and rural areas, and one of the key reasons 311 programs succeed is because they provide honest, unbiased raw data with which officials can make decisions.
It's no accident that 311 services are, at their core, about increasing communication within a community. What's amazing is that civic institutions have never really had a simple, measurable feedback system in the past, except perhaps a box for accepting comment cards at City Hall. (Civic meetings tend to be filled full of atypical squeaky wheels.)
Good data often makes good choices obvious. Focusing political and civic research to concentrate on gathering data that can actually improve quality of life would improve politics. Maybe we just need a Scientific Method political party.
The Inukitut have a word for it: "puijilittatuq." Translation: "He does not know which way to turn because of the many seals he has seen come to the ice surface." That's a good description (from this month's issue of Ansible , the scifi newsletter from Da Read More