Scientists for

Dean Science

David Isenberg is the champion of stupidity. Not in people, but in networks. He has pushed the key attribute of our blessedly stupid network–the Internet–so we’d understand that its brilliance rests on being the dim bulb of networks. Here’s what he wrote in 1997, when he worked for AT&T. When he left and they realized what he was saying, they made him take it down, but David Weinberger hosts it for our benefit:

“JUST DELIVER THE BITS, STUPID

A new network “philosophy and architecture,” is replacing the vision of an Intelligent Network. The vision is one in which the public communications network would be engineered for “always-on” use, not intermittence and scarcity. It would be engineered for intelligence at the end-user’s device, not in the network. And the network would be engineered simply to “Deliver the Bits, Stupid,” not for fancy network routing or “smart” number translation.

Fundamentally, it would be a Stupid Network.

In the Stupid Network, the data would tell the network where it needs to go. (In contrast, in a circuit network, the network tells the data where to go.) In a Stupid Network, the data on it would be the boss.

Instead of fancy “intelligent” network routing translation, in a Stupid Network, intelligent end-user devices would be connected to one or more high speed access networks – always listening for relevant information, for data addressed to their owner. Sometimes a “communication” might be a few bits, perhaps a short, pager-type message. Other times, it might be longer, like email. In the event of the need for two-way voice communication, an initial message might state the identity of the “caller,” and/or inquire of the whereabouts of the owner. The intelligent end-user device could apply its knowledge of where its “owner” was, and who the caller was. Then, if it were programmed to do so, it could launch a message to its owner, telling of the call, the caller’s identity, location, and any other information. It could also forward as much information as practical.

End user devices would be free to behave flexibly because, in the Stupid Network the data is boss, bits are essentially free, and there is no assumption that the data is of a single data rate or data type.

David is a scientist, biology Ph.D, specifically, who knows that scientists’ special way of thinking means that they must be more open to new ideas than the rest of us and more critical of unproven assumptions. Scientists also get it, like Plato’s mistrust of the shadows on the cave wall, that our picture of reality is always under development, like a book that’s still being written.

A while back, Dr. Isenberg decided to put his weight behind the Howard Dean campaign. If we value the characteristics of the Internet, we’ll join him. I believe he’s telling us that it’s pretty crazy for any Netizen to not be enthusiastically behind Dr. Dean, who happens to be the only Presidential candidate in memory with scientific training, let alone one who depends explicitly on the Internet for his elective hopes.

David is inviting scientists to join him and Bob Kopp, originator of the Scientists for Dean site. Here’s his invitation on their Deanspace-based site:

Looking for Well-Known Scientists
Submitted by David Isenberg on Thu, 12/18/2003 – 12:46.
Bob Kopp and I are looking for a few well-known scientists who we can work with to write a letter to other scientists inviting them to join scientistsfordean.org. We intend to send this letter to scientists who already support Howard Dean, as well as to scientists who might not know yet that they’re for Dean.

We’d like to bring the community of scientists together who are turned off by the Bush Administration’s anti-evidence, anti-hypothesis-testing attitude and the evidence-free policies that result.

Do you know a Nobel Prize winner, or somebody who is widely acknowledged as a leader in their scientific discipline, who would lend their efforts to our work? If so, please let us know!
David S. Isenberg, Ph.D. Biology, 1977
isen@isen.com
1-888-isen-com

The plan is to attract the thought leaders from the scientific community to save science from the attacks it’s been undergoing since ideology has replaced even the pretense that we govern our society based on principles.

There’s much to be said for enlightened self-interest, which the Republicans worship and Democrats often mistrust. I think that we all should support Dean because he will protect our interests, not out of some abstract ideology. That’s what the scientists are doing, supporting science through Dean. Just as Dean the scientist would.

This brings up some thoughts from 14 months ago, inspired by a couple of other biologists, Howard Bloom and Richard Dawkings. In that post, I argued that bloggers willingly expose themselves to peer review, an essentially scientific process. I think these are themes that David Isenberg and Bob Kopp would support.

High Wire with a Neural Net

Howard Bloom’s Global Brain suggests that the blogging community is a self-organizing superorganism thinking like a neural network, promoting its central meme. The blogging meme would be something like,

The world is full of experts who will teach me most of what I need to know if I read their posts regularly. I will also get to know them better than if we worked in the same office for years. They give me insight, candor, depth and humanity available nowhere else.

But there’s something even more important going on. Bloggers (I think) are exposing their personal thinking to others’ debugging in the way that programmers do, and to an extent that only open source programmers do. That’s a big deal. Consider the thoughtful, respectful dialogue around Doc’s Blogo Culpa over just a hint of conflict of interest. Look around your office or PTA or condo board and see if regular folks in meatspace routinely expose strong opinions for which they expect, even demand, debugging. I’m not seeing it out there. Are you?

Who We Are and Aren’t

People who blog expect suggestions that range from helpful to inflammatory. We do it because our collective purpose is so important and because we believe in the scientific method. There have always been disciplined thinkers but it’s never been a widespread pursuit. Managers and leaders and parents and priests are rarely interested in a partnership seeking the best way to reach a goal. I guess you’d call it collective debugging. It’s the defining characteristic of the part of western society most worth preserving.

There’s a large and growing group of people who suppress collective debugging:

Fundamentalists

Fundamentalists are proud of their resistance to thoughtful discussion. Collaborative debugging vs. Fundamentalism is the war we’re engaged in, not America vs. Terrorism, Palestinians vs. Israelis, North Koreans vs. South or Islam vs. Everybody Else. The sooner we understand the core nature of the deeper conflict, we can start some real life-saving.

On September 15, 2001, the distinguished British scientist, Richard Dawkins wrote:

  Our leaders have described the recent atrocity with the customary cliche: mindless cowardice. “Mindless” may be a suitable word for the vandalising of a telephone box. It is not helpful for understanding what hit New York on September 11. Those people were not mindless and they were certainly not cowards. On the contrary, they had sufficiently effective minds braced with an insane courage, and it would pay us mightily to understand where that courage came from.

   It came from religion. Religion is also, of course, the underlying source of the divisiveness in the Middle East which motivated the use of this deadly weapon in the first place. But that is another story and not my concern here. My concern here is with the weapon itself. To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used.

But fundamentalism lies even deeper than religion. It describes any group that relies on a single creed with no allowance for discussion of “foreign” values. The Crips gang is fundamentalist, but not religious, like the cult around the Jonestown massacre. Examples of secular fundamentalism are everywhere – supporters of the O.J. acquittal, the Ku Klux Klan, most forms of patriotism, liberalism and conservatism. The problem is that science and the scientific method have reached a critical mass and a global presence. (Of course we’re not very good at disciplined thinking. The point is that we think we should be, and we try to recognize it when it shows up).

The common thread of fundamentalism is lazy, uncritical thinking. If you defer all choices to a received text, even if current, you’re abdicating Choice – the greatest gift God gave us.

The religious right’s support for a war to “defend our way of life” is an irony you’d never put in a novel. Our way of life – democracy itself – is about being able to live your life as you want while not harming others, a bear hug of diversity.

It Takes Real Faith

Just because Copernicus won the sun-centered universe debate does not mean that society bought into his methods. Patriarchy has ruled our lives forever and has a few good generations left in it. The key to patriarchy is absolute alpha male dominance of the household dialogue monologue. TV drives a stake through patriarchy and that’s why autocratic rulers are nuking up as fast as they can. They can’t stand a world with television. And the Internet? Fuggedaboutit!

The point of accepting Copernicus’ and other scientists’ views is the greatest act of faith possible. Real Faith is when you understand just enough of another’s guesses and investigative methods to trust what they report back to the rest of us. Real faith lies in trusting your annual report to 50 million lines of code built by people you’ll never meet under conditions you’d never endure, using circuits that would not work without quantum physics. Or boarding an airliner with no clue as to what Bernoulli’s theorem is about, trusting the chain of conclusions he started.

Real faith is not the simplistic regurgitation of an inspiring ancient text for parables to inform our daily actions. Such texts are seductive for their simple-mindedness but not very useful for taking responsibility for your actions in a world that must include diverse views. If we condone killing those who think most differently, do we then support killing those who think a little less differently? That sounds pacifist, but it’s not.

People of Real Faith, Infiltrating From Within

There are fundamentalists everywhere. They haven’t infiltrated our democracy to tear it down from within, they’ve always been in control because they are the natives here.

We are the infiltrators with our notions of healthy diversity and a method to arrive at a truth that hasn’t been written down yet. All the hallowed texts were penned by followers of rabid iconoclasts and we are their protegés, fighting the same fight against the same kind of people: patriarchal lazy thinkers with little faith in others’ ideas and observations. They’re pissed because we’re driving a conceptual wedge between patriarchy and the young disciples they want to automate. As it has always been done.

That’s our meme and we’re sticking to it.

1:19:21 AM    

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