Need becomes even more clear: International excitement about the proposed Mother Jones Institute for Serious Thought has reportedly spread in recent days, according to people who say so.
The proposed institute would have two fellows—ourselves and Kevin Drum. Proposed marketing would adopt a "Butch and Sundance" hook, though this would probably mean that the institute would have to find and sign a Katharine Ross type.
Why the desperate need for an institute of this kind? Consider yesterday's Serious Science report in the Washington Post.
Sarah Kaplan does lots of good work for the Post, but yesterday found her out over her skis. In fairness, her report started as shown below. Carefully, she reduced the science to a level so simple that even preschoolers could follow:
KAPLAN (5/7/18): Ten days before he died, Stephen Hawking sent one more written insight out into the cosmos—a paper, co-written with physicist Thomas Hertog of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, tackling the problem of a multiverse.So far, so good! Even the dullest newspaper reader could easily handle the alleged "paradox," in which we're asked to consider possible ramifications if the big bang created infinite universes with an inexhaustible number of variations on the laws of physics.
The paper had previously been posted on a pre-print site, where scientists share drafts of papers before they are published in peer-reviewed journals. It inspired a lot of breathless reports that he had predicted the end of the world and offered a way to detect alternate universes.
The actual study, published in the Journal of High Energy Physics, isn't quite so sensational. It deals with a paradox that the physicist himself helped raise: If the big bang created infinite universes with an inexhaustible number of variations on the laws of physics, then how can scientists hope to answer fundamental questions about why our universe looks the way it does?
So far, plainly so good! Soon, though, Kaplan got over her slats, shedding Post readers with this:
KAPLAN: Scientists believe that when the universe began, some 13.8 billion years ago, it underwent a process called inflation—exponential expansion in a very short amount of time. Over the course of that rapid expansion, tiny quantum fluctuations in space were magnified to cosmic size, creating the seeds of the structures that would become galaxies and light up the universe."Tiny quantum fluctuations in space were magnified to cosmic size, creating the seeds of the structures that would become galaxies and light up the universe?" Research suggests that the average Post reader may not understand what that means!
How many Post readers have any idea what a "quantum fluctuation" is, let alone a "tiny cosmic fluctuation," one that's occurring in space and may magnify to cosmic size? We're always surprised when we see popular writers offering formulations like that, flying in the face of the obvious fact that nobody knows what they mean.
As proposed, The Mother Jones Institute for Serious Thought would exist to address such missteps. As Wittgenstein suggested but never quite managed to say, major amounts of Serious Thought are variations on this theme.
We've been nice enough to suggest to Drum that he can choose the role he prefers, Sundance or Butch, for the marketing campaign. The institute's motto has been selected:
"It's all Bolivian to me."
Also this: Then too, the Post encountered a minor problem in today's hard-copy editions. An overthought report on police shootings started like this:
SULLIVAN, TATE AND JENKINS (5/8/18): The number of deadly police shootings of unarmed people has generally declined since 2015 even as the tally of fatal shootings by law enforcement is on pace to hit nearly 1,000 for the fourth year in a row, according to data gathered by The Washington Post.Oof. Some editor misread those opening grafs and apparently read no further. In hard copy, this wildly erroneous pair of headlines appeared atop the report:
Fatal shootings of unarmed black men—such as the high-profile case in March of Stephon Clark in Sacramento—are among the kinds of killings that have fallen. Criminologists said the downturn in the number of cases and their analysis of the data indicate that evidence of racial bias by police who shoot and kill unarmed blacks has also declined but not disappeared.
Police shootings of unarmed are downOof. So far, there have been eighteen (18) such killings this year. But you had to read to paragraph 4 to come up with that number.
But law enforcement is on pace to kill 1,000 weaponless people for fourth year in a row
The erroneous headline has been scrubbed online—or at least, until now, it had been.