Wednesday, October 05, 2005


The link is to today's George Will Washington Post editorial. The post is getting a lot of attention ( kos Kleiman) because it is such a harsh critique of George Bush's choice of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court. Others have covered the political and Supreme Court implications, but one thing that Will wrote struck me. He says
Under the rubric of "diversity" -- nowadays, the first refuge of intellectually disreputable impulses -- the president announced, surely without fathoming the implications, his belief in identity politics and its tawdry corollary, the idea of categorical representation.
This is a point where conservatism is so deeply wrong, and not just on the social grounds, but intellectually as well.

I know from personal experience that one essential element needed to make scientific research and technological development successful is what I refer to as "critical review". This is a recurring process in which ideas or plans are subject to what it says, review aimed at finding flaws. The objective being to test the ideas, look for where and how they might fail. This is essentially what the experiment is all about in science. In technology development there are formal review and test procedures. I have argued that this element of critical review is identical to the competition that makes market economics such a success. It is found in the checks and balances of our constitution and in the adversarial nature of our legal system. Critical review is a central part of making any large complex system work.

But what then are the elements needed for this critical review. The are to have a diverse group of independent reviewers. The reviewers must be independent so that they can, in fact, be critical. The diversity is needed so that the ideas being tested will face as wide a range of tests and critiques as possible. Diversity is needed because that maximizes the chances that each error will be caught. Depending upon ones background, area of expertise and training, some errors will be more readily caught and others will me more likely to get missed. By increasing the diversity the likelihood of each error getting caught goes up.

The upshot is that Will is completely wrong in the passage quoted. Diversity is an essential component of any system whose objective is critical review.

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