Saturday, 27 February 2010

That Knowledge Deficit


I came across a very powerful article by Jeffrey Sachs in The Broker Magazine issue for February 2010. Though I am not his huge fan even when he wrote “The End of Poverty” five years back, I got excited by how bluntly he made a critic on government and the development enterprise regarding the climate change issue after Copenhagen. He wrote, in his final remarks on his essay “Rethinking Macroeconomics” regarding that knowledge deficit in the policy-making halls of governments. I love the lines. This is the reason why I am reproducing it here.

“Finally, another fundamental problem of governance is the lack of interface between politicians and ‘knowledge communities’, that is, the communities of expertise in critical areas such as energy, food production, disease control, poverty alleviation, and so on. We have not solved the problem of the proper integration of scientific and technological knowledge in public policy making. The US Congress is nearly scientifically illiterate. This is very dangerous. The politicians posture without understanding the technical underpinnings of the structural challenges we face: their magnitude, timing, spatial extent and future dynamics, or the costs of mitigation and adaptation. The real experts are very far from the podiums and negotiating tables.
We cannot feed the planet by going back to traditional farming. We cannot solve the problems of energy, transport and health by relying on outdated technologies. Leaving science to the margins of political decision making or, even worse, overriding the science, is life threatening. The proper mobilization of expert knowledge, with all its limits and evolving character, is a fundamental need and challenge. Without expertise, we are flying blind into a complex and harrowing future.”

His essay paralleled my arguments in the previous post in this blog (The Problem with Representative Democracy, December 2009). It is a sad thing that indeed there is this knowledge deficit that exists almost everywhere in society, not only in government.
I remember many days back when Holy Name University celebrated its university days and people were asking in the radio about lighted flying objects in the air.Captain Mendez, a self-proclaimed weather expert-science man, made hilarious claims. I also remember how a university official defined revenue generation and better financial management, arguing that better financial management is about a balanced budget. And again, I remember priests trying to be businessmen and culture experts at the same time, without considering their limited understanding about projected demand and forward-backward linkages.

I am not saying that nobody should say his/her piece and do his/her act on one thing when he feels the need to. What I am saying is, one should be careful with making pronouncements and decisions, outside his/her core expertise. Better still, one person should not involve himself/herself in something that he/she does not have knowledge about. It will save the world a lot of time and cost.

This has significant implications in Bohol though. It means that 30% of department heads in the provincial government should at least quit their job and give it to someone else. It means that several mayoralty candidates should defer their decision of running for office. It means that at least 40% of school administrators at one organization I know of should rethink their positions.

A knowledge deficit exists because the people who are running organizations and offices are unfit to hang on to their positions. A knowledge deficit exists because those that who are worthy are not given a chance. A knowledge deficit also exists because those who are good are not good enough to assert their claims. A knowledge deficit exist because those who are expected to sharpen their trade tools and read their books, failed miserably to fulfil these basic duties.

The challenge is gargantuan. Now is an age of information, an age of knowledge. It is a misery that even at the first level, that of awareness, several of us are unsuccessful. How do we expect knowledge, and understanding to come?