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May 24, 2012
The Geek Manifesto
Mark Henderson begins his Guardian review of his own book, The Geek Manifesto: Why Science Matters, with the reminder that “when drugs are launched, we expect rigorous testing. Yet with government strategy we rely on anecdote or public mood when empirical study could offer better results.” Henderson, a former science writer at the London Times, takes on the anti-science caucus with his new book. From the title, I’ll guess that Henderson also wants to get all Geeks on the side of science-based policy. To me, that’s a relevant agenda. So GEEKS — especially Gen-Yers, pay close attention! 

I doubt that the Brit culture has a strong an anti-intellectual and anti-science lobby as we unfortunate Americans. Richard Hofstader documented anti-intellectualism and the paranoid style in American politics in the 1950s and '60s. And you’ll find my earlier blog on this matter, Do you have to take the scientist's word for it, also relevant. But in his review in the Guardian, Henderson points to numerous missed opportunities in national policy. After reading Sunday’s New York Times, I’m certain that the current US congress is also doing its damndest to ignore science. 

One of the best data-gathering, policy instruments this side of the Atlantic is the U.S. Census. Last week, Daniel Webster, a first-term Republican congressman from Florida sponsored legislation to eliminate the census survey. It passed the Republican Congress, although it’s not certain that it will get through the Senate. The rationale for the legislation? The House voted to eliminate the survey on the grounds that the government should not be butting its nose into American homes. The data is used, for example, across the federal government in formulas that determine how much funding states and communities will get for things like education and public health. Thankfully, there are wise heads in business like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation, and the National Associate of Home Builders who are up in arms. Since business funds the more recent Republican idiocrats, I hope that it will put a stop to such anti-data, anti-science strategies.

In the Guardian review, Henderson points to relevant scientific research and policy need in areas such as prison reform, education, and foreign aid. Part of the problem we face today is the lack of research rigor in policy-related studies. 

One of the more intriguing studies found that the body clocks of teenagers run hours behind those of adults and young children. An Oxford prof, as a result of studies, found that in contrast to younger children and adults, the body clocks of teenagers run several hours behind, making early morning school tough sledding. A similar study with identical findings was also completed at Mayo Clinic in the U.S., and entitled Teen sleep: why is your teen so tired? 

One UK high school was able to get its beginning time moved from 9AM to 10AM the entire year of 2010. The results were strikingly superb. The national exams were the best recorded in the school’s history. And the proportion of pupils achieving rose 19% above the previous year. Results were “especially impressive in science and information and communications technology. Persistent absenteeism has also fallen by 27%.”

Can you believe it? Following up on scientific conclusions brings better results. Somewhere there's a lesson in that.
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Bantam Press (10 May 2012)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0593068238
ISBN-13: 978-0593068236

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Dan Erwin, PhD, is a specialist in performance improvement. Over more than 25 years he has coached nearly 500 officers, executives, and managers from top American corporations by means of his very original, cutting-edge development program. Shockingly, you can't Google his name prior to 2008 — due to the demands of his clients. He blogs at danerwin.typepad.com, and tweets at twitter.com/danerwin.

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