Friday, March 04, 2005

I'll try this thing you call "linking" again

My job involves analyzing and promoting "clean electric transportation technologies" -- a fancy way of saying hybrid, fuel cell or battery-electric systems. I don't know if I'm more knowledgeable or overly cynical due to my job, but I often find that, when I read what smart commentators have to say about clean car technologies, they sound awfully naive and unaware to me. Thomas Friedman is one example; he's someone whose opinion on matters I am not expert on -- the Middle East, say -- I take seriously. But when he writes about how we should be switching to non-petroleum based transportation options, it's obvious to me that he's writing about something that he's not expert on.

Now Fareed Zakaria has written a piece called "Imagine: 500 Miles Per Gallon" on MSNBC (ok, here's goes with the link):

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7037844/site/newsweek/

Zakaria is another guy who, when he writes about the Middle East and democracy, I take note. I agree with his general ideological or philosophical approach, if you will, to these issues. And I assume he's much smarter than I am about what's really going on there. But his piece contains a few ideas that, to me, broadcast his naivete on clean car technologies. Mainly, the idea that plug-in hybrids would be a better solution than the current hybrids (which don't need to be plugged in to recharge the battery). While there's no doubt that plug-ins would be better environmentally, they would be enormously difficult to sell to the public. Remember pure battery-electric cars? Not really, huh? That's because they never took off commercially, in part because of the plug in issue. In truth, people do not want to have to run a cord from their car to an outlet -- it's an inconvenience. That's one reason why Toyota and Honda didn't go for that option, and why those cars have been so successful: the fueling process is transparent to the driver.

So am I just overly cynical? Or is Zakaria too naive? And is he naive just about an issue that is not his area of expertise, or should I now question some of his other writings as well? It's a question that troubles me somewhat.

Comments:
Well, let's see if we can get this page to appear in google, let alone start it moving up the rankings. Which would be good as the writing deserves a wider audience.
It's always very subjective, reviewers/critics and what they have to say. I find you have to find one who's reviewed something you already have experience of to see if their opinion coincides with yours. Only then can you start to trust what they have to say about things you have no experience of. But it's always difficult if someone is writing in a very knowledgable and informed-sounding style - you're going to assume they at least know something about what they're talking about, and it's only if you have some knowledge of the subject yourself you're going to be able to realise they're talking tripe.
So basically I have no idea of how you can trust someone's claim to have knowledge of a subject unless you already have knowledge of the subject yourself. In which case you don't need to their views as you have your own. You'll just have to do what I do - base your opinion about something on the last thing you heard that sounded halfway reasonable. That way, you get to change your views often and if you get into an argument and you're proven wrong you can pass the blame very easily onto your source.
 
It seems to me that we are far too naive and willing to be given an opinion on subjects we know nothing about, and far too critical of other people's opinions on subjects we think we know something about. We need to start finding some middle ground somewhere.

"Tell a man there's a hundred billion stars in the sky and he'll believe you. Tell a man a bench has wet paint on it, and he'll have to touch it to make sure."
 
I agree but having to know what someone's views are to properly judge them. That's what's so unnerving about finding out I disagree with these people that I normally think of as "experts".

Funny quote, by the way!
 
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