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The price of relevance is fluency

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The price of relevance is fluency

“You can’t say anything anymore! You can’t even make jokes!”

There’s a constant complaint from people in positions of power, mostly men, who keep making the ridiculous assertion that they’re not able to speak in public. What they actually mean is they no longer understand the basis of the criticisms they face. And it’s a phenomenon we see from so many people who have a public platform, whether they’re CEOs or comedians or other cultural figures.

Some of this is a familiar issue: the powerful think that ordinary people have no right to criticize them. There’s nothing new there, and certainly a lot of the dismissive reactions are simply these people thinking that they’re better than their critics, and so don’t have to listen to the pushback. But even those who think they should still be at least pretending to take feedback from the public are mystified by what they’re hearing.

But there is something new that's also helping cause all this fuss: the rate of change in culture is increasing.


For some kinds of people, we valorize the breaking of social conventions. In business, it’s called “disruption”, in arts or culture they’ll be called “bad boys” or other similarly ridiculous names for rewarding transgression. Eventually, these rule breakers (who, of course, seldom break the rules of systemic racism or sexism or other structural injustices) find themselves in a position where they have a public voice. They’re onstage, or quoted in the media, and they love the fact that they’re being heard. They bask in the unalloyed adulation of the masses.

Until recently. All of a sudden, the same things they’ve always said, or something said in private that suddenly becomes public, get a vociferous negative response unlike anything they've ever encountered. Usually, that blowback happens on social media, and these powerful legacy leaders tend to blame the issue on some ineffable negative essence of social networks. They rant about things like "the twitter mob". But that's not the issue at all.

There Is No "Twitter Mob"

You see, there is no "Twitter mob", there's only people. And people shape culture, and culture evolves. But in the past, the powerful could keep themselves isolated from the way culture evolves, if they wanted to. Janet Jackson didn't even know what Hot Cheetos are!

And so, these political leaders and CEOs and comedians and famous-for-being-famous people blather on like they always have, but only now they're faced with the criticisms they've inspired. The criticisms were always there, but the connection of social media to mass media has made them visible.

Worse, that visibility of critique means that powerful people now have to do work that they didn't want to do. They can't stand it.

Suddenly, even the most powerful people in society are forced to be fluent in the concerns of those with little power, if they want to hold on to the cultural relevance that thrust them into power in the first place. Being a comedian means having to say things that an audience finds funny; if an audience doesn't find old, hackneyed, abusive jokes funny anymore, then that comedian has to do more work. And what we find is, the comedians with the most privilege resent having to keep working for a living. Wasn't it good enough that they wrote that joke that some people found somewhat funny, some years ago? Why should they have to learn about current culture just to get paid to do comedy?

Similarly, CEOs keep fussing about how it's hard to not offend people these days. (Being a CEO myself, this one ends up on my radar a lot.) Now, every person in marketing knows they have to try to stay culturally relevant, and certainly every ordinary worker knows they constantly have to be learning new skills and developing professionally. But if a CEO has been in his seat long enough, he'll often get deeply resentful of being told that he has to learn new ways of being respectful to the people who were systematically obstructed from reaching his awareness in the past.

We can't even count all the stupid ways this plays out, but there are common tropes. The go-to examples of resistance to cultural evolution are always the legacy power-holders resisting the very identity of the communities they excluded. You'll hear awful shit like, "I don't know whether to call them Black or African American, or what?" or terrible "jokes" about the appropriate pronouns that people should be identified with. Now, these powerful folks don't want to be held accountable for disrespecting people with different identities, and the powerful certainly don't want to be mocked for their illiteracy in contemporary culture, but they damn sure want to make certain that you know they're not interested in indulging modern norms for showing respect to others.

It's not that hard

Here's the thing, though: It's not that hard. It's not difficult at all to ask people how they want to be identified. It's not tricky to listen to what people are saying about their concerns and their issues, and to try to understand what that means about how culture is evolving. It's not hard at all to be humble about unfamiliar aspects of society and ask for information in respectful ways, then take those responses into consideration going forward.

And in fact, that's the simple price of continued cultural relevance. If someone wants to maintain power in culture, all that's required is a sincere and honest engagement with those who are granting that power through their attention and support. All it takes is a little bit of curiousity and some basic human decency, and any of us who are blessed with the good fortune to have a platform will get to keep it, and hopefully to use it to make things a little better for others.

But those in power who have a loud public voice and refuse to adjust and evolve their messages for the modern world will only face increasing resistance, and even actual accountability sometimes — perhaps even in the form of losing their platforms. And good riddance.



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krivard
35 days ago
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The King vs. Pawn Game of UI Design · An A List Apart Article

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If you want to improve your UI design skills, have you tried looking at chess? I know it sounds contrived, but hear me out. I’m going to take a concept from chess and use it to build a toolkit of UI design strategies. By the end, we’ll have covered color, typography, lighting and shadows, and more.

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But it all starts with rooks and pawns.

I want you to think back to the first time you ever played chess (if you’ve never played chess, humor me for a second—and no biggie; you will still understand this article). If your experience was anything like mine, your friend set up the board like this:

And you got your explanation of all the pieces. This one’s a pawn and it moves like this, and this one is a rook and it moves like this, but the knight goes like this or this—still with me?—and the bishop moves diagonally, and the king can only do this, but the queen is your best piece, like a combo of the rook and the bishop. OK, want to play?

This is probably the most common way of explaining chess, and it’s enough to make me hate board games forever. I don’t want to sit through an arbitrary lecture. I want to play.

One particular chess player happens to agree with me. His name is Josh Waitzkin, and he’s actually pretty good. Not only at chess (where he’s a grandmaster), but also at Tai Chi Push Hands (he’s a world champion) and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (he’s the first black belt under 5x world champion Marcelo Garcia). Now he trains financiers to go from the top 1% to the top .01% in their profession.

Point is: this dude knows a lot about getting good at stuff.

Now here’s the crazy part. When Josh teaches you chess, the board looks like this:

Whoa.

Compared to what we saw above, this is stupidly simple.

And, if you know how to play chess, it’s even more mind-blowing that someone would start teaching with this board. In the actual game of chess, you never see a board like this. Someone would have won long ago. This is the chess equivalent of a street fight where both guys break every bone in their body, dislocate both their arms, can hardly see out of their swollen eyes, yet continue to fight for another half-hour.

What gives?

Here’s Josh’s thinking: when you strip the game down to its core, everything you learn is a universal principle.

That sounds pretty lofty, but I think it makes sense when you consider it. There are lots of things to distract a beginning chess player by a fully-loaded board, but everything you start learning in a king-pawn situation is fundamentally important to chess:

  • using two pieces to apply pressure together;
  • which spaces are “hot”;
  • and the difference between driving for a checkmate and a draw.

Are you wondering if I’m ever going to start talking about design? Glad you asked.

The simplest possible scenario#section1

What if, instead of trying to design an entire page with dozens of elements (nav, text, input controls, a logo, etc.), we consciously started by designing the simplest thing possible? We deliberately limit the playing field to one, tiny thing and see what we learn? Let’s try.

What is the simplest possible element? I vote that it’s a button.

This is the most basic, default button I could muster. It’s Helvetica (default font) with a 16px font size (pretty default) on a plain, Sketch-default-blue rectangle. It’s 40px tall (nice, round number) and has 20px of horizontal padding on each side.

So yeah, I’ve already made a bunch of design decisions, but can we agree I basically just used default values instead of making decisions for principled, design-related reasons?

Now let’s start playing with this button. What properties are modifiable here?

  • the font (and text styling)
  • the color
  • the border radius
  • the border
  • the shadows

These are just the first things that come to my mind. There are even more, of course.

Playing with the font is a pretty easy place to start.

Now I’ve changed the font to Moon (available for free on Behance for personal use). It’s rounded and soft, unlike Helvetica, which felt a little more squared-off—or at least not as overtly friendly.

The funny thing is: do you see how the perfectly square edges now look a tad awkward with the rounded font?

Let’s round the corners a bit.

Bam. Nice. That’s a 3px border radius.

But that’s kind of weird, isn’t it? We adjusted the border radius of a button because of the shape of the letterforms in our font. I wouldn’t want you thinking fonts are just loosey-goosey works of art that only work when you say the right incantations.

No, fonts are shapes. Shapes have connotations. It’s not rocket science.

Here’s another popular font, DIN.

Specifically, this is a version called DIN 2014 (available for cheap on Typekit). It’s the epitome of a squared-off-but-still-readable font. A bit harsh and no-nonsense, but in a bureaucratic way.

It’s the official font of the German government, and it looks the part.

So let’s test our working hypothesis with DIN.

How does DIN look with those rounded corners?

Well, we need to compare it to square corners now, don’t we?

Ahhh, the squared-off corners are better here. It’s a much more consistent feel.

Now look at our two buttons with their separate fonts. Which is more readable? I think Moon has a slight advantage here. DIN’s letters just look too cramped by comparison. Let’s add a bit of letter-spacing.

When we add some letter-spacing, it’s far more relaxed.

This is a key law of typography: always letter-space your uppercase text. Why? Because unless a font doesn’t have lowercase characters, it was designed for sentence-case reading, and characters in uppercase words will ALWAYS appear too cramped. (Moon is the special exception here—it only has uppercase characters, and notice how the letter-spacing is built into the font.)

We’ll review later, but so far we’ve noticed two things that apply not just to buttons, but to all elements:

  • Rounded fonts go better with rounded shapes; squared-off fonts with squared-off shapes.
  • Fonts designed for sentence case should be letter-spaced when used in words that are all uppercase.

Let’s keep moving for now.

Seeing the plain default Sketch blue is annoying me. It’s begging to be changed into something that matches the typefaces we’re using.

How can a color match a font? Well, I’ll hand it to you. This one is a bit more loosey-goosey.

For our Moon button, we want something a bit more friendly. To me, a staid blue says default, unstyled, trustworthy, takes-no-risks, design-by-committee. How do you inject some fun into it?

Well, like all problems of modifying color, it helps to think in the HSB color system (hue, saturation, and brightness). When we boil color down to three intuitive numbers, we give ourselves levers to pull.

For instance, let’s look at hue. We have two directions we can push hue: down to aqua or up to indigo. Which sounds more in line with Moon? To me, aqua does. A bit less staid, a bit more Caribbean sea. Let’s try it. We’ll move the hue to 180° or so.

Ah, Moon Button, now you’ve got a beach vibe going on. You’re a vibrant sea foam!

This is a critical lesson about color. “Blue” is not a monolith; it’s a starting point. I’ve taught hundreds of students UI design, and this comes up again and again: just because blue was one color in kindergarten doesn’t mean that we can’t find interesting variations around it as designers.

Aqua is a great variation with a much cooler feel, but it’s also much harder to read that white text. So now we have another problem to fix.

“Hard to read” is actually a numerically-specific property. The World Wide Web Consortium has published guidelines for contrast between text and background, and if we use a tool to test those, we find we’re lacking in a couple departments.

According to Stark (which is my preferred Sketch plugin for checking contrast—check out Lea Verou’s Contrast Ratio for a similar web-based tool), we’ve failed our contrast guidelines across the board!

How do you make the white text more legible against the aqua button? Let’s think of our HSB properties again.

  • Brightness. Let’s decrease it. That much should be obvious.
  • Saturation. We’re going to increase it. Why? Because we’re contrasting with white text, and white has a saturation of zero. So a higher saturation will naturally stand out more.
  • Hue. We’ll leave this alone since we like its vibe. But if the contrast continued to be too low, you could lower the aqua’s luminosity by shifting its hue up toward blue.

So now, we’ve got a teal button:

Much better?

Much better.

For what it’s worth, I’m not particularly concerned about missing the AAA standard here. WCAG developed the levels as relative descriptors of how much contrast there is, not as an absolute benchmark of, say, some particular percentage of people to being able to read the text. The gold standard is—as always—to test with real people. AAA is best to hit, but at times, AA may be as good as you’re going to get with the colors you have to work with.

Some of the ideas we’ve used to make a button’s blue a bit more fun and legible against white are actually deeper lessons about color that apply to almost everything else you design:

  • Think in HSB, as it gives you intuitive levers to pull when modifying color.
  • If you like the general feel of a color, shifting the hue in either direction can be a baseline for getting interesting variations on it (e.g., we wanted to spice up the default blue, but not by, say, changing it to red).
  • Modify saturation and brightness at the same time (but always in opposite directions) to increase or decrease contrast.

OK, now let’s switch over to our DIN button. What color goes with its harsh edges and squared-off feel?

The first thing that comes to mind is black.

But let’s keep brainstorming. Maybe a stark red would also work.

Or even a construction-grade orange.

(But not the red and orange together. Yikes! In general, two adjacent hues with high saturations will not look great next to each other.)

Now, ignoring that the text of this is “Learn More” and a button like this probably doesn’t need to be blaze orange, I want you to pay attention to the colors I’m picking. We’re trying to maintain consistency with the official-y, squared-off DIN. So the colors we go to naturally have some of the same connotations: engineered, decisive, no funny business.

Sure, this match-a-color-and-a-font business is more subjective, but there’s something solid to it: note that the words I used to describe the colors (“stark” and “construction-grade”) apply equally well to DIN—a fact I am only noticing now, not something done intentionally.

Want to match a color with a font? This is another lesson applicable to all of branding. It’s best to start with adjectives/emotions, then match everything to those. Practically by accident, we’ve uncovered something fundamental in the branding design process.

Let’s shift gears to work with shadows for a bit.

There are a couple directions we could go with shadows, but the two main categories are (for lack of better terms):

  • realistic shadows;
  • and cartoon-y shadows.

Here’s an example of each:

The top button’s shadow is more photorealistic. It behaves like a shadow in the real world.

The bottom button’s shadow is a bit lower-fidelity. It shows that the button is raised up, but it’s a cartoon version, with a slightly unrealistic, idealized bottom edge—and without a normal shadow, which would be present in the real world.

The bottom works better for the button we’re crafting. The smoothness, the friendliness, the cartoon fidelity—it all goes together.

As for our DIN button?

I’m more ambivalent here. Maybe the shadow is for a hover state, à la Material Design?

In any case, with a black background, a darkened bottom edge is impossible—you can’t get any darker than black.

By the way, you may not have noticed it above, but the black button has a much stronger shadow. Compare:

The teal button’s shadow is 30%-opacity black, shifted 1 pixel down on the y-axis, with a 2-pixel blur (0 1px 2px). The black button’s is 50%-opacity black, shifted 2 pixels down on the y-axis, with a 4-pixel blur (0 2px 4px). What’s more, the stronger shadow looks awful on the teal button.

Why is that? The answer, like so many questions that involve color, is in luminosity. When we put the button’s background in luminosity blend mode, converting it to a gray of equal natural lightness, we see something interesting.

The shadow, at its darkest, is basically as dark as the button itself. Or, at least, the rate of change of luminosity is steady between each row of pixels.

The top row is the button itself, not shadow.

Shadows that are too close to the luminosity of their element’s backgrounds will appear too strong. And while this may sound like an overly specific lesson, it’s actually broadly applicable across elements. You know where else you see it?

Let’s put a border on our teal button.

Now the way I’ve added this border is something that a bunch of people have thought of: make the border translucent black so that it works on any background color. In this case, I’ve used a single-pixel-wide border of 20%-opacity black.

However, if I switch the background color to a more standard blue, which is naturally a lot less luminous, that border all but disappears.

In fact, to see it on blue just as much as you can see it on teal, you’ve got to crank up black’s opacity to something like 50%.

This is a generalizable rule: when you want to layer black on another color, it needs to be a more opaque black to show up the same amount on less luminous background colors. Where else would you apply this idea?

Spoiler alert: shadows!

Each of these buttons has the same shadow (0 2px 3px) except for different opacities. The top two buttons’ shadows have opacity 20%, and the bottom two have opacity 40%. Note how what’s fine on a white background (top left) is hardly noticeable on a dark background (top right). And what’s too dark on a white background (lower left) works fine on a dark background (lower right).

I want to change gears one more time and talk about icons.

Here’s the download icon from Font Awesome, my least favorite icon set of all time.

I dislike it, not only because it’s completely overused, but also because the icons are really bubbly and soft. Yet most of the time, they’re used in clean, crisp websites. They just don’t fit.

You can see it works better with a soft, rounded font. I’m less opposed to this sort of thing.

But there’s still a problem: the icon has these insanely small details! The dots are never going to show up at size, and even the space between the arrow and the disk is a fraction of a pixel in practice. Compared to the letterforms, it doesn’t look like quite the same style.

But what good is my complaining if I don’t offer a solution?

Let’s create a new take on the “download” icon, but with some different guiding principles:

  • We’ll use a stroke weight that’s equivalent (or basically equivalent) to the text weight.
  • We’ll use corner radii that are similar to the corner radii of our font: squared off for DIN, rounded for Moon.
  • We’ll use a simpler icon shape so the differences are easy to see.

Let’s see how it looks:

I call this “drawing with the same pen.” Each of these icons looks like it could basically be a character in the font used in the button. And that’s the point here. I’m not saying all icons will appear this way, but for an icon that appears inline with text like this, it’s a fantastic rule of thumb.

Now this is just the beginning. Buttons can take all kinds of styles.

But we’ve got a good start here considering we designed just two buttons. In doing so, we covered a bunch of the things that are focal points of my day-to-day work as a UI designer:

  • lighting and shadows;
  • color;
  • typography;
  • consistency;
  • and brand.

And the lessons we’ve learned in those areas are fundamental to the entirety of UI design, not just one element. Recall:

  • Letterforms are shapes. You can analyze fonts as sets of shapes, not simply as works of art.
  • You should letter-space uppercase text, since most fonts were designed for sentence case.
  • Think in HSB to modify colors.
  • You can find more interesting variations on a “basic” color (like a CSS default shade of blue or red) by tweaking the hue in either direction.
  • Saturation and brightness are levers that you can move in opposite directions to control luminosity.
  • Find colors that match the same descriptors that you would give your typeface and your overall brand.
  • Use darker shadows or black borders on darker backgrounds—and vice versa.
  • For inline icons, choose or design them to appear as though they were drawn with the same pen as the font you’re using.

You can thank Josh Waitzkin for making me a pedant. I know, you just read an entire essay on buttons. But next time you’re struggling with a redesign or even something you’re designing from scratch, try stripping out all the elements that you think you should be including already, and just mess around with the simplest players on the board. Get a feel for the fundamentals, and go from there.

Weird? Sure. But if it’s good enough for a grandmaster, I’ll take it.

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CallMeWilliam
266 days ago
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This is good, and the first part applied to everything.
krivard
269 days ago
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How to Run the Economy on the Weather

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How to run the economy on the weather

Before the Industrial Revolution, people adjusted their energy demand to a variable energy supply. Our global trade and transport system -- which relied on sail boats -- operated only when the wind blew, as did the mills that supplied our food and powered many manufacturing processes. 

The same approach could be very useful today, especially when improved by modern technology. In particular, factories and cargo transportation -- such as ships and even trains -- could be operated only when renewable energy is available. Adjusting energy demand to supply would make switching to renewable energy much more realistic than it is today.

Stoneferry, a painting by John Ward of Hull.



Renewable Energy in Pre-Industrial Times

Before the Industrial Revolution, both industry and transportation were largely dependent on intermittent renewable energy sources. Water mills, windmills and sailing boats have been in use since Antiquity, but the Europeans brought these technologies to full development from the 1400s onwards. 

At their peak, right before the Industrial Revolution took off, there were an estimated 200,000 wind powered mills and 500,000 water powered mills in Europe. Initially, water mills and windmills were mainly used for grinding grain, a laborious task that had been done by hand for many centuries, first with the aid of stones and later with a rotary hand mill.

785px-Jan_van_Os_-_Een_zomers_landschap

"Een zomers landschap" ("A summer landscape"), a painting by Jan van Os. 

However, soon water and wind powered mills were adapted to industrial processes like sawing wood, polishing glass, making paper, boring pipes, cutting marble, slitting metal, sharpening knives, crushing chalk, grinding mortar, making gunpowder, minting coins, and so on. [1-3] Wind- and water mills also processed a host of agricultural products. They were pressing olives, hulling barley and rice, grinding spices and tobacco, and crushing linseed, rapeseed and hempseed for cooking and lighting.

Even though it relied on intermittent wind sources, international trade was crucial to many European economies before the Industrial Revolution.

So-called 'industrial water mills' had been used in Antiquity and were widely adopted in Europe by the fifteenth century, but 'industrial windmills' appeared only in the 1600s in the Netherlands, a country that took wind power to the extreme. The Dutch even applied wind power to reclaim land from the sea, and the whole country was kept dry by intermittently operating wind mills until 1850. [1-3]

1024px-Abraham_Storck_-_A_river_landscape_with_fishermen_in_rowing_boats_(1679) (1)

Abraham Storck: A river landscape with fishermen in rowing boats, 1679.

The use of wind power for transportation – in the form of the sailboat – also boomed from the 1500s onwards, when Europeans 'discovered' new lands. Wind powered transportation supported a robust, diverse and ever expanding international trading system in both bulk goods (such as grain, wine, wood, metals, ceramics, and preserved fish), luxury items (such as precious metals, furs, spices, ivory, silks, and medicin) and human slaves. [4]

Even though it relied on intermittent wind sources, international trade was crucial to many European economies. For example, the Dutch shipbuilding industry, which was centred around some 450 wind-powered saw mills, imported virtually all its naval stores from the Baltic: wood, tar, iron, hemp and flax. Even the food supply could depend on wind-powered transportation. Towards the end of the 1500s, the Dutch imported two thousand shiploads of grain per year from Gdansk. [4] Sailboats were also important for fishing.

Dealing with Intermittency in Pre-Industrial Times

Although variable renewable energy sources were critical to European society for some 500 years before fossil fuels took over, there were no chemical batteries, no electric transmission lines, and no balancing capacity of fossil fuel power plants to deal with the variable energy output of wind and water power. So, how did our ancestors deal with the large variability of renewable power sources?

To some extent, they were counting on technological solutions to match energy supply to energy demand, just as we do today. The water level in a river depends on the weather and the seasons. Boat mills and bridge mills were among the earliest technological fixes to this problem. They went up and down with the water level, which allowed them to maintain a more predictable operating regime. [1-2]

To some extent, our ancestors were counting on technological solutions to match energy supply to energy demand, just as we do today.

However, water power could also be stored for later use. Starting in the middle ages, dams were built to create mill ponds, a form of energy storage that's similar to today's hydropower reservoirs. The storage reservoirs evened out the flow of streams and insured that water was available when it was needed. [2] [5

The horse millThe Horse Mill, a painting by James Herring. Ca. 1850.

But rivers could still dry out or freeze over for prolonged periods, rendering dams and adjustable water wheels useless. Furthermore, when one counted on windmills, no such technological fixes were available. [3] [6-7]

A technological solution to the intermittency of both water and wind power was the 'beast mill' or 'horse mill'. [8] In contrast to wind and water power, horses, donkeys or oxen could be counted on to supply power whenever it was required. However, beast mills were expensive and energy inefficient to operate: feeding a horse required a land area capable of feeding eight humans. [9] Consequently, the use of animal power in large-scale manufacturing processes was rare. Beast mills were mostly used for the milling of grain or as a power source in small workshop settings, using draft animals. [1]

Obviously, beast mills were not a viable backup power source for sailing ships either. In principle, sailing boats could revert to human power when wind was not available. However, a sufficiently large rowing crew needed extra water and food, which would have limited the range of the ship, or its cargo capacity. Therefore, rowing was mainly restricted to battleships and smaller boats.

Adjusting Supply to Demand: Factories

Because of their limited technological options for dealing with the variability of renewable energy sources, our ancestors mainly resorted to a strategy that we have largely forgotten about: they adapted their energy demand to the variable energy supply. In other words, they accepted that renewable energy was not always available and acted accordingly. For example, windmills and sailboats were simply not operated when there was no wind.

Claude monnet mills

Painting: Mills in the Westzijderveld near Zaandam, a painting by Claude Monet. 

In industrial windmills, work was done whenever the wind blew, even if that meant that the miller had to work night and day, taking only short naps. For example, a document reveals that at the Union Mill in Cranbrook, England, the miller once had only three hours sleep during a windy period lasting 60 hours. [3] A 1957 book about windmills, partly based on interviews with the last surviving millers, reveals the urgency of using wind when it was available: 

Often enough when the wind blew in autumn, the miller would work from Sunday midnight to Tuesday evening, Wednesday morning to Thursday night, and Friday morning to Saturday midnight, taking only a few snatches of sleep; and a good windmiller always woke up in bed when the wind rose, getting up in the middle of the night to set the mill going, because the wind was his taskmaster and must be taken advantage of whenever it blew. Many a village has at times gone short of wheaten bread because the local mill was becalmed in a waterless district before the invention of the steam engine; and barley-meal bread or even potato bread had to suffice in the crisis of a windless autumn. [10]

In earlier, more conservative times, the miller was punished for working on Sunday, but he didn't always care. When a protest against Sunday work was made to Mr. Wade of Wicklewood towermill, Norfolk, he retorted: "If the Lord is good enough to send me wind on a Sunday, I'm going to use it". [11] On the other hand, when there was no wind, millers did other work, like maintaining their machinery, or took time off. Noah Edwards, the last miller of Arkley tower mill, Hertfordshire, would “sit on the fan stage of a fine evening and play his fiddle”. [11]

Adjusting Supply to Demand: Sailboats

A similar approach existed for overseas travel, using sail boats. When there was no wind, sailors stayed ashore, maintained and repaired their ships, or did other things. They planned their trips according to the seasons, making use of favourable seasonal winds and currents. Winds at sea are not only much stronger than those over land, but also more predictable. 

Sailors planned their trips according to the seasons, making use of favourable seasonal winds and currents. 

The lower atmosphere of the planet is encircled by six major wind belts, three in each hemisphere. From Equator to poles these 'prevailing winds' are the trade winds, the westerlies, and the easterlies. The six wind belts move north in the northern summer and south in the northern winter. Five major sea current gyres are correlated with the dominant wind flows. 

Aelbert_Cuyp_-_The_Maas_at_Dordrecht_-_WGA5836

The Maas at Dordrecht, a painting by Aelbert Cuyp, 1660.

Gradually, European sailors deciphered the global pattern of winds and currents and took full advantage of them to establish new sea routes all over the world. By the 1500s, Christopher Columbus had figured out that the combination of trade winds and westerlies enabled a round-trip route for sailing ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

The trade winds reach their northernmost latitude at or after the end of the northern summer, bringing them in reach of Spain and Portugal. These summer trade winds made it easy to sail from Southern Europe to the Caribbean and South America, because the wind was blowing in that direction along the route.

Trade winds westerlies and hurricanes

Wind map of the Atlantic, September 9, 2017. Source: Windy.

Taking the same route back would be nearly impossible. However, Iberian sailors first sailed north to catch the westerlies, which reach their southernmost location at or after the end of winter and carried the sailors straight back to Southern Europe. In the 1560s, Basque explorer Andrés de Urdaneta discovered a similar round-trip route in the Pacific Ocean. [12]

The use of favourable winds made travel times of sailboats relatively reliable. The fastest Atlantic crossing was 21 days, the slowest 29 days.

The use of favourable winds made the travel times of sailboats relatively predictable. Ocean Passages for the World mentions that typical passage times from New York to the English Channel for a mid-19th to early 20th century sailing vessel was 25 to 30 days. From 1818 to 1832, the fastest crossing was 21 days, the slowest 29 days. [13]

The journey from the English Channel to New York took 35-40 days in winter and 40-50 days in summer. To Cape Town, Melbourne, and Calcutta took 50-60 days, 80-90 days, and 100-120 days, respectively. [13] These travel times are double to triple those of today's container ships, which vary their speed based on oil prices and economic demand

Old Approach, New Technology

As a strategy to deal with variable energy sources, adjusting energy demand to renewable energy supply is just as valuable a solution today as it was in pre-industrial times. However, this does not mean that we need to go back to pre-industrial means. We have better technology available, which makes it much easier to synchronise the economic demands with the vagaries of the weather. 

Charles_Brooking_-_Shipping_in_a_Calm_-_WGA3301

Shipping in a calm, a painting by Charles Brooking, first half 18th century.

In the following paragraphs, I investigate in more detail how industry and transportation could be operated on variable energy sources alone, and demonstrate how new technologies open new possibilities. I then conclude by analysing the effects on consumers, workers, and economic growth.

Industrial Manufacturing

On a global scale, industrial manufacturing accounts for nearly half of all energy end use. Many mechanical processes that were run by windmills are still important today, such as sawing, cutting, boring, drilling, crushing, hammering, sharpening, polishing, milling, turning, and so on. All these production processes can be run with an intermittent power supply. 

The same goes for food production processes (mincing, grinding or hulling grains, pressing olives and seeds), mining and excavation (picking and shovelling, rock and ore crushing), or textile production (fulling cloth, preparing fibres, knitting and weaving). In all these examples, intermittent energy input does not affect the quality of the production process, only the production speed.

Many production processes are not strongly disadvantaged by an intermittent power supply.

Running these processes on variable power sources has become a lot easier than it was in earlier times. For one thing, wind power plants are now completely automated, while the traditional windmill required constant attention. [14]

How-to-rig-a-windmill-sail

Image: “Travailler au moulin / Werken met molens”, Jean Bruggeman, 1996.

However, not only are wind turbines (and water turbines) more practical and powerful than in earlier times, we can now make use of solar energy to produce mechanical energy. This is usually done with solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, which convert sunlight into electricity to run an electric motor. 

Consequently, a factory that requires mechanical energy can be run on a combination of wind and solar power, which increases the chances that there's sufficient energy to run its machinery. The ability to harvest solar energy is important because it's by far the most widely available renewable power source. Most of the potential capacity for water power is already taken. [15

Thermal Energy

Another crucial difference with pre-industrial times is that we can apply the same strategy to basic industrial processes that require thermal energy instead of mechanical energy. Heat dominates industrial energy use, for instance, in the making of chemicals or microchips, or in the smelting of metals.

In pre-industrial times, manufacturing processes that required thermal energy were powered by the burning of biomass, peat and/or coal. The use of these energy sources caused grave problems, such as large-scale deforestation, loss of land, and air pollution. Although solar energy was used in earlier times, for instance, to evaporate salt along seashores, to dry crops for preservation, or to sunbake clay bricks, its use was limited to processes that required relatively low temperatures.

We can apply the same strategy to basic industrial processes that require thermal energy instead of mechanical energy, which was not possible before the Industrial Revolution.

Today, renewable energy other than biomass can be used to produce thermal energy in two ways. First, we can use wind turbines, water turbines or solar PV panels to produce electricity, which can then be used to produce heat by electrical resistance. This was not possible in pre-industrial times, because there was no electricity.

Solar thermal printing

Augustin Mouchot's solar powered printing press, 1882. 

Second, we can apply solar heat directly, using water-based flat plate collectors or evacuated tube collectors, which collect solar radiation from all directions and can reach temperatures of 120 degrees celsius. We also have solar concentrator collectors, which track the sun, concentrate its radiation, and can generate temperatures high enough to melt metals or produce microchips and solar cells. These solar technologies only became available in the late 19th century, following advances in the manufacturing of glass and mirrors.

Limited Energy Storage

Running factories on variable power sources doesn't exclude the use of energy storage or a backup of dispatchable power plants. Adjusting demand to supply should take priority, but other strategies can play a supportive role. First, energy storage or backup power generation capacity could be useful for critical production processes that can't be halted for prolonged periods, such as food production.

Second, short-term energy storage is also useful to run production processes that are disadvantaged by an intermittent power supply. [16] Third, short-term energy storage is crucial for computer-controlled manufacturing processes, allowing these to continue operating during short interruptions in the power supply, and to shut down safely in case of longer power cuts. [17]

800px-Jongkind_Johan_Berthold_Binneshaven_Rotterdam

Binnenshaven Rotterdam, a painting by Jongkind Johan Berthold (1857)

Compared to pre-industrial times, we now have more and better energy storage options available. For example, we can use biomass as a backup power source for mechanical energy production, something pre-industrial millers could not do – before the arrival of the steam engine, there was no way of converting biomass into mechanical energy.

Before the arrival of the steam engine, there was no way of converting biomass into mechanical energy.

We also have chemical batteries, and we have low-tech systems like flywheels, compressed air storage, hydraulic accumulators, and pumped storage plants. Heat energy can be stored in well-insulated water reservoirs (up to 100 degrees) or in salt, oil or ceramics (for much higher temperatures). All these storage solutions would fail for some reason or another if they were tasked with storing a large share of renewable energy production. However, they can be very useful on a smaller scale in support of demand adjustment.

The New Age of Sail

Cargo transportation is another candidate for using renewable power when it's available. This is most obvious for shipping. Ships still carry about 90 percent of the world's trade, and although shipping is the most energy efficient way of transportation per tonne-kilometre, total energy use is high and today's oil powered vessels are extremely polluting. 

How to run the economy on the weather

Image by Arne List [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A common high-tech idea is to install wind turbines off-shore, convert the electricity they generate into hydrogen, and then use that hydrogen to power seagoing vessels. However, it's much more practical and energy efficient to use wind to power ships directly, like we have done for thousands of years. Furthermore, oil powered cargo ships often float idle for days or even weeks before they can enter a port or leave it, which makes the relative unpredictability of sailboats less problematic.

It's much more practical and energy efficient to use wind to power ships directly.

As with industrial manufacturing, we now have much better technology and knowledge available to base a worldwide shipping industry on wind power alone. We have new materials to build better and longer-lasting ships and sails, we have more accurate navigation and communication instruments, we have more predictable weather forecasts, we can make use of solar panels for backup engine power, and we have more detailed knowledge about winds and currents. 

Sailboat revival

Thomas W. Lawson was a seven-masted, stell-hulled schooner built in 1902 for the Pacific trade. It had a crew of 18.

In fact, the global wind and current patterns were only fully understood when the age of sail was almost over. Between 1842 and 1861, American navigator Matthew Fontaine Maury collected an extensive array of ship logs which enabled him to chart prevailing winds and sea currents, as well as their seasonal variations. [18]

Maury's work enabled seafarers to shorten sailing time considerably, by simply taking better advantage of prevailing winds and sea currents. For instance, a journey from New York to Rio de Janeiro was reduced from 55 to 23 days, while the duration of a trip from Melbourne to Liverpool was halved, from 126 to 63 days. [18]

More recently, yacht racing has generated many innovations that have never been applied to commercial shipping. For example, in the 2017 America's Cup, the Emirates Team New Zealand introduced stationary bikes instead of hand cranks to power the hydraulic system that steers the boat. Because our legs are stronger than our arms, pedal powered 'grinding' allows for quicker tacking and gybing in a race, but it could also be useful to reduce the required manpower for commercial sailing ships. [19]

Emirates team new zealand

Speed sailing records are also telling. The fastest sailboat in 1972 did not even reach 50 km/h, while the current record holder -- the Vestas Sailrocket 2 -- sailed at 121 km/h in 2012. While these types of ships are not practical to carry cargo, they could inspire other designs that are.

Wind & Solar Powered Trains

We could follow a similar approach for land-based transportation, in the form of wind and solar powered trains. Like sailing boats, trains could be running whenever there is renewable energy available. Not by putting sails on trains, of course, but by running them on electricity made by solar PV panels or wind turbines along the tracks. This would be an entirely new application of a centuries-old strategy to deal with variable energy sources, only made possible by the invention of electricity.

Wind and solar powered trains would be an entirely new application of a centuries-old strategy to deal with variable energy sources.

Running cargo trains on renewable energy is a great use of intermittent wind power because they are usually operated at night, when wind power is often at its best and energy demand is at its lowest. Furthermore, just like cargo ships, cargo trains already have unreliable schedules because they often sit stationary in train-yards for days, waiting to become fully loaded.

Cardiff_Docks _Lionel_Walden

Cardiff Docks, a painting by Lionel Walden, 1894

Even the speed of the trains could be regulated by the amount of renewable energy that is available, just as the wind speed determines the speed of a sailing ship. A similar approach could also work with other electrical transportation systems, such as trolleytrucks, trolleyboats or aerial ropeways.

Combining solar and wind powered cargo trains with solar and wind powered factories creates extra possibilities. For example, at first sight, solar or wind powered passenger trains appear to be impossible, because people are less flexible than goods. If a solar powered train is not running or is running too slow, an appointment may have to be rescheduled at the last minute. Likewise, on cloudy days, few people would make it to the office. 

Railwat covered with solar panels in belgium infrabel

Solar PV panels cover a railway in Belgium, 2016. Image: Infrabel.

However, this could be solved by using the same renewable power sources for factories and passenger trains. Solar panels along the railway lines could be sized for cloudy days, and thus guarantee a minimum level of energy for a minimum service of passenger trains (but no industrial production). During sunny days, the extra solar power could be used to run the factories along the railway line, or to run extra passenger (or cargo) trains.

Consequences for Society: Consumption & Production

As we've seen, if industrial production and cargo transportation became dependent on the availability of renewable energy, we would still be able to produce a diverse range of consumer goods, and transport them all over the globe. However, not all products would be available all the time. If I want to buy new shoes, I might have to wait for the right season to get them manufactured and delivered.

Production and consumption would depend on the weather and the seasons. Solar powered factories would have higher production rates in the summer months, while wind powered factories would have higher production rates in the winter months. Sailing seasons also need to be taken into account. 

If I want to buy new shoes, I might have to wait for the right season to get them manufactured and delivered.

But running an economy on the rhythms of the weather doesn't necessarily mean that production and consumption rates would go down. If factories and cargo transportation adjust their energy use to the weather, they can use the full annual power production of wind turbines and solar panels.

Monet_Claude_A_Windmill_at_Zaandam

A Windmill at Zaandam, a painting by Claude Monet, 1871. 

Manufacturers could counter seasonal production shortages by producing items 'in season' and then stocking it close to consumers for sale during low energy periods. In fact, the products themselves would become 'energy storage' in this scenario. Instead of storing energy to manufacture products in the future, we would manufacture products whenever there is energy available, and store the products for later sale instead.

However, seasonal production may well lead to lower production and consumption rates. Overproducing in high energy times requires large production facilities and warehouses, which would be underused for the rest of the year. To produce cost-efficiently, manufacturers will need to make compromises. From time to time, these compromises will lead to product shortages, which in turn could encourage people to consider other solutions, such as repair and re-use of existing products, crafted products, DIY, or exchanging and sharing goods.

Consequences for the Workforce

Adjusting energy demand to energy supply also implies that the workforce adapts to the weather. If a factory runs on solar power, then the availability of power corresponds very well with human rhythms. The only downside is that workers would be free from work especially in winter and on cloudy days.

However, if a factory or a cargo train runs on wind power, then people will also have to work during the night, which is considered unhealthy. The upside is that they would have holidays in summer and on good weather days.

1024px-Henri_Adolphe_Schaep_-_Nachtelijk_werk_in_de_dokken (1)

Nachtelijk werk in de dokken (Night work at the docks), a painting by Henri Adolphe Schaep, 1856. 

If a factory or a transportation system is operated by wind or solar energy alone, workers would also have to deal with uncertainty about their work schedules. Although we have much better weather forecasts than in pre-industrial times, it remains difficult to make accurate predictions more than a few days ahead. 

However, it is not only renewable power plants that are now completely automated. The same goes for factories. The last century has seen increasing automation of production processes, based on computers and robots. So-called “dark factories” are already completely automated (they need no lights because there is nobody there).

It's not only renewable power plants that are now completely automated. The same goes for factories.

If a factory has no workers, it doesn't matter when it's running. Furthermore, many factories already run for 24 hours per day, partly operated by millions of night shift workers. In these cases, night work would actually decrease because these factories will only run through the night if it's windy.

Finally, we could also limit the main share of industrial manufacturing and railway transportation to normal working hours, and curtail the oversupply during the night. In this scenario, we would simply have less material goods and more holidays. On the other hand, there would be an increased need for other types of jobs, like craftsmanship and sailing.

What About the Internet?

In conclusion, industrial manufacturing and cargo transportation -- both over land and over sea -- could be run almost entirely on variable renewable power sources, with little need for energy storage, transmission networks, balancing capacity or overbuilding renewable power plants. In contrast, the modern high-tech approach of matching energy supply to energy demand at all times requires a lot of extra infrastructure which makes renewable power production a complex, slow, expensive and unsustainable undertaking.

Adjusting energy demand to supply would make switching to renewable energy much more realistic than it is today. There would be no curtailment of energy, and no storage and transmission losses. All the energy produced by solar panels and wind turbines would be used on the spot and nothing would go to waste. 

Carol_Popp_de_Szathmary_-_Marina

Marina, a painting by Carol Popp de Szathmary, 1800s. 

Admittedly, adjusting energy demand to energy supply can be less straightforward in other sectors. Although the internet could be entirely operated on variable power sources -- using asynchronous networks and delay-tolerant software -- many newer internet applications would then disappear.

At home, we probably can’t expect people to sit in the dark or not to cook meals when there is no renewable energy. Likewise, people will not come to hospitals only on sunny days. In such instances, there is a larger need for energy storage or other measures to counter an intermittent power supply. That's for a next post.

Kris De Decker. Edited by Jenna Collett.

Part of the research for this article happened during a fellowship at the Demand Centre, Lancaster, UK.


Related articles: 


Sources: 

[1] Lucas, Adam. Wind, Water, Work: Ancient and Medieval Milling Technology. Vol. 8. Brill, 2006.

[2] Reynolds, Terry S. Stronger than a hundred men: a history of the vertical water wheel. Vol. 7. JHU Press, 2002.

[3] Hills, Richard Leslie. Power from wind: a history of windmill technology. Cambridge University Press, 1996.

[4] Paine, Lincoln. The sea and civilization: a maritime history of the world. Atlantic Books Ltd, 2014.

[5] One of the earliest large hydropower dams was the Cento dam in Italy (1450), which was 71 m long and almost 6 m high. By the 18th century, the largest dams were up to 260 m long and 25 m high, with power canals leading to dozens of water wheels. [2]

[6] Although windmills had all kinds of internal mechanisms to adapt to sudden changes in wind speed and wind direction, wind power had no counterpart for the dam in water power.

[7] This explains why windmills became especially important in regions with dry climates, in flat countries, or in very cold areas, where water power was not available. In countries with good water resources, windmills only appeared when the increased demand for power created a crisis because the best waterpower sites were already occupied.

[8] Tide mills were technically similar to water mills, but they were more reliable because the sea is less prone to dry out, freeze over, or change its water level than a river.

[9] Sieferle, Rolf Peter, and Michael P. Osman. The subterranean forest: energy systems and the industrial revolution. Cambridge: White Horse Press, 2001.

[10] Freese, Stanley. Windmills and millwrighting. Cambridge University Press, 1957

[11] Wailes, Rex. The English windmill. London, Routledge & K. Paul, 1954

[12] The global wind pattern is complemented by regional wind patterns, such as land and sea breezes. The Northern Indian Ocean has semi-annually reversing Monsoon winds. These blow from the southwest from June to November, and from the northeast from December to May. Maritime trade in the Indian Ocean started earlier than in other seas, and the established trade routes were entirely dependent on the season. 

[13] Jenkins, H. L. C. "Ocean passages for the world." The Royal Navy, Somerset (1973).

[14] Windmillers had to be alert to keep the gap between the stones constant however choppy the wind, and before the days of the centrifugal governor this was done by hand. The miller had to watch the power of the wind, to judge how much sail cloth to spread, and to be prepared  to stop the mill under sail and either take in or let out more cloth, for there were no patent sails. And before the fantail came into use, he had to watch the direction of the wind as well and keep the sails square into the wind's eye. [11]

[15] Apart from electricity, the Industrial Revolution also brought us compressed air, water under pressure, and improved mechanical power transmission, which can all be valuable alternatives for electricity in certain applications. 

[16] A similar distinction was made in the old days. For example, when spinning cloth, a constant speed was required to avoid gearwheels hunting and causing the machines to deliver thick and thin parts in rovings or yarns. [3] That's why spinning was only mechanised using water power, which could be stored to guarantee a more regular power supply, and not wind power. Wind power was also unsuited for processes like papermaking, mine haulage, or operating blast furnace bellows in ironworks.

[17] Very short-term energy storage is required for many mechanical production processes running on variable power sources, in order to smooth out small and sudden variations in energy supply. Such mechanical systems were already used in pre-industrial windmills. 

[18] Leighly, J. (ed) (1963) The Physical Geography of the Sea and its Meteorology by Matthew Fontaine Maury, 8th Edition, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. Cited by Knowles, R.D. (2006) "Transport shaping space: the differential collapse of time/space", Journal of Transport Geography, 14(6), pp. 407-425.

[19] Rival teams rejected pedal power because they feared radical change, says Team New Zealand designer. The Telegraph, May 24, 2017.


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krivard
392 days ago
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'Sort by price' is lazy

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Sort by price is the dominant way that shopping online now happens. The cheapest airline ticket or widget or freelancer comes up first, and most people click.

It's a great shortcut for a programmer, of course, because the price is a number, and it's easy to sort.

Alphabetical could work even more easily, but it seems less relevant (especially if you're a fan of Zappos or Zima).

The problem: Just because it's easy, it doesn't mean it's as useful as it appears.

It's lazy for the consumer. If you can't take the time to learn about your options, about quality, about side effects, then it seems like buying the cheapest is the way to go--they're all the same anyway, we think.

And it's easy for the producer. Nothing is easier to improve than price. It takes no nuance, no long-term thinking, no concern about externalities. Just become more brutal with your suppliers and customers, and cut every corner you can. And then blame the system.

The merchandisers and buyers at Wal-Mart were lazy. They didn't have to spend much time figuring out if something was better, they were merely focused on price, regardless of what it cost their community in the long run.

We're part of that system, and if we're not happy with the way we're treated, we ought to think about the system we've permitted to drive those changes.

What would happen if we insisted on 'sort by delight' instead?

What if the airline search engines returned results sorted by a (certainly difficult) score that combined travel time, aircraft quality, reliability, customer service, price and a few other factors? How would that change the experience of flying?

This extends far beyond air travel. We understand that it makes no sense to hire someone merely because they charge the cheapest wage. That we shouldn't pick a book or a movie or a restaurant simply because it costs the least.

There are differences, and sometimes, those differences are worth what they cost.

'Worth it' is a fine goal.

What if, before we rushed to sort at all, we decided what was worth sorting for?

Low price is the last refuge of the marketer who doesn't care enough to build something worth paying for.

In your experience, how often is the cheapest choice the best choice?

[PS new dates now posted for the altMBA. ]

       
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krivard
549 days ago
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I take issue with the premise. "Sort by price" is certainly available on any ecommerce site, but the default is usually "best match". And while most places where I shop for airfare do sort by price, they also provide a score of other options for filtering by departure time, arrival time, layover duration, layover airport, and other features (which I don't care about but presumably others do).

TL;DR the default he claims, isn't the default, and the delight he wishes for, already exists.
CallMeWilliam
549 days ago
I was very much hoping someone would see that. Hipmunk sorts by "agony", and very much changed how I book air travel. Amazon looks at match. Agreed, Seth is a bit wrong. I thought it an interestingly enough wrong take to share.
diannemharris
530 days ago
the only store i bother to sort by price is ikea. Most of the time the $10 version will do for my needs and they bury that so that you'll fall in love with the $50 version. (stools, rugs, art, dishes, almost everything at ikea is at these two price points)
CallMeWilliam
550 days ago
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Every attempt to manage academia makes it worse

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I’ve been on Twitter since April 2011 — nearly six years. A few weeks ago, for the first time, something I tweeted broke the thousand-retweets barrier. And I am really unhappy about it. For two reasons.

First, it’s not my own content — it’s a screen-shot of Table 1 from Edwards and Roy (2017):

c49rdmlweaaa4if

And second, it’s so darned depressing.

The problem is a well-known one, and indeed one we have discussed here before: as soon as you try to measure how well people are doing, they will switch to optimising for whatever you’re measuring, rather than putting their best efforts into actually doing good work.

In fact, this phenomenon is so very well known and understood that it’s been given at least three different names by different people:

  • Goodhart’s Law is most succinct: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”
  • Campbell’s Law is the most explicit: “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”
  • The Cobra Effect refers to the way that measures taken to improve a situation can directly make it worse.

As I say, this is well known. There’s even a term for it in social theory: reflexivity. And yet we persist in doing idiot things that can only possibly have this result:

  • Assessing school-teachers on the improvement their kids show in tests between the start and end of the year (which obviously results in their doing all they can depress the start-of-year tests).
  • Assessing researchers by the number of their papers (which can only result in slicing into minimal publishable units).
  • Assessing them — heaven help us — on the impact factors of the journals their papers appear in (which feeds the brand-name fetish that is crippling scholarly communication).
  • Assessing researchers on whether their experiments are “successful”, i.e. whether they find statistically significant results (which inevitably results in p-hacking and HARKing).

What’s the solution, then?

I’ve been reading the excellent blog of economist Tim Harford, for a while. That arose from reading his even more excellent book The Undercover Economist (Harford 2007), which gave me a crash-course in the basics of how economies work, how markets help, how they can go wrong, and much more. I really can’t say enough good things about this book: it’s one of those that I feel everyone should read, because the issues are so important and pervasive, and Harford’s explanations are so clear.

In a recent post, Why central bankers shouldn’t have skin in the game, he makes this point:

The basic principle for any incentive scheme is this: can you measure everything that matters? If you can’t, then high-powered financial incentives will simply produce short-sightedness, narrow-mindedness or outright fraud. If a job is complex, multifaceted and involves subtle trade-offs, the best approach is to hire good people, pay them the going rate and tell them to do the job to the best of their ability.

I think that last part is pretty much how academia used to be run a few decades ago. Now I don’t want to get all misty-eyed and rose-tinted and nostalgic — especially since I wasn’t even involved in academia back then, and don’t know from experience what it was like. But could it be … could it possibly be … that the best way to get good research and publications out of scholars is to hire good people, pay them the going rate and tell them to do the job to the best of their ability?

[Read on to Why do we manage academia so badly?]

Here is a nicely formatted full-page version of the Edwards and Roy table, for you to print out and stick on all the walls of your university. My thanks to David Roberts for preparing it.

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krivard
571 days ago
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This is especially thought-provoking if you consider that metrics like these are one of the primary tools women (& presumably other underprivileged groups in ac) have for proving their competence in a community that would otherwise find it easy to dismiss them.

How can we motivate good work in a way that is robust to bias?
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The puzzling way Republicans want to replace the individual mandate, explained with a cartoon

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krivard
590 days ago
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