East Coast branch of the RMBC reporting in about The Knowledge Illusion

NOTE: The following post was sent to us via email from our former member Burk Ketcham who moved to East Coast but still participates in reading our book selections. I posted his comments here for him. Ron

Let me start by telling you I went to the Union College Library where I now have lending privileges trying to find the November book. They did not have it so I went to the stacks and randomly selected a book about knowledge to read. It turned out to be one of those academic exercises full of technical terms which made no sense to me. The authors, one at Cambridge, seemed to have no ability to make their points in a clear and understandable way. So I did not check the book out.

A few days later I found the November book at the City library and checked it out to read. I want to compliment the authors on writing in such a way that their knowledge was easily conveyed to a non academic like me.

The book got me reflecting about some of my flawed thinking processes this past year. As most of you know, exorbitant  rent increases where I had lived for 20 years forced a move. It was either Tacoma or back east closer to my sons and their wives. Back east won and I considered various cities closer to Boston and Philadelphia where they live.
I finally settled on Pittsburgh as on several lists it came up as one of the top livable cities in the US. I never bothered to check further to find out why it had such a reputation,what factors were considered to make it livable and and who did the rating. On the strength of this touting I moved to Pittsburgh on February 1st.  When it started to warm up the high particulate levels in the air there were not blown away and they adversely impacted a long dormant scarring of my lungs.   This led to some research I should have done before the move. I learned from the American Lung Association that Pittsburgh still has some of the highest levels of pollution of any US city and Air Now on the web showed many days of high pollution levels of danger to those at risk like me, In retrospect it became obvious that those rating the city as very livable ignored air quality in their evaluations. Had all this livable stuff just been part of a Chamber of Commerce promotion to attract business to a city that had suffered a severe loss in population. If so, the last thing they wanted you to know was what the American Lung Association had to say.

I did find Pittsburgh a livable city but a place not healthy for me. So I moved to Schenectady, NY in August where I had checked the air quality before moving.
When I took a job in LA in the seventies I determined that the only place with clear air there where it would be healthy for my family to live was along the coast. Because of that the prices of homes along the coast were very inflated. Since I was moving from an area near Boston where housing prices were then depressed to an area with inflated prices it was such that i could not afford to move so I quit the job and returned to Boston.  It was basically the need for clean air that forced a decision not to move.

This year I knew only that the Pittsburgh air was much better than in the smokestack era but did not bother to check a condition I knew could be a health issue. It may have been that the lung problem had been dormant for so long that i overlooked it. I am sure the authors would have an explanation for my failures this year.   They probably would say I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

The book mentions all the information and knowledge available on the web. But there is no one screening the information to determine its accuracy.  Those who rated Pittsburgh evidently ignored, on purpose or as an oversight, that the air there was considered a serious health hazard by the American Lung Association. The ALA had the ethical responsibility to tell the truth,and they did.

The book makes a good case for group thinking. In my profession as a consultant to. cities and towns in developing long range plans group thinking was essential to evolving a plan that met the needs of the community and could be adopted. In the early stages of the planing process we would find out all we could about the city and the constraints and opportunities it faced. That involved a lot of research and meetings. From that we would develop a proposed plan or several alternatives which were the subject of workshops and hearings to get public input. That group think would become the basis for revising and finalizing a plan for final adoption. That is a quick summary of a rather complex and time- consuming process that essentially was a combination of professional expertise and community participation.

On the professional level there was group think too as planning a city involves land use, transportation, recreation, education, economic development, public safety and the list goes on. To the extent that expertise in those areas are available they are brought into the planning process.

The value of the book to me was in revealing the reasons for some bad decisions on my part and learning ways to avoid those mistakes in the future.

I  think, therefore I hope to make good decisions!


About Ron Boothe

I am a Professor Emeritus at Emory University, currently living in Tacoma Washington USA.
This entry was posted in 2019 Selections, The Knowledge Illusion. Bookmark the permalink.

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