Better methods for pragmatic problem-solving?
That's what David Brin thinks is our "most urgent scientific and technical need" according to an interview in Wired Science. He doesn't go into a lot of detail, but neither do the many strangely hostile comments.
Maybe some were offended by his championing mass education and free speech? Or the suggestion that "yammering indignation-junkies" need psychiatric help?
He contrasts the Internet's current inability to make idiots shut up -- he phrases this more politely -- with three older institutions: markets, science, and democracy. "In markets, a really bad product eventually dies. In science that happens to the worst theories. In democracy, bad policies are supposed to fade away." Monopolies can force bad products on consumers, though, and bad policies -- he mentions segregation -- may not stay dead forever. Science mostly seems to move forward, but increasing specialization means those outside the relevant subdiscipline may cling to appealing but disproved ideas (e.g., ecosystem-as-organism) almost indefinitely.
I think my "social escrow" scheme (and related ideas such as Pledge Bank) could help to implement ideas requiring collective contributions (especially from groups larger than families but smaller than nations), but bad ideas might be implemented as efficiently as good ones. How could such groups (or larger ones) pick the best ideas?
Here are a couple of articles on the challenges of collective decision making that I thought were interesting and relevant. (The issue of what decisions should be made by some version of democracy and which are best left to individuals, markets, etc. is also important, of course.)
1) MacKenzie D. (2000) May the best man lose. Discovery November 2000: 85-91. There are several different ways for a group to choose from among more than two candidates (or options). They give different results and it's not clear whether any of them is best.
2) Friedman EJ, Resnick P. (2001) The social cost of cheap pseudonyms. Journal of Economics and Management Strategy 10: 173-199. There are a number of good reasons to allow anonymity in interactions among people, but letting people change pseudonyms encourages bad behavior. "We also discuss the use of free but unreplaceable pseudonyms,and describe a mechanism that implements them using standard encryption techniques, which could be practically implemented in electronic transactions."