Where pictures replace words

matilda reading quadrant

I have an article in this month’s Quadrant which is now posted at Quadrant on Line: Drawing the Wrong Conclusions. Three separate issues are brought together – the use of visuals in the place of words in modern academic discourse which not only helps bamboozle others but even helps bamboozle themselves; a review of Mark Steyn’s brilliant book on the hockey stick, A Disgrace to the Profession, which looks at the diagram that has featured in both IPCC Reports and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth; and a final section explaining my own disdain for Keynesian economics which was entrenched by another diagram known as the Keynesian cross, that has done much to implant aggregate demand among economists since it was published in the first edition of Paul Samuelson’s Economics in 1948.

Since a large proportion of what I read was written a century or more ago, I am very aware how few graphs and diagrams there once were. It may only have been the limitations of print technology, but to understand something once required paying attention where one needed to follow the logic. Today, a picture is provided in place of the thousand words of text. The result is that such diagrams have replaced the need to follow close reasoning in understanding the point someone else is making. With diagrams and pictures of all sorts, there is less apparent need to bother with detail and complexity. And it is no small problem as we can see with the hold that global warming and Keynesian macro continue to have, even though the evidence that either is valid remains thin on the ground.

My grand-daughter, bless her, will be part of the mid-century generation who will come after the millennials. These post-millennials will be starting at the more difficult end by going back to thought and reason, as the photo above clearly shows.

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