Tech Life I really want the planet to read more

Is the Sky Blue?

The world is full of bullshit right now. Perhaps it’s always been full of bullshit, but I’m sitting here right now and I feel that we – as a species – have taken the bullshit to an entirely new level. Strongly held beliefs are based on the flimsy opinions delivered by totally unqualified sham journalists who are more interested in the size of the audience their stories attract rather than the quality of the facts that support the story.

As an idealistic engineer, I believe that we should be able to source all facts. If you tell me that the sky is blue, there should be a convenient way for me to say, “Well, that’s an interesting theory, but can you definitively prove to me that the sky is, in fact, blue?” You would respond by providing me a URL to a site (or something), ideally several, which definitively and incontrovertibly explain how the sky is blue. I’m not talking about a Wikipedia link or a Quora article, I’m talking about a well-sourced thing, a universally agreed-upon thing that once and forever clearly defines: yes, the sky is blue.

It turns out this is really hard.

In academic papers, there are no less than three types of citation styles used to “to uphold intellectual honesty (or avoiding plagiarism), to attribute prior or unoriginal work and ideas to the correct sources, to allow the reader to determine independently whether the referenced material supports the author’s argument in the claimed way, and to help the reader gauge the strength and validity of the material the author has used.” As you read that definition, you’ll note that nowhere does it state that a citation’s purpose is determine whether said fact is or is not bullshit. A citation’s purpose is to help the reader gauge strength and validity of an argument, to compare other important ideas, and help the reader to form a judgement.

Does this mean we are doomed because of bullshit? No, not if we read.

As I read that definition of citations, I realized that much of what a citation intends to do your brain already does if you provide a steady flow of well formed ideas. When you read any sort of book, you’re exposing yourself to a world of ideas that are decidedly not yours. You’ll love some, you’ll forget many, but, most importantly, your brain will diligently and automatically parse these thoughts, characters, ideas, scenarios, facts, fictions, and wit safely away in your mind so that you, as a reader, can form a judgment of the world in the book. But also, most importantly, the world around you.

I really want the planet to read more, so, once again, I’m offering the Rands in Repose benefit t-shirt.

Rands Benefit Shirt

This is a reprint of a popular logo designed by Victoria Wang and is available via Cotton Bureau in a variety of eye pleasing colors.

As with all previous shirts, 100% of the proceeds from each shirt go to First Book, a nonprofit organization with the mission to give children from low-income families not just the opportunity to read and to own their first new books, but also learn to form their own judgements built with their own knowledge and ideas that they find in books.

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12 Responses

  1. Nolan 11 years ago

    Just one problem: how do you cite the GD sky?

  2. Jonathan 11 years ago

    The problem is that we can no longer seem to agree on what is basically true and what is not. ‘Facts’ now break along party lines. In the old days (the 90’s?) we could agree to disagree about interpretation of certain facts but now the very facts themselves are in constant dispute. What chance does this give us? Our political discourse has quite literally descended to infantile levels.

  3. Wyatt 11 years ago

    It seems to me that we have always said that the previous generation was more civil/honest/hardworking/etc… That is, until you go back and look at some of the things previous lawmakers have said on the floor of congress or what has been printed in papers.

    And, as always, what comment section would be complete without a reference to xkcd:

  4. Ben Dunlap 11 years ago

    Interesting — would like to know more about First Book’s criteria for book selection. I can’t readily find anything on the site that resembles a book list or even a list of principles for making a book list. And the duties of the local Advisory Boards, per the FAQ, do not seem to include book selection.

    I think the core idea is wonderful but there is a surfeit of shitty children’s books on the market, and a huge effort of curation is necessary. (will be starting to read to my fourth child soon, and my oldest now brings stuff home from the school library every week, so I know a little bit whereof I speak)

    I wonder where/if that effort of curation fits into First Book’s mission?

  5. Miles Archer 11 years ago

    Great cause. I don’t need another t-shirt, but I’ll be happy to donate.

  6. Anothony Blackham 11 years ago

    The fault lies with the Russian people. By eliminating the Soviet Union they got rid of the bogy on which US society can focus its negative energies. That bogy was political. We have replaced it with a bogy that is seen as religious, and history teaches us that facts and faith do not make good bedfellows.

    For all the ‘progress’ our society has made we are still only a short step from the days of the Spanish Inquisition.

  7. No Kids sizes?

  8. Am I missing something or are most of the sizes already sold out again?

  9. Yeah, sold out fairly quickly. Thanks everyone. We’re doing another run and I’ll tweet about it when we get them. Also, you can get automagically notified when the new sizes arrive on the BuyOlympia site.

  10. In the same don’t-believe-everything-people-tell-you vein, I just read The Leprechauns of Software Engineering ( It was great to see the author try and source some of the tightly held software lore many believe as cannon.

  11. Why isn’t there a Women’s version of the tshirt? :-\

  12. +1 on the need for fitted style shirts for women who are project managers (or like this design for other reasons). I was about to propose this as our Release Management team shirt at Mozilla but two of the four managers on our team would want the fitted style preferred by those who enjoy being feminine and since that does not exist, I cannot propose this. Sad.