Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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Wednesday, January 12, 2005
 
You can always look it up - or can you? Here's a little paradox. A few posts down I said, "that philosophy worked for Henry Ford." I was referring to the story about him I thought I remembered, wherein he was on the witness stand being questioned on his knowledge of well-known events in US history. For some reason the other side in the court case wished to portray Ford as an ignoramus. And he was, rather. (Besides being an anti-semite and having other disagreeable characteristics.) Be that as it may, he came up with a corker of a riposte: he pointed out that any time he wanted to know who signed the Declaration of Independence or any other factual question he had only to press a button on his desk and get his staff to find out, and they would, employing world experts if necessary. His genius lay elsewhere.

Well, I think that's how the story goes. Only... I haven't succeeded in looking it up, either on Google or in any of the books I can lay my hand on. Probably I've got a key word wrong. Maybe it wasn't Henry Ford at all.

While failing to look up that anecdote about the ease of looking things up I came across this fascinating article by E.D Hirsch: "You can always look it up - or can you?" It's about how much better you are at looking things up if you know a lot of the facts to start with. He describes it as the Matthew Effect ("For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath") operating in the field of education.