The electric lag

From Tim Harford’s book Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy: As electric motors became widely available in the late nineteenth century, some factory owners experimented by using them to replace that large central steam engine, drawing clean and modern power from a nearby generating station. After such a big investment, they tended to be disappointed […]

The boundary between opinion and expertise

There’s a line I love from The New York Times 2020 Report, on staffing: We should continue to employ a healthy mix of newshounds, wordsmiths and analysts. I like it for the simple reason that it acknowledges that great journalists can take many forms — indeed many more than that simple (and text-biased) categorization. But if “analysts” […]

Triangulating the truth, and how journalistic objectivity should work

In a recent study, researchers at Stanford asked 45 people to evaluate the credibility of information on different websites. Their goal was to examine the participants’ ability to discern truth from falsehood. 10 of the participants were PhD historians; 10 were professional fact-checkers; the rest were college students. The fact-checkers did far better on the […]

Electricity, the New Deal, and America’s urban-rural divide

But the New Deal’s electrical reformers aimed for something even bigger than an economic stimulus to relieve farmers and put workers back in business. They hoped to use this program to heal a cultural rift between urban and rural America that had been widening for decades, as city populations boomed, rural villages dwindled, and many […]

Who gets credit for America’s adoption of electricity?

Another post from Age of Edison: Defending these new regulations [on electric light], the progressive reformers pointed to Europe’s example. Governments there had played a more active role in controlling the development of the electric industry. National laws encouraged municipal ownership of utilities and set standards for all electrical work, drawn up by leading scientists and […]

America the inventive

More from Age of Edison, on why the U.S. surpassed Europe in invention: Europeans often conceded that Americans displayed a remarkable aptitude for invention, particularly in the field of labor-saving devices. The country had not produced many philosophers, as one Englishman put it, “but her practical men may be numbered by the hundreds. If a Yankee […]