The Dutch toilet cleaner ‘WC-EEND’ (literally: ‘Toilet Duck’) aired a famous commercial in 1989 that had the slogan ‘We from WC-EEND advise… WC-EEND’. It is now a common saying in The Netherlands whenever someone gives an opinion that is clearly aligned with their self-interest. In this blog, I will examine the hypothesis that blogs are, on average, of higher quality than journal articles. Below, I present 5 arguments in favor of this hypothesis. [EDIT: I’m an experimental psychologist. Mileage of what you’ll read below may vary in other disciplines].
The implicit assumption is that if you study in multiple areas, you’ll only learn at a surface level, never gain mastery.
The success of expert-generalists throughout time shows that this is wrong.Learning across multiple fields provides an information advantage (and therefore an innovation advantage) because most people focus on just one field.
For example, if you’re in the tech industry and everyone else is just reading tech publications, but you also know a lot about biology, you have the ability to come up with ideas that almost no one else could. Vice-versa. If you’re in biology, but you you also understand artificial intelligence, you have an information advantage over everyone else who stays siloed.
Despite this basic insight, few people actually learn beyond their industry.
Each new field we learn that is unfamiliar to others in our field gives us the ability to make combinations that they can’t. This is the expert-generalist advantage.
Weird as it might sound, there are competitive rememberers out there who can memorize a deck of cards in seconds or dozens of words in minutes. So, naturally, someone decided to study them. It turns out that practicing their techniques doesn’t just improve your memory — it can also change how your brain works.
There’s been a long-standing debate about whether memory athletes are born with superior memories, or whether their abilities are due to their training regimens. These tend to include an ancient memorization strategy called the method of loci, which involves visualizing important pieces of information placed at key stops along a mental journey. This journey can be an imaginary walk through your house or a local park, or your drive to work. The important thing is that you can mentally move back through it to retrieve the pieces of information you stored. (The ancient Greeks are said to have used it to remember important texts.)
When people ask me if they should work in industry or in academia, I usually advise them to first figure out what they want to do. I.e., what is the mission that you’re on? What is the change you want to make happen in the world? When you have an answer to that, you can then figure out if a company or a university is a better place for you to execute your mission.
Here’re some things I like about working in the business world:
- Access to significant resources to do big projects. AI research is increasingly capital intensive, requiring huge data and computational resources. These are easier to get in a company.
- Strong sense of teamwork. When you don’t need to worry as much about authorship order or making sure this work counts toward your PhD thesis, you can better execute with a strong sense of teamwork and go after team goals and celebrate team successes.
- Rapid decision making (depending on the company). I love working in a nimble environment where we can rapidly direct resources to where there’re needed, ranging from quickly building a new compute cluster, to buying a large amount of data, etc.
- The ability to directly help huge numbers of people, through launching novel products and services.
Here’re some things I like about the academic environment:
- Ability to explore almost any topic under the sun. For example, at Stanford I started recording educational videos. Initially no one considered this “real” Stanford work; but this turned into Coursera (and benefitted Stanford too). At Stanford, when my students and I like felt like building an open-source robotics platform, we could also just do it without justifying it to anyone. This led to the creation of ROS, a very successful open-source platform.
- The freedom to spend 100% of your time learning and not have any direct output even for years. Companies like Baidu are very supportive of employee growth and often have people spend months just learning/studying; but it would be harder to have employees do this for years.
- The ability to earn a degree. Even today, having an advanced degree is helpful. Universities and companies can both be very good at developing talent, and society is getting really good at recognizing ability, regardless of where you gained that ability.
For myself, one of the missions I’ve been excited about is creating universal access to the world’s best education, and I thought a company (Coursera) would execute best on that mission. More recently, I wanted to develop AI technologies that let us help hundreds of millions of people, and I thought a company (Baidu) would be best for that mission. But there’re plenty of other worthy missions, such as teaching students, and certain areas of investigation, that would be better to execute in a university.
How can so many people believe things that are demonstrably false? The question has taken on new urgency as the Trump administration propagates falsehoods about voter fraud, climate change and crime statistics that large swaths of the population have bought into. But collective delusion is not new, nor is it the sole province of the political right. Plenty of liberals believe, counter to scientific consensus, that G.M.O.s are poisonous, and that vaccines cause autism.
The situation is vexing because it seems so easy to solve. The truth is obvious if you bother to look for it, right? This line of thinking leads to explanations of the hoodwinked masses that amount to little more than name calling: “Those people are foolish” or “Those people are monsters.”
Such accounts may make us feel good about ourselves, but they are misguided and simplistic: They reflect a misunderstanding of knowledge that focuses too narrowly on what goes on between our ears. Here is the humbler truth: On their own, individuals are not well equipped to separate fact from fiction, and they never will be. Ignorance is our natural state; it is a product of the way the mind works.
What does it mean when someone calls you smart or intelligent? According to developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, it could mean one of eight things. In this video interview, Dr. Gardner addresses his eight classifications for intelligence: writing, mathematics, music, spatial, kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.
Procrastination hits everyone, although perhaps that wording is wrong. It’s an internal force rather than an external one that acts on you – and that’s great news because it means getting past the thumb-twiddling is just a matter of having an actionable plan.
A company funded by Amazon.com’s CEO Jeff Bezos, Unity Biotechnology, is working to bring this technology to human beings.