Friday, January 20, 2012

The Airgate Effect

I am a technocrat.  It's taken me some time to reconcile myself to this fact, but I've come to realize that it's true.  I've always distrusted representative democracy, at least as it's commonly practiced.  Every political cycle, we hear rhetoric about a return to common sense.  I no longer trust common sense.  I've become a technocrat, and it's due to something I call the "airgate effect".

For those who don't know what I'm talking about: in the vicinity of my life, pick-up trucks are common.  For the sake of future historians, a pickup truck is a form of automobile with an open cargo bed in the back.  The rear end of the cargo bed is usually a fold-down metal gate, intended to make loading and unloading easier.

Many pick-up truck owners are dissatisfied with this situation.  Vertical planes are bad, they reason.  They interrupt smooth airflow and so reduce fuel efficency, reduce top speed, and so on.  The solution to this problem, they reason, is to stretch a rubberized plastic net - an airgate - across the back of the bed in place of the metal gate.  This, they reason, will let air flow through the gate and prevent the vertical plane effect.  Common sense, right?

There are problems with this. The engineers who design picup trucks in Detroit and elsewhere have access to tools for dealing with problems like this.  They can use scale models, wind tunnels, and computer simulations.  They have test tracks.  And, as it happens, they've solved this problem.  The metal gate causes the cargo bed to be a mass of stagnant air.  Moving air flows over the top of it without interference and without substantial drag.  Replacing the rear metal gate with an airgate ruins this whole effect.  Adding an airgate reduces milage and top speed.

Common sense is wrong.  People who know things about things actually know things about things.  Some topics don't respond well to common sense or to the vox populi.  People relying on common sense probably shouldn't make decisions about whether Pluto is a planet, or how to build pickup trucks, or whether freeway entrance ramps ought to be metered.  Perhaps those decisions should be left to people who know things about things.  This is why I've become a technocrat.

Googlebombing for a cause:

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