Some are excited by the fact that geeks are leaving Wall Street and going to do “good” in Washington, DC.
But we already said we’re freaked out by this, since they leave a trail of destruction wherever they go. Case in point: Robert McNamara and The Vietnam War.
The journalist David Halberstam wrote that McNamara mistrusted people who did not speak his language of statistics and hard data. If it ever came down to one person saying something “just didn’t feel right” or that it “smelled wrong”, he would always go with his facts over their feeling. Fatally, in the case of Vietnam, the data he received was not accurate and yet he trusted more in the illusion of reality generated by the faulty data, the clean, impersonal, objective facts, than the messy yet accurate eye-witness reports brought home by journalists and soldiers. Interviewed later in life about the tension between his private reputation as an honorable, modest man, devoted to public service and his professional reputation as a ruthless, data-driven boss, he said “there is no contradiction between a soft heart and hard head.”
Of course, McNamara’s folly would’ve paled in comparison to the damage if famed mathemitician John von Neumann had gotten his way. Based on game theory, he was a fervent advocate of a nuclear first-strike against Russia — a move that probaby would’ve ended the whole world. Thankfully Eisenhower didn’t listen to him, though his committe did contribute to the strong nuclear build-up.
What’s that? You think it will be different this time and the nerds will show some humility, rather than place their models on altars? OK, we’re relieved then.
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