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Monday, 18 April 2016

If You Nitpick Trudeau's Quantum Computing Spiel, You're Missing the Point

What matters here is having a Prime Minister who wants us to stop laughing when the media asks a politician about science.

What happened?
Justin Trudeau was jokingly asked to explain quantum computing at a university of Waterloo press event. The room full of reporters laughed. He then excitedly answered the science question. Do you think it was staged? Do you think his explanation was bad, or that he dodged the ISIS question? Maybe you think he's a failed drop out, or that the media are puppets.

If you're criticizing this event, you've completely missed the point. I decided to write my responses to the most common criticisms so I can stop repeating myself.


Why this matters
Here's the current state of science in politics: reporters laughed at the idea of a Prime Minister knowing the answer to a basic science question. This is the low intellectual standard we have today for politicians. Anyone who watches a seven minute Youtube video on quantum computers could adequately answer the question Trudeau was asked - and yet the idea of him answering the question is apparently laughable. At least according to a room full of reporters.

This is not okay. This is horrible.

It was staged!
I don't care if it was staged. The positive effects are the same.

You might say (while wearing a tin foil hat) that maybe the reporters laughing was also staged. Again, I don't care. Haven't you seen behaviour like this before from the media? I have. It was very believable.

Many people know that Justin Trudeau was once a drama teacher. He certainly understands the value of playing a role, storytelling, acting, and fiction. When an author writes a fictional story they are not lying. Fiction can communicate values and truth, even if it's all made up. Similarly, if Trudeau puts on his scientist hat and poses in front of mathematical symbols to talk about technology, he is acting out a role. All the world's a stage.

The truth communicated here is: stop laughing when politicians claim to know basic science.

Trudeau is a drop out!
Trudeau "studied engineering and started a master’s degree in environmental geography". Someone online suggested this was "Such a nice way of saying he failed to finish either of these things".

First, an incomplete degree is far from worthless. School is about much more than putting a brand name on your resume. I feel sorry for anyone who thinks that finding a new direction for your life makes you a failure.

Second, he dropped out of environmental geography to become a member of parliament (MP). Is anyone suggesting that was a bad idea for him?

He dodged the ISIS question!
Well, no. Apparently Trudeau answered the ISIS question just after the above video clip ends. When people complain about this I think they're just desperately looking to justify their cynicism. Furthermore... haven't you heard Trudeau and our splendid new defence minister talk about ISIS non-stop already..? If you want the answer to that generic ISIS question I suggest you watch the news more often.

His quantum computing (QC) explanation was wrong because...
People are saying Trudeau's QC explanation was bad or even wrong. Critics write long, convoluted paragraphs with technical jargon (superposition, entanglement, duality). These critics are stuck in a bubble. They have no idea that what they've written makes absolutely zero sense to 99.8% of Canadians. I have found that programmers and engineers are extremely bad at public speaking and education. Maybe this comes from the curse of knowledge. Or maybe they just have no respect for humanities topics like communication, education, or literature.

If you think he was technically wrong, then Trudeau is not speaking to you. He is speaking to people who don't even know what "quantum" means.

I've seen others say this video is better than what Trudeau said. Yes, it is. The video also likely took weeks to research, write, design, record, and edit. Is it fair to compare an improvising non-scientist to a top notch, researched, polished educational video?

The Media are Puppets
This is the most reasonable complaint. Trudeau approval rates remain high and the media is positively eating up any positive story they can get on him. You might question whether the media is doing their job of criticizing the government in power. While I agree somewhat, I can't complain this time about the message they're helping promote.

Maybe it was just good acting, but Trudeau seems genuinely interested and excited about science. He's not scared to try and answer a basic science question. I'm happy that's the message he decided to spend his day promoting.


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