Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Quick Step with Slow Change

Sometimes I read articles, written by intelligent, educated people, that are quite banal and trite, and I wonder why. Why was a piece written and why was it published?

I'm not talking about pieces with which I disagree for whatever reason, but ones that seem to state the obvious and add nothing new to the human discussion.

Most recently, an article in The Boston Globe  (Feb 28, 2010) by Samuel Arbesman, called "Warning: Your reality is out of date", fits the bill exactly. Arbesman has invented the term "mesofacts" to denote the kinds of facts which change slowly, rather than in quick fluctuation or not at all.

The daily temperature change is a quick fluctuation, as is the closing figure for the stock markets. The height of Mount Everest seemingly never changes (this is in some dispute). The earth's population growth or the changing "economic fortunes of various metropolitan areas" are examples of mesofacts - as is the addition of elements to the periodic table.

"Mesofacts are the facts that change neither too quickly nor too slowly, that lie in this difficult-to-comprehend middle, or meso-, scale."

I understand the range of rates of change. I think the term "mesofacts" is an interesting choice for the mid-range rate. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the middle range is hard to comprehend.  Surely, we see fast, medium, and slow change all around us all the time.

People age, probably not as slowly as many of us would like, but certainly as slowly as some of the meso-changes Arbesman cites. Compost decomposes; car bodies rust; glaciers form and melt; neighbourhoods decline or are gentrified. I know that my atlas showing the USSR and other no-longer-existing countries is out of date. And I don't find that hard to comprehend.

I wonder what is the point.

Is the piece really about continuing to be informed? - Arbesman does address what we think we know from our education and how those facts change. Is it the introduction of a new-fangled term that might catch on and make its inventor famous? Is there a book coming out?

The article says nothing about facts, life, change, and rates of change that most of us don't already know. Sure, maybe some would not know about specific changes - like the new elements in the periodic table - but, most certainly, they do know perfectly well about other mesofacts.

I feel cheated by this kind of article and always suspect a hidden agenda.

I guess it's buyer beware. And maybe I'm just being naive in thinking that there should be a little more meat in the sandwich.


lifeshighway said...

It depends on the deli how much meat you get in the sandwich.

ChrisJ said...


You are quite right - I just thought the Boston Globe was a better deli!

Trulyfool said...


I might go even farther in critique. The term 'mesofact' has just enough juice in it to make good intellectual fast-food.

If -- and here I am very liberal with my permissions -- IF 'mesofact' were a term introduced in a fiction, I might smile and applaud.

What bothers me -- well, among many things, I suppose -- is that it carries the cachet of 'social science', that is, something 'factually factual' (in fact).

Fiction is a proud brother, a plucky sister. What goes, really goes.

Social science, quite useful when handled by discriminating and studious practitioners has become in public discourse almost a matter of 'self-evidence'. If there is a theory, if there are 'stats', if there has been a 'study', well, then!

Journalism, poor journalism (much of it) is a sucker for social science: we can mingle human 'drama' with 'general truth'.

'Mesofact'? 'Mesowriting'.

ChrisJ said...


Yes, how many times do articles start with "studies show"?

Intellectual fast food indeed - McMeso articles1

Pearl said...

aren't most articles and reviews about someone's new book coming out?

ChrisJ said...


Yes, I know, but a little less fake "theory" and a little more transparency would work for me.

Probably the book or whatever is just more of the same though.

Artist said...

I heard about these mesofacts too with the picture of a river flowing fast on the surface and slow at the bottom.

askcherlock said...

With the entire world in such turmoil, do we really need mesofacts? Most people don't even know who their Congressman is. This author fancies himself an intellectual, and perhaps that is true. This article makes me not care in the least about his opinions, however, since they seem totally irrelevant to life and pertinent data.

Salma said...

I never know what to take from an article especially when there appears to be hidden agendas.

I don't think I am a fan of any kind of writing and people who are considered educated can be quite stupid because they can only regurgitate facts that are already known or that people could care less about etc.

Just my take.

ChrisJ said...


Good point. Why worry about mesofacts when no one knows even the megafacts?

ChrisJ said...


Yes, often people write about stuff no one cares about. I guess we're all guilty at times - I know I am!!!

Owen Gray said...

The term "mesofact" is a dead giveaway. While I have nothing against words of more than one syllable, pretentious diction is -- at the least -- a sign of insincerity.

At worst, it's a warning that you're about to be sold snake oil.

askcherlock said...

Newspapers are struggling to survive so I think they cannot afford to properly pay for decent reporters. Consequently, there is too much fluff and not enough "meat."

angelshair said...

When you don't know what to say, just remain silent :)
Maybe he had no subject to talk about :)))

ChrisJ said...


I wonder how long the fluff will help.

ChrisJ said...


Remaining silent works for me - but it doesn't pay very well!!

One of The Guys said...

I read the article and I have to agree with you. I don't get it. I mean I get it, but it doesn't really say anything.

Of course The Globe sometimes is one big "mesofact." And don't get me wrong, I read The Globe and like it, but sometimes I shake my head at what they publish. It would be nice if they evolved a little faster.

ChrisJ said...


I like your comment that the Globe is one big mesofact.

It may not be the author's intent, but I can see "meso" together with all kinds of other things as shorthand for average or mediocre!

Mr. Stupid said...

Well, many articles I have come across, never end. By the time, Part 1 ends, we have Part 2 to Part 20.

Nicely written article. Have a great day!:)

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Owen Gray said...

I noticed you haven't published for awhile. I hope the knee rehab is going well.

ChrisJ said...


The rehab is going well, but I've lost interest in the blog for the time being - slow synapses post surgery?

Thanks for your concern.


Ciss B said...

Good to read there aren't any major problems and that you are just staying away for a time from your blog. I hope you know you are missed!! (Heal well!)

ChrisJ said...


You made my day! Thanks.