In brief, a well engineered system is a sort of circulatory system, a “closed loop” where anything that might get out of line has corrective mechanisms built in. Those corrections, though, require effective communication channels between the sensors, the actuators, and the control system.
It seems that most of our problems nowadays have something to do with noise in the communication channels.
When we look at the linkage between society and climate we see communication channels that involve solid but counterintuitive information. The chief disciplines of bullshit, i.e., law, politics and advertising, have developed a culture that is very good at misdirection, to the point where the best information not only doesn’t win out, arguably truth is at a disadvantage.
The problem is very clearly about the noise in the communication channels, and so the engineer’s analogy is the “filter”. Often you hear about “filtering” in discussions about making better use of the internet, a conversation that is now in some circles getting the peculiar name “curation” by analogy to the job of a museum director, I guess. But this analogy is appropriate for the arts, not the sciences. We don’t seek someone with highly developed tastes helping us to direct our attentions.
In matters of fact rather than of taste, we seek powerful mechanisms for weeding out bullshit. (Organizing the non-bullshit is also a huge problem, but it seems to me crucial to clean the stock before sorting it.)
In contemplating this I find myself moving away from an engineering model and toward a biological one. The immune system is charged with distinguishing between “self” and “not-self”; too many false positives and too many false negatives both lead to pathologies. It functions using a large number of autonomous units that behave, in aggregate, differently toward truth and non-truth.
In fact, political enthusiasts offer us a model. Their units, their white blood cells, are enthusiasts for their position. They troll the net for evidence and argument corroborating their opinion and select and share it, providing reinforcement for each other and steeling themselves for battle against the opposition.
(The befuddled US press, still living in a world where political parties were relatively connected to a sane democratic process, are falling off a cliff in offering echoes of the two resultant streams of essentially worthless noise.)
The immune system we need is more subtle, selecting on validity rather than political implication. It seems to me that it can neither fall to experts acting alone (who are overwhelmed by the scale of the noise) nor to amateurs acting alone (who are prey to the bullshit) but will require some organizational structure.