Arnold Kling  

Morning Commentary

My Policy Trade-Offs Conjectur... The Cartoon Bandwagon...

1. Richard Epstein on the SEC suit against Goldman.

the SEC complaint makes no mention that Goldman actually took the same side of the deal as ACA, which puts it in the unique position of defrauding itself.

Read the whole thing.

2. David Brooks writes,

The premise of the current financial regulatory reform is that the establishment missed the last bubble and, therefore, more power should be vested in the establishment to foresee and prevent the next one.

David Brooks usually is more sympathetic to elites than I am. But in this column he sounds much more like me.

3. William Easterly writes,

Indulging in sheer speculation here, is it because Powerpoint is indispensable to make the military's assigned task appear feasible when it is inherently infeasible -- to achieve development, democracy, and peace by military means?

A lot of people hate PowerPoint, but that does not stop it from being a primary communication tool in organizations. If Easterly were correct, then we would not observe PowerPoint being used in other cases. Instead, PowerPoint is very much used in the Pentagon. Read Thomas P.M. Barnett, where he makes PowerPoint briefings sound like the most important weapon in the whole military.

The one virtue I can think of for PowerPoint is that it forces you to prepare for a presentation. In general, I think that the less you prepare, the more you ramble, the more you fail to emphasize your key points, and thus the more you waste the time of the audience.

It would be interesting to conduct experiments in which you randomly assign presenters to three groups. One does no preparation, one takes 10 hours to prepare a PowerPoint presentation, and another takes 10 hours to prepare but without using PowerPoint. Measuring the effectiveness of the presentations would be challenging but not impossible. My prior would be that the best results would come from prepared-without-PP, but the most dramatic difference would be how poorly the unprepared group would perform. If so, then whether PowerPoint improves business meetings depends on what you think the most likely alternative would be.

COMMENTS (8 to date)
Chris T writes:

I personally don't think modern science could be done without powerpoint.

Scott Willis writes:

I had trouble with the Richard Epstein link if anyone else has trouble here is the url:

chipotle writes:

Barry Ritholtz has a more useful (e.g., lawyerly) analysis of the case against Goldman. Short version: it's strong; Goldman will settle.

Jody writes:

Re Powerpoint: I've heard this criticism alot, but have always thought that it's a poor craftsman that blames his tools.

Or it's not that Powerpoint makes a bad presentation, it's that bad presenters make bad presentations.

Kevin Donoghue writes:

If Easterly were correct, then we would not observe PowerPoint being used in other cases.

William Easterly speculates that Powerpoint is needed to make an infeasible task appear feasible. Arnold Kling demonstrates a very common type of misreading: interpreting a conditional statement as biconditional. (If Powerpoint has other uses, that doesn't falsify Easterly's hypothesis.)

A better test is whether officers managed to make tasks appear feasible, when they were inherently infeasible, in the days before they had Powerpoint. Sadly, they did. Self-deception requires only the simplest technology.

Tracy W writes:

In my probably non-representative experience, people use Powerpoint because it doesn't have to go through all the layers of peer review and proofreaders that a Word document does.

Jeremy, Alabama writes:

The ultimate PowerPoint deconstruction was certainly written by Edward R Tufte. It is penetrating and hilarious, but also (in how PP contributed to the Columbia shuttle disaster) tragic.

Available here$Content/Technology+Workshop+Materials/$file/Tufte_article_reduced.pdf

but I strongly recommend you drop the $7:

It will completely change your appreciation of PowerPoint.

Peter writes:

PowerPoint is used primary because people don't want to know and don't want to care. I have been in the government for fifteen years and the core problem with PowerPoint that I have seen it now the product itself but the over reliance on "briefs" to make decisions about complex issues. The issue I routinely run into is simply one of apathetic willful ignorance by key decisions makers and their militant reliance on briefs and then failing to trust the expert tasked with creating and giving the brief. As I look at it we started with memorandums/position papers then to PowerPoint/briefs and are moving towards twits.

I never really thought about it in these terms (I just wrote it off as the ADD generation) but was listening to a while ago and one of the justices made the excellent point on why they primarily communicate with each other via written papers and not conversations.

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