Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Steven Johnson is now writing a new column for Times Select readers of The New York Times.
Johnson's newest book, The Ghost Map, makes an easy-to-read and brilliant case for the role of experts and amateurs. Focused on the famous map of London that Dr. John Snow developed to help him prove that cholera was a water-born disease, Johnson shows how the doctor and others needed two kinds of knowledge - city-level and street level. They needed to bring a "birds-eye" view of disease transmission, as well as door-to-door knowledge of London's Soho neighborhood, in order to track the disease to its source. An interesting subplot in the book is the relationship between this new knowledge - the theory of water-born illness - and the fight to disprove the dominant theory of airborne (miasma) disease.
Questions for philanthropists: who are the birds-eye experts that you depend on and who knows what matters at street level? How can you bring both sets of knowledge to bear in addressing social challenges?
Posted by Lucy Bernholz