Editorial: No need to celebrate ignorance
The Three Men in a Room could take a lesson from the Great Emancipator.
It was President Lincoln who warned that it's better to be silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.
When it came to revealing the depth of their ignorance about the nanotechnology they were so enthusiastically promoting Tuesday in Niskayuna, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos all should have followed Lincoln's advice and kept their mouths shut.
One after the other, the governor, the speaker and the majority leader each openly admitted they had no idea about semiconductor research and manufacturing. Not just one of them. All three.
Referring to Alain Kaloyeros, president of the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany, the leaders of the Empire State all admitted their cluelessness about the work being done there.
"I have no idea what he's talking about, but I believe it is going to work," Cuomo said of Kaloyeros and the technology.
"I still don't understand it," Skelos followed, making reference to the old TV show, "Mork and Mindy," and Robin Williams' catch-phrase, "Nanu, Nanu."
"I didn't understand him then and I don't understand him today, either," Silver added, about the first time the technology was explained to him 20 years ago.
We can understand a little self-deprecating humor about old people not understanding technology. But this went beyond the cliche, into what a colleague the other day called, "a growing celebration of ignorance."
We expect ignorance from ordinary folks. We don't expect it from the top government officials in our state, who are making decisions about multi-million-dollar taxpayer investments in multi-billion-dollar technologies without having a clue what it is they're promoting.
How can they say that the state should invest in this technology if they don't themselves understand what it does, the context in which it is valuable, and the business climate affecting the field?
Surrounding oneself with experts is the sign of a good leader. But how can leaders evaluate that expertise effectively if they don't make it their business to understand what the experts are talking about?
And even if they were somewhat kidding and are actually somewhat knowledgeable about the topic, why would they project their cluelessness while making such a big announcement on such a big stage about something so vital to the future of the state and regional economy?
What kind of confidence are they inspiring from citizens that the decisions they're making are the correct ones?
A self-deprecating joke from our leaders during a speech occasionally is fine.
A celebration of their ignorance is not.