If you want to know what I believe, it is that the answer is out there. You just don't want to figure it out.
I had an interesting experience the other day over at Quora. Quora is a general question and answer forum that uses some decently new technology that helps their interface evolve. It's a kind a combination between an interactive Wikipedia, a dumbed down StackOverflow, and a polite Reddit. It can be both fascinating and unnerving. I spend about an hour a day answering some decent questions that are posed and several more minutes gaping incredulously at the vapidity of the rest.
Anyway I decided to ask a question pointing to something specific about the statistical juju behind all of the silly 'What kind of X are you?' surveys that I get from time to time. How do they correlate your answers to 10 questions into a prescription that says 'Aries' or 'Libertarian'? I guess that it's something related to cluster analysis, but I wanted pointers to code or whatever real statisticians call it. In case you're wondering, I want to get started building the Lorite Interrogator. Well the memorable answer that I got was something to the effect of "Well I could give you an answer but before I do I need to know if you're capable of understanding it. Please give me your background." That was an intriguing response, but somewhat nervy too. But I wanted to know badly enough to respond in full. In the end, the person who asked for my vitae just gave a thumbs up to that response, but never answered the question. So I was basically stuck with nothing better than Wikipedia. Quora fail.
The failure gave me something to think about - which was that by describing my own qualifications to understand a sophisticated response, I has essentially proven to myself that I have no excuses not to take a graduate level course. After all, I wanted a pointer to a book and/or an algorithm in the first place. I want to know about statistics what experts know. As the idea has been on my mind of late, I wandered over to the UCLA Extension online. It turns out that the books required for their $700 course costs about $400.
It's going to cost me $1100 and three months to know what I really want to know. Now that I'm aware of the costs, I'm not sure I want to know that badly. Actually, I do want to know that badly, I just don't have the time or the cash at the moment.
What I believe is that everybody makes economic decisions like this all of the time, particularly about how much they believe they need to know. Most of the time, I think people are lazy, and laziness can be a virtue. One wants to follow an 80/20 rule - that's certainly why I asked at Quora in the first place, considering that I have the email of Emanual Derman.
The implications of this, to me, are clear. Most people would rather ask their way up a presumed chain of knowledge for free. The free ask is 'just above my head' or 'just enough knowledge to be dangerous'. In other words, there is a presumption that there is a cheat, a cheap and easy epiphany, just a question or two away, and this assumption, exacerbated by the ease of using the Internet, makes the cost of a complete answer, ie real education, seem higher than it actually is. People can and will use socialized 'uncommon' knowledge more readily than they will pay for expert and complete knowledge.
There's the fundament. Where is the tipping point when colleges are already too expensive?