Things that suck #6: Internet experts

One of the great things about the Internet is that it has democratized content. For example, when I was a youth, if your family was wealthy enough, you may have had an encyclopedia in your house. If not, you had to go to the library. Today, there is Wikipedia. It’s free, constantly updated, and pretty darn good. Another example is YouTube. Some of the best entertainment media is made by independent creators rather than industrial media giants. We have more access to more stuff than ever before.

Of course the downside of having lots of content creators is that the quality is variable. In the sim racing world, iRacing is the megacorp. It produces really high quality content, but you have to pay a subscription to access it and there are lots of additional expenses. The more democratized version is Assetto Corsa. Here you have cars and tracks created by a worldwide community. There are tons of obscure cars and tracks made for AC that will never get made for iRacing. That’s great. And while some of the content is as good as iRacing, some is inaccurate. How do you know what is good and what is bad? If you’re coming from a place of zero experience it’s hard to tell if the car or track you’re driving is authentic.

In my day job, I’m a professor and scientist. My specialty is computational molecular biology. I write software to study the mechanisms that link genotype to phenotype. You can’t just jump into my field with no training. You have to study genetics, biochemistry, computer science, statistics, software engineering, etc. I’ve done that, and I have some well-informed opinions about how life works. But that doesn’t make what I say more impactful than some pseudo-expert on the Internet. If you have a big following, what you say becomes the truth or at least becomes more important than the truth. That’s how we end up with people doing stupid shit like taking de-worming medication for a virus during a pandemic. I’m not sure why I care if stupid people take themselves out of the gene pool (not only does Ivermectin not do anything for COVID-19, it has a good chance of sterilizing you). Maybe it’s because those stupid people end up doing real damage.

Let’s get back to driving, since that’s what this blog is about. There are a lot of videos on YouTube about how to do this or that with a car. And so many of them are full of shit. I’ve shown a bunch of them here in the past. How is one supposed to navigate the world of high performance driving when there’s so much misinformation?

Seek Mechanism

When we ask questions, we shouldn’t be seeking answers. We should be seeking understanding.

Question: What is the fastest way around the track?

Answer: The racing line.

Does that mean if I follow the racing line my lap times will be just as fast as a professional racer? No, because it’s a lot more complicated than that. The racing line is the product of a whole bunch of compromises. Unless you understand all of the nuances, you won’t really understand the simple answer.

The way to seek understanding is to ask questions about the mechanism of action. If you don’t understand the components and how they interact with each other, you can be easily fooled. Imagine you have a friend who tells you he is training his car to consume water instead of gasoline. Every time he fills his car up with fuel, he adds just a little water. He’s done it 2 times so far and it’s working, so he thinks that eventually he’ll have a car that runs on water. But that’s not how cars work. Similarly, if you have a mechanistic understanding of biology, you don’t do stupid shit like drink lots of water to drown a virus (this was literally one of the suggestions at the start of the pandemic).

On the GHIT podcast I was asked if I thought it was better to drive on the line off pace or to drive off the line on the limit. There is no such thing as driving on the line off pace. The line is the result of balancing grip, speed, and yaw. Focusing on the line is like memorizing exam questions instead of learning the material. It may look like you know what you’re doing until you get into a situation where you have to apply your knowledge in an unfamiliar context. Then you’re fucked.

Oh right, the video


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