This looks fascinating. Samuel Arbesman is an applied mathematician and network scientist who writes for Wired. Here, he takes a look at the evolution of knowledge, including scientific knowledge, and how it grows (and decays) with time. More evidence of the uncertainty of what we think we know.
I Believe in the Scientific Method
I believe in the scientific method a la Karl Popper. Well-designed scientific studies that test hypotheses have advanced human knowledge and have been the light of the world over the last several hundred years in terms of improving the lot of man. The key is that such hypotheses must be testable and falsifiable, and the scientific studies must be independently reproducible in order to form real scientific evidence. And the more times such studies are reproduced without contradiction, the more weight they carry.
However, it has been said that 80% of observational studies are wrong, although they benefit many a scientists’s career through the publish or perish phenomenon.
All Models Are Wrong, But Some Are Useful
As statistician George Box has said, all models are wrong, but some are useful. “Science” built on untestable and unfalsifiable computer models that predict the end of the world in 100 years unless society is upended at tremendous cost has nothing to do with the scientific method. It has entered the realm of political advocacy.
I will have more confidence in such models when they are able to take the data from the last thousand years or so and “hindcast” the observed results accurately. Until then, computer projections for 100 years in the future are more science fiction than science fact. Especially given that so many of the scientific advocates of the disaster scenario have been discredited by the Climategate scandal of 2009. Those involved are many of the powerful gatekeepers of the supposedly authoritative IPCC reports, including Phil Jones, Michael Mann, Kevin Trenberth and their fellow travelers. Why these individuals who have been shown to have tried to “hide the decline” in global temperatures over the last 15 to 20 years should be looked at as honest purveyors of the scientific truth escapes me. Michael Mann is a particular example of pseudo-scientific political advocacy, as he is the author of the now infamous Hockey Stick chart that has since been discredited.
Science is the Fruit of the Scientific Method
Science is the fruit of the scientific method, and not whatever a group of people with the credentials to be called scientists says it is. An unfalsifiable and untestable hypothesis is weak evidence upon which to call for upending the economy. Our standard of proof should be very high in such a circumstance.
Cost-Benefit Analysis and Consideration of Tradeoffs is Key
The fundamental fact of the world we live in is this: resources are limited and desires are infinite. That is why considering the necessary tradeoffs for a desired change through cost-benefit analysis is key. It is not enough to say that the world should be so. You must ask if the price of the change is worth it.
Austerity as a Kind of Penance is Not the Only Answer
Even assuming that the Climate Change as disaster thesis is valid, economic austerity as a kind of penance is not the only answer. Bjorn Lomborg has many sensible ideas along these lines. We should be looking at investing in technologies to mitigate any potential damage, including possibilities such as geo-engineering, that may help deal with the potential problem at a lower and more acceptable societal cost.
Video: Why We Don’t Understand Luck
Brilliant insights about untangling skill from luck, and how our brains are biased against seeing randomness in the real world.
Because of outcome bias, we should concentrate on the quality of the decision-making process instead of the outcome. Like in golf, where you can make a good shot and get a bad bounce, or make a bad shot and get a good bounce. Improving your skill set and your execution is a recipe for long term success, but there will be random ups and downs along the way.
My favorite TED Talk. How stepping outside the feeling you are right about everything and saying “I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong,” can be the single greatest moral, intellectual, and creative leap you can make.