the scientific method

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Evidence-Based Technical Analysis: Applying the Scientific Method and Statistical Inference to Trading Signals by David Aronson


Albert Einstein, Andrew Wiles, asset allocation, availability heuristic, backtesting, Black Swan, capital asset pricing model, cognitive dissonance, compound rate of return, computerized trading, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, distributed generation, Elliott wave,, feminist movement, hindsight bias, index fund, invention of the telescope, invisible hand, Long Term Capital Management, mental accounting, meta analysis, meta-analysis, p-value, pattern recognition, Paul Samuelson, Ponzi scheme, price anchoring, price stability, quantitative trading / quantitative finance, Ralph Nelson Elliott, random walk, retrograde motion, revision control, risk tolerance, risk-adjusted returns, riskless arbitrage, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Sharpe ratio, short selling, source of truth, statistical model, systematic trading, the scientific method, transfer pricing, unbiased observer, yield curve, Yogi Berra

Part Two demonstrates one approach to EBTA: testing of 6,402 binary buy/sell rules on the S&P 500 on 25 years of historical data. The rules are evaluated for statistical significance using tests designed to cope with the problem of data-mining bias. Evidence-Based Technical Analysis: Applying the Scientific Method and Statistical Inference to Trading Signals by David R. Aronson Copyright © 2007 David R. Aronson PA RT I Methodological, Psychological, Philosophical, and Statistical Foundations Evidence-Based Technical Analysis: Applying the Scientific Method and Statistical Inference to Trading Signals by David R. Aronson Copyright © 2007 David R. Aronson CHAPTER 1 Objective Rules and Their Evaluation T his chapter introduces the notion of objective binary signaling rules and a methodology for their rigorous evaluation.

Because the mind is predisposed to the perception of order and adept at inventing stories that explain why that order exists, it is not at all mysterious that the pioneers of TA would find patterns and trends in price charts and then invent theories about why such patterns should occur. Methods more rigorous than visual analysis and intuition are needed to find the exploitable order that may exist in financial market fluctuations. THE ANTIDOTE TO ILLUSORY KNOWLEDGE: THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD This chapter examined many ways we can be fooled into adopting erroneous knowledge. The best antidote ever invented for this problem is the scientific method, the subject of the next chapter. Evidence-Based Technical Analysis: Applying the Scientific Method and Statistical Inference to Trading Signals by David R. Aronson Copyright © 2007 David R. Aronson CHAPTER 3 The Scientific Method and Technical Analysis T A’s central problem is erroneous knowledge. As it is traditionally practiced, much of TA is a body of dogma and myth, founded on faith and anecdote.

Though some rules will be useful on a stand-alone basis, the complexity and randomness of financial markets make it likely that most TESTABLE NO Subjective YES RIGOROUS EVALUATION EBTA Objective NO Value Unknown EBTA YES Objective Valuable YES SIGNIFICANT FIGURE 3.16 Subsets of Technical Analysis. NO Objective No Value The Scientific Method and Technical Analysis 163 rules will add value when used in combination with other rules to form complex rules. Evidence-based technical analysis (EBTA) refers to subsets (3) and (4)—objective TA that has been back tested and subjected to statistical analysis. Given the preceding discussion, the categorization of TA is illustrated in Figure 3.16. The next three chapters discuss the application of statistical analysis to back-test results. Evidence-Based Technical Analysis: Applying the Scientific Method and Statistical Inference to Trading Signals by David R. Aronson Copyright © 2007 David R. Aronson CHAPTER 4 Statistical Analysis S tatistics is the science of data.1 In the late nineteenth century, renowned British scientist and author H.G.

pages: 317 words: 97,824

Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova

Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, availability heuristic, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, dark matter, delayed gratification, fear of failure, feminist movement, functional fixedness, Lao Tzu, pre–internet, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Walter Mischel

It has contours that inevitably were seen before in earlier problems and will certainly repeat again, broader principles that can apply to other moments that may not even seem at first glance related. Less, in that it is stripped of any accompanying emotion and conjecture—all elements that are deemed extraneous to clarity of thought—and made as objective as a nonscientific reality could ever be. The result: the crime as an object of strict scientific inquiry, to be approached by the principles of the scientific method. Its servant: the human mind. What Is the Scientific Method of Thought? When we think of the scientific method, we tend to think of an experimenter in his laboratory, probably holding a test tube and wearing a white coat, who follows a series of steps that runs something like this: make some observations about a phenomenon; create a hypothesis to explain those observations; design an experiment to test the hypothesis; run the experiment; see if the results match your expectations; rework your hypothesis if you must; lather, rinse, and repeat.

For an integrated discussion of the mind, its evolution, and its natural abilities, there are few better sources than Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate and How the Mind Works. Chapter One: The Scientific Method of the Mind For the history of Sherlock Holmes and the background of the Conan Doyle stories and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s life, I’ve drawn heavily on several sources: Leslie Klinger’s The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes; Andrew Lycett’s The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes; and John Lellenerg, Daniel Stashower, and Charles Foley’s Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters. While the latter two form a compendium of information on Conan Doyle’s life, the former is the single best source on the background for and various interpretations of the Holmes canon. For a taste of early psychology, I recommend William James’s classic text, The Principles of Psychology. For a discussion of the scientific method and its history, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10013, USA Photograph credits: Page here (bottom left): United States Government here (bottom right): Wikimichels (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0) here (bottom left): Biophilia curiosus (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0) here (bottom right): Brandon Motz (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0) British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available on request from the British Library ISBN 978 0 85786 724 7 Export ISBN 978 0 85786 725 4 eISBN 978 0 85786 726 1 Typeset in Minion Pro Designed by Francesca Belanger To Geoff Choice of attention—to pay attention to this and ignore that—is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences. As Ortega y Gasset said: “Tell me to what you pay attention, and I will tell you who you are.” —W. H. AUDEN CONTENTS Prelude PART ONE UNDERSTANDING (YOURSELF) CHAPTER ONE The Scientific Method of the Mind CHAPTER TWO The Brain Attic: What Is It and What’s in There? PART TWO FROM OBSERVATION TO IMAGINATION CHAPTER THREE Stocking the Brain Attic: The Power of Observation CHAPTER FOUR Exploring the Brain Attic: The Value of Creativity and Imagination PART THREE THE ART OF DEDUCTION CHAPTER FIVE Navigating the Brain Attic: Deduction from the Facts CHAPTER SIX Maintaining the Brain Attic: Education Never Stops PART FOUR THE SCIENCE AND ART OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE CHAPTER SEVEN The Dynamic Attic: Putting It All Together CHAPTER EIGHT We’re Only Human Postlude Acknowledgments Further Reading Index Prelude When I was little, my dad used to read us Sherlock Holmes stories before bed.

pages: 404 words: 134,430

Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time by Michael Shermer


Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, anesthesia awareness, anthropic principle, butterfly effect, cognitive dissonance, complexity theory, conceptual framework, correlation does not imply causation, cosmological principle, discovery of DNA, false memory syndrome, Gary Taubes, invention of the wheel, Isaac Newton, laissez-faire capitalism, life extension, moral panic, Murray Gell-Mann, out of africa, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Silicon Valley, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions

Science and Skepticism Skepticism is a vital part of science, which I define as a set of methods designed to describe and interpret observed or inferred phenomena, past or present, and aimed at building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection or confirmation. In other words, science is a specific way of analyzing information with the goal of testing claims. Defining the scientific method is not so simple, as philosopher of science and Nobel laureate Sir Peter Medawar observed: "Ask a scientist what he conceives the scientific method to be and he will adopt an expression that is at once solemn and shifty-eyed: solemn, because he feels he ought to declare an opinion; shifty-eyed, because he is wondering how to conceal the fact that he has no opinion to declare" (1969, p. 11). A sizable literature exists on the scientific method, but there is little consensus among authors. This does not mean that scientists do not know what they are doing. Doing and explaining may be two different things. However, scientists agree that the following elements are involved in thinking scientifically: Induction: Forming a hypothesis by drawing general conclusions from existing data.

As Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington noted, "For the truth of the conclusions of science, observation is the supreme court of appeal" (1958, p. 9). Through the scientific method, we may form the following generalizations: Hypothesis: A testable statement accounting for a set of observations. Theory: A well-supported and well-tested hypothesis or set of hypotheses. Fact: A conclusion confirmed to such an extent that it would be reasonable to offer provisional agreement. A theory may be contrasted with a construct: a nontestable statement to account for a set of observations.The living organisms on Earth may be accounted for by the statement "God made them" or the statement "They evolved." The first statement is a construct, the second a theory. Most biologists would even call evolution a fact. Through the scientific method, we aim for objectivity: basing conclusions on external validation.

This second section begins by offering a very general definition: "Science is devoted to formulating and testing naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. It is a process for systematically collecting and recording data about the physical world, then categorizing and studying the collected data in an effort to infer the principles of nature that best explain the observed phenomena." Next, the scientific method is discussed, beginning with the collection of "facts," the data of the world. "The grist for the mill of scientific inquiry is an ever increasing body of observations that give information about underlying 'facts.' Facts are the properties of natural phenomena. The scientific method involves the rigorous, methodical testing of principles that might present a naturalistic explanation for those facts" (p. 23). Based on well-established facts, testable hypotheses are formed. The process of testing "leads scientists to accord a special dignity to those hypotheses that accumulate substantial observational or experimental support."

pages: 467 words: 114,570

Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science by Jim Al-Khalili


agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, Andrew Wiles, Book of Ingenious Devices, colonial rule, Commentariolus, Dmitri Mendeleev, Eratosthenes, Henri Poincaré, invention of the printing press, invention of the telescope, invention of the wheel, Isaac Newton, Islamic Golden Age, Joseph Schumpeter, liberation theology, retrograde motion, Silicon Valley, Simon Singh, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, trade route, William of Occam

At the opposite extreme, we can all agree that the alchemical magic and spells of the ancients are not part of science. The question is where we draw the line in the work of Jābir ibn Hayyān. This is where we appeal to the quite clear definition of the scientific method: it is the investigation of phenomena, acquiring of new knowledge, and correcting and integrating previous knowledge, based on the gathering of data through observation and measurement. Wherever it is being practised, that is where real science is being done. So was Jābir doing real science? Not quite. Some of the ingredients of the scientific method were not yet in place. But I am more than happy to refer to him as a scientist. What is more, he was the very first of the great scientists of the golden age, even though he did not live to see the creation of al-Ma’mūn’s great academy in Baghdad, the place where we see the golden age truly beginning.

This does not mean that my mind is closed to the possibility of something better coming along in the future to replace it; it is just that I think it highly unlikely that natural selection is wrong given the overwhelming evidence in its favour, both logical and empirical. As commonly defined, the scientific method is the approach to investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge, based on the gathering of data through observation and measurement, followed by the formulation and testing of hypotheses to explain the data. It is often still claimed that the modern scientific method was not established until the Renaissance by Francis Bacon in his work Novum Organum (1620) and by Descartes in his treatise Discours de la Méthode (1637). But there is no doubt that Ibn al-Haytham, along with al-Rāzi and al-Bīrūni, whom we shall meet in the next chapter, arrived there much earlier. For Ibn al-Haytham, the supremacy of the scientific method, valuing meticulous and painstaking experimentation and the careful recording of results, became central to his research.

How much science, for instance, did the Arabs actually know? How important were the contributions of Persian culture, Greek philosophy and Indian mathematics? How and why did scientific scholarship flourish under the patronage of certain rulers? And, possibly most interestingly, why and when did this golden era come to an end? As a practising scientist and a humanist, I believe that what is referred to as the ‘scientific method’, and the knowledge that humanity has gained from rational science, gives us far more than just ‘one way of viewing the world’. Progress, through reason and rationality, is by definition a good thing; knowledge and enlightenment are always better than ignorance. Growing up in Iraq, I learnt at school about such great thinkers as Ibn Sīna (Avicenna), al-Kindi and Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), not as remote figures in history but as my intellectual ancestors.

pages: 476 words: 132,042

What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly


Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Buckminster Fuller,, carbon-based life, Cass Sunstein, charter city, Clayton Christensen, cloud computing, computer vision, Danny Hillis, dematerialisation, demographic transition, double entry bookkeeping, Douglas Engelbart,, Exxon Valdez, George Gilder, gravity well, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, interchangeable parts, invention of air conditioning, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, Jaron Lanier, John Conway, John Markoff, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, knowledge economy, Lao Tzu, life extension, Louis Daguerre, Marshall McLuhan, megacity, meta analysis, meta-analysis, new economy, off grid, out of africa, performance metric, personalized medicine, phenotype, Picturephone, planetary scale, RAND corporation, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, refrigerator car, Richard Florida, Rubik’s Cube, Silicon Valley, silicon-based life, Skype, speech recognition, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Stewart Brand, Ted Kaczynski, the built environment, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, Vernor Vinge, wealth creators, Whole Earth Catalog, Y2K

The second invention, writing, changed the speed of learning in humans by easing the transmission of ideas across territories and across time. Solutions could be archived and transmitted on durable paper. This vastly accelerated humanity’s evolution. The third transition is science, or rather, the structure of the scientific method. This is the invention that enables greater invention. Instead of depending on random hit or miss, or trial and error, the scientific method methodically explores the cosmos and systematically delivers novel ideas. It has accelerated discovery a thousandfold, if not a millionfold. The evolution of the scientific method is responsible for the exponential rise in progress we now enjoy. Without a doubt science has uncovered possibilities—and new ways of finding them—that neither biological nor cultural evolution could have invented alone. But at the same time, the technium has also accelerated the speed of human biological evolution.

Libraries, catalogs, cross-referencing, dictionaries, concordances, and the publishing of minute observations all blossomed, producing a new level of informational ubiquity—to the extent that today we don’t even notice that printing covers our visual landscape. The scientific method followed printing as a more refined way to deal with the exploding amount of information humans were generating. Via peer-reviewed correspondence and, later, journals, science offered a method of extracting reliable information, testing it, and then linking it to a growing body of other tested, interlinked facts. This newly ordered information—what we call science—could then be used to restructure the organization of matter. It birthed new materials, new processes for making stuff, new tools, and new perspectives. When the scientific method was applied to craft, we invented mass production of interchangeable parts, the assembly line, efficiency, and specialization.

By the 18th century, science had launched the Industrial Revolution, and progress was noticeable in the growing spread of cities, increasing longevity and literacy, and the acceleration of future discoveries. But there is a puzzle. The necessary ingredients of the scientific method are conceptual and fairly low tech: a way to record, catalog, and communicate written evidence and the time to experiment. Why didn’t the Greeks invent it? Or the Egyptians? A time traveler from today could journey back to that era and set up the scientific method in ancient Alexandria or Athens without much trouble. But would it catch on? Maybe not. Science is costly for an individual. Sharing results is of marginal benefit if you are chiefly seeking a better tool for today. Therefore, the benefits of science are neither apparent nor immediate for individuals.

pages: 416 words: 106,582

This Will Make You Smarter: 150 New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking by John Brockman


23andMe, Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, banking crisis, Barry Marshall: ulcers, Benoit Mandelbrot, Berlin Wall, biofilm, Black Swan, butterfly effect, Cass Sunstein, cloud computing, congestion charging, correlation does not imply causation, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, dark matter, data acquisition, David Brooks, delayed gratification, Emanuel Derman, epigenetics, Exxon Valdez, Flash crash, Flynn Effect, hive mind, impulse control, information retrieval, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Isaac Newton, Jaron Lanier, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, lifelogging, mandelbrot fractal, market design, Mars Rover, Marshall McLuhan, microbiome, Murray Gell-Mann, Nicholas Carr, open economy, Pierre-Simon Laplace, place-making, placebo effect, pre–internet, QWERTY keyboard, random walk, randomized controlled trial, rent control, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman: Challenger O-ring, Richard Thaler, Satyajit Das, Schrödinger's Cat, security theater, selection bias, Silicon Valley, stem cell, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, the scientific method, Thorstein Veblen, Turing complete, Turing machine, Vilfredo Pareto, Walter Mischel, Whole Earth Catalog, zero-sum game

The people in this book lead some of the hottest fields; in these pages they are just giving you little wisps of what they are working on. But I hope you’ll be struck not only by how freewheeling they are willing to be, but also by the undertone of modesty. Several of the essays in this book emphasize that we see the world in deeply imperfect ways, and that our knowledge is partial. They have respect for the scientific method and the group enterprise precisely because the stock of our own individual reason is small. Amid all the charms to follow, that mixture of humility and daring is the most unusual and important. Preface: The Edge Question JOHN BROCKMAN Publisher and editor, Edge In 1981 I founded the Reality Club. Through 1996, the club held its meetings in Chinese restaurants, artists’ lofts, the boardrooms of investment-banking firms, ballrooms, museums, and living rooms, among other venues.

The Controlled Experiment Timo Hannay Managing director, Digital Science, Macmillan Publishers Ltd. The scientific concept that most people would do well to understand and exploit is the one that almost defines science itself: the controlled experiment. When they are required to make a decision, the instinctive response of most nonscientists is to introspect, or perhaps call a meeting. The scientific method dictates that wherever possible we should instead conduct a suitable controlled experiment. The superiority of the latter approach is demonstrated not only by the fact that science has uncovered so much about the world but also, and even more powerfully, by the fact that such a lot of it—the Copernican Principle, evolution by natural selection, general relativity, quantum mechanics—is so mind-bendingly counterintuitive.

It becomes a matter of failing forward. Science itself is learning how to better exploit negative results. Due to the problems of costly distribution, most negative results have not been shared, thus limiting their potential to speed learning for others. But increasingly published negative results (which include experiments that succeed in showing no effects) are becoming another essential tool in the scientific method. Wrapped up in the idea of embracing failure is the related notion of breaking things to make them better—particularly complex things. Often the only way to improve a complex system is to probe its limits by forcing it to fail in various ways. Software, among the most complex things we make, is usually tested for quality by employing engineers to systematically find ways to crash it.

The Data Revolution: Big Data, Open Data, Data Infrastructures and Their Consequences by Rob Kitchin


Bayesian statistics, business intelligence, business process, cellular automata, Celtic Tiger, cloud computing, collateralized debt obligation, conceptual framework, congestion charging, corporate governance, correlation does not imply causation, crowdsourcing, discrete time, George Gilder, Google Earth, Infrastructure as a Service, Internet Archive, Internet of things, invisible hand, knowledge economy, late capitalism, lifelogging, linked data, Masdar, means of production, Nate Silver, natural language processing, openstreetmap, pattern recognition, platform as a service, recommendation engine, RFID, semantic web, sentiment analysis, slashdot, smart cities, Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia, smart grid, smart meter, software as a service, statistical model, supply-chain management, the scientific method, The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, transaction costs

In some academic domains there is little evidence of paradigms operating, notably in many social sciences, such as sociology and human geography where there is a diverse set of philosophical approaches employed (e.g., positivism, phenomenology, structuralism, poststructuralism, etc.), with these various theoretical camps providing competing views on how best to make sense of the world. In other domains, such as the sciences, there is more unity around a scientific method, underpinned by hypothesis testing to verify or falsify theories. That is not to say, however, that how the scientific method is conceived and deployed does not periodically shift, or that there are few competing theories with respect to explaining particular phenomena (theories about phenomena can differ while sharing the same wider approach to scientific endeavour). Jim Gray, for example (as detailed in Hey et al. 2009), charts the evolution of science through four paradigms, the fourth of which he argues is in its infancy but is the result of the unfolding data revolution (see Table 8.1).

Such data-ist claims underpin much of the hype about big data within the business community, and they are generally expressed through an empiricist framing – that with enough volume, data can speak for themselves. Such empiricism is best embodied in the claims of Chris Anderson (2008), former editor-in-chief at Wired magazine, whose rallying call that big data signal ‘the end of theory’ struck a chord with many commentators. In a provocative piece, Anderson argues that ‘the data deluge makes the scientific method obsolete’; that the patterns and relationships contained within big data inherently produce meaningful and insightful knowledge about social, political and economic processes and complex phenomena. He argues: There is now a better way. Petabytes allow us to say: ‘Correlation is enough.’ We can stop looking for models. We can analyze the data without hypotheses about what it might show. We can throw the numbers into the biggest computing clusters the world has ever seen and let statistical algorithms find patterns where science cannot...

Likewise, Lazer et al. (2009: 10–11) call for collaboration between ‘computationally literate social scientists and socially literate computer scientists’ (2009: 10–11), and with respect to business, Minelli et al. (2013) contend that data science teams should be coupled with business process experts to leverage appropriate insights (see also Table 9.1). Data-driven science Rather than being rooted in empiricism, data-driven science seeks to hold to the tenets of the scientific method, but is more open to using a hybrid combination of abductive, inductive and deductive approaches to advance the understanding of a phenomenon. It differs from the traditional, experimental deductive design in that it seeks to generate hypotheses and insights ‘born from the data’ rather than ‘born from the theory’ (Kelling et al. 2009: 613). In other words, it seeks to incorporate a mode of induction into the research design, though explanation through induction is not the intended end point (as with empiricist approaches).

pages: 446 words: 578

The end of history and the last man by Francis Fukuyama


affirmative action, anti-communist, Ayatollah Khomeini, Berlin Wall, Bonfire of the Vanities, centre right, cuban missile crisis, deindustrialization, Deng Xiaoping, European colonialism, F. W. de Klerk, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, full employment, Gini coefficient, Gunnar Myrdal, Hernando de Soto, income inequality, Isaac Newton, Joseph Schumpeter, kremlinology, labour mobility, land reform, long peace, Mikhail Gorbachev, nuclear winter, open economy, post-industrial society, postindustrial economy, RAND corporation, Ronald Reagan, Socratic dialogue, strikebreaker, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, zero-sum game

But a qualitative change occurred in the relationship of scientific knowledge to the historical process with the rise of mod­ ern natural science, that is, f r o m the discovery of the scientific method by men like Descartes, Bacon, and Spinoza in the six­ teenth and seventeenth centuries. T h e possibility of mastering n a t u r e o p e n e d u p by m o d e r n natural science was not a universal feature of all societies, but had to be invented at a certain point in history by certain Europeans. However, once having been in­ vented, the scientific method became a universal possession of The Mechanism of Desire 73 rational man, potentially accessible to e v e r y o n e regardless of dif­ ferences in culture o r nationality. Discovery of the scientific method created a fundamental, non-cyclical division o f historical time into periods before and after. A n d once discovered, the p r o ­ gressive and continuous unfolding of m o d e r n natural science has provided a directional Mechanism f o r explaining many aspects of subsequent historical development.

If, however, o u r assump­ tions about the interrelationships between m o d e r n natural science and m o d e r n social organization a r e correct, then such "mixed" outcomes would not be viable f o r long: f o r without the destruc­ tion o r rejection of the scientific method itself, m o d e r n natural science would eventually r e p r o d u c e itself and force the r e ­ creation o f many aspects of the m o d e r n , rational social world as well. So let us consider the question: Is it possible f o r mankind as a whole to r e v e r s e the directionality of history t h r o u g h the rejection or loss of the scientific method? This problem can be broken 82 No Barbarians at the Gates 83 down into two parts: first, can m o d e r n natural science be delib­ erately rejected by existing societies; and second, can a global cataclysm result in the involuntary loss of m o d e r n natural science?

T h e r e is no democracy without democrats, that is, without No Democracy without Democrats 135 a specifically Democratic Man that desires and shapes democracy even as he is shaped by it. A Universal History based on the progressive unfolding of modern natural science can, m o r e o v e r , make sense only of the past four h u n d r e d o r so years of h u m a n history, dating f r o m the discovery of the scientific method in the sixteenth and seven­ teenth centuries. Yet neither the scientific method n o r the liber­ ation of h u m a n desire that d r o v e subsequent efforts to conquer nature and bend it to h u m a n purposes sprang ex nihilo f r o m the pens of Descartes o r Bacon. A fuller Universal History, even o n e that based itself in large measure on m o d e r n natural science, would have to understand the p r e - m o d e r n origins of science, and of the desire that lay behind the desire of Economic Man.

pages: 281 words: 79,958

Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives by Michael Specter


agricultural Revolution, Anne Wojcicki, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Asilomar, carbon footprint, Cass Sunstein, clean water, Drosophila, food miles, invention of gunpowder, out of africa, personalized medicine, placebo effect, profit motive, randomized controlled trial, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman: Challenger O-ring, Ronald Reagan, Simon Singh, Skype, stem cell, Ted Kaczynski, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, Upton Sinclair, X Prize

INTRODUCTION Ten years ago, while walking through Harvard Yard, I saw a student wearing a button that said “Progressives against Scientism.” I had no idea what that meant, so I asked him. Sci entism, he explained, is the misguided belief that scientists can solve problems that nature can’t. He reeled off a series of technologies that demonstrated the destructiveness of what he called the “scientific method approach” to life: genetically modified foods, dams, nuclear power plants, and pharmaceuticals all made the list. We talked for a few minutes, then I thanked him and walked away. I didn’t understand how science might be responsible for the many scars humanity has inflicted upon the world, but students have odd intellectual infatuations, and I let it slip from my mind. Over the next few years, while traveling in America and abroad, I kept running into different versions of that student, people who were convinced that, largely in the name of science, we had trespassed on nature’s ground.

I kept putting it off, though. Some of the delay was due simply to procrastination. But there was another, more important reason for my hesitation: I had assumed these nagging glimpses of irrationality were aberrations, tiny pockets of doubt. Authority may be flawed, and science often fails to fulfill its promises. Nonetheless, I was convinced that people would come around to realizing that the “scientific method approach”—the disciplined and dispassionate search for knowledge—has been the crowning intellectual achievement of humanity. I guess I was in my own kind of denial, because even as things got worse I kept assuring myself that reason would prevail and a book like this would not be necessary. Finally, a couple of years ago, I was invited to dinner at the home of a prominent, well-read, and worldly woman.

Oprah Winfrey, for one, has often provided a forum for McCarthy on her show, but she intends to do more: in early 2009, Winfrey’s production company announced that it had hired McCarthy to host a syndicated talk show and write a blog, providing two new platforms from which she can preach her message of scientific illiteracy and fear. This antipathy toward the ideas of progress and scientific discovery represents a fundamental shift in the way we approach the world in the twenty-first century. More than at any time since Francis Bacon invented what we have come to regard as the scientific method (and Galileo began to put it to use), Americans fear science at least as fully as we embrace it. It is a sentiment that has turned our electrifying age of biological adventure into one of doubt and denial. There have always been people who are afraid of the future, of course—Luddites, ignorant of the possibilities of life on this planet and determined to remain that way. No amount of data will convince climate denialists that humans have caused the rapid, devastating warming of the earth.

Adaptive Markets: Financial Evolution at the Speed of Thought by Andrew W. Lo

Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, algorithmic trading, Andrei Shleifer, Arthur Eddington, Asian financial crisis, asset allocation, asset-backed security, backtesting, bank run, barriers to entry, Berlin Wall, Bernie Madoff, bitcoin, Bonfire of the Vanities, bonus culture, break the buck, Brownian motion, business process, butterfly effect, capital asset pricing model, Captain Sullenberger Hudson, Carmen Reinhart, Chance favours the prepared mind, collapse of Lehman Brothers, collateralized debt obligation, commoditize, computerized trading, corporate governance, creative destruction, Credit Default Swap, credit default swaps / collateralized debt obligations, cryptocurrency, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, delayed gratification, Diane Coyle, diversification, diversified portfolio, double helix, easy for humans, difficult for computers, Ernest Rutherford, Eugene Fama: efficient market hypothesis, experimental economics, experimental subject, Fall of the Berlin Wall, financial deregulation, financial innovation, financial intermediation, fixed income, Flash crash, Fractional reserve banking, framing effect, Gordon Gekko, greed is good, Hans Rosling, Henri Poincaré, high net worth, housing crisis, incomplete markets, index fund, interest rate derivative, invention of the telegraph, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, job satisfaction, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, John Meriwether, Joseph Schumpeter, Kenneth Rogoff, London Interbank Offered Rate, Long Term Capital Management, loss aversion, Louis Pasteur, mandelbrot fractal, margin call, Mark Zuckerberg, market fundamentalism, martingale, merger arbitrage, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Milgram experiment, money market fund, moral hazard, Myron Scholes, Nick Leeson, old-boy network, out of africa, p-value, paper trading, passive investing, Paul Lévy, Paul Samuelson, Ponzi scheme, predatory finance, prediction markets, price discovery process, profit maximization, profit motive, quantitative hedge fund, quantitative trading / quantitative finance, RAND corporation, random walk, randomized controlled trial, Renaissance Technologies, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman: Challenger O-ring, risk tolerance, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, short selling, sovereign wealth fund, statistical arbitrage, Steven Pinker, stochastic process, survivorship bias, The Great Moderation, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, Thomas Malthus, Thorstein Veblen, Tobin tax, too big to fail, transaction costs, Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, ultimatum game, Upton Sinclair, US Airways Flight 1549, Walter Mischel, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, WikiLeaks, Yogi Berra, zero-sum game

People with bad narratives need a superior counternarrative to become better predictors. This solution has two parts: first, we must find a superior narrative; and second, we need to adopt it. Fortunately, we have an excellent technique to find superior narratives at hand: the scientific method. However, there’s no single cut-and-dried recipe for the scientific method. A field biologist would find the methods of the macroeconomist bizarre, and vice versa—in fact, these differences drive much of the infighting between the sciences, and through the hallowed halls of academia. Nevertheless, for most forms of scientific inquiry, we can break the scientific method down into four phases. First, we gather the empirical evidence. (This is especially difficult in economics, which historically has had either too little data, as in macroeconomics, or overwhelming oceans of data, as in financial economics.)

Third, we make predictions with this hypothesis, which in the fourth and final phase are tested experimentally. Unlike other ways of determining good narratives, for example, in a court of law, it’s very important in the scientific method that the hypothesis can be visibly proved wrong. And precisely because of the competitive nature of academic science, many people will try to do just that. If the hypothesis holds up under this onslaught, repeatedly verified in study after study, and continues to make good predictions, we can move the hypothesis from the status of a candidate narrative to that of a theory, which is as close as the scientific method will allow us to get to a fact, otherwise known as a good narrative. Once we come up with a good narrative, it still takes a certain degree of courage to adopt it. Like Neo in the science-fiction movie The Matrix—who’s offered a choice between the blue pill (which will keep him in his fantasy world) and the red pill (which will awaken him to reality)—we have to decide to take the red pill before we can truly break free of our cherished beliefs, some of which we’ve held for decades.

Economics has many 24 • Chapter 1 intricate theories, as complex as any within physics, but we can hardly put an entire economy in a laboratory and conduct experiments on it. As a result, economists have to rely on complicated statistical tests, looking for clear theoretical signals amidst the noise of reality, and we’re often frustrated in our attempts. But sometimes, we get lucky and come across “natural experiments” in the raw data, where just one factor has changed in exactly the spot we happen to be interested in. Then we can use the scientific method directly, by comparing the baseline situation, the control group, versus the changed situation, the experimental group. Fama and company found such a natural experiment in the stock market, and it’s a particularly elegant one. FFJR looked at the impact of a stock split on the price of the stock. A two-for-one stock split gives shareholders two new shares of stock in exchange for one old share.

pages: 405 words: 117,219

In Our Own Image: Savior or Destroyer? The History and Future of Artificial Intelligence by George Zarkadakis


3D printing, Ada Lovelace, agricultural Revolution, Airbnb, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, anthropic principle, Asperger Syndrome, autonomous vehicles, barriers to entry, battle of ideas, Berlin Wall, bioinformatics, British Empire, business process, carbon-based life, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, combinatorial explosion, complexity theory, continuous integration, Conway's Game of Life, cosmological principle, dark matter, dematerialisation, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, Edward Snowden, epigenetics, Flash crash, Google Glasses, Gödel, Escher, Bach, income inequality, index card, industrial robot, Internet of things, invention of agriculture, invention of the steam engine, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Jacques de Vaucanson, James Watt: steam engine, job automation, John von Neumann, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, liberal capitalism, lifelogging, millennium bug, Moravec's paradox, natural language processing, Norbert Wiener, off grid, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, packet switching, pattern recognition, Paul Erdős, post-industrial society, prediction markets, Ray Kurzweil, Rodney Brooks, Second Machine Age, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, speech recognition, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, strong AI, technological singularity, The Coming Technological Singularity, The Future of Employment, the scientific method, theory of mind, Turing complete, Turing machine, Turing test, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, Vernor Vinge, Von Neumann architecture, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Y2K

The laws of nature With Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) in Italy and Francis Bacon (1561–1626) in England, Europe was ushered into the glorious era of scientific discovery by the late sixteenth century. Empiricism and the scientific method took over from mysticism. It was a historical watershed without precedence. Our species has been making observations of the natural world since prehistoric times. Effects were linked to causes. Causality in nature was evident, but not understood. Well into the early seventeenth century, natural phenomena were still attributed by many thinking people to supernatural causes. Divine providence was assumed to pull invisible strings behind every manifestation of nature. The scientific method provided an alternative, revolutionary way of understanding causality in nature. Instead of simply believing, one was now compelled to justify that belief by experimentation.

Although the scientists of HBP, as well as the politicians who fund them, seem to be convinced that their approach is infallible, they are up against a deep philosophical problem regarding the mind, which is known, rather prosaically, as ‘the hard problem’. Australian philosopher David Chalmers has defined the hard problem of consciousness by distinguishing it from ‘easier’ problems that could be explained by examining brain functions: for example, memory, attention or language. These ‘easier’ problems are by no means easy. The HBP project is going to keep itself very busy trying to solve them by applying the scientific method. But Chalmers made the point that there is a certain problem that cannot be explained by a purely materialistic view of the brain. This is the problem of subjective experience, sometimes called qualia. Take, for instance, the ‘redness’ of red wine. The colour we call ‘red’ is an electromagnetic wave radiation with a wavelength between 620 and 740 nanometres. Although science can measure this wavelength with precision it has nothing to say about its ‘redness’, or why this particular wavelength appears to most of us to have a subjective quality we call ‘red’.

Qualia are thus beyond the scope of science and, according to Chalmers, that is the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness. At the root of the hard problem that Chalmers, Nagel and others describe lies the Cartesian concept of subjectivity and its clash with the objective methods of reductionist science. Ever since Descartes separated the world of knowledge into two magisteria11 – science and religion – science evolved and triumphed by following a specific methodology called the scientific method, which we touched upon earlier. This method uses experiment as its main tool in posing questions and discovering truths about the material world. Experiments are objective, at least in principle. As we have seen, they are repeatable and can be verified by many independent experimenters. Their outcomes are therefore independent of their observers.12 To achieve this, experiments break down complex natural phenomena into smaller parts, on the assumption that if one is able to understand the parts one can also understand the whole, a process called reductionism.

The Blockchain Alternative: Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy and Economic Theory by Kariappa Bheemaiah

accounting loophole / creative accounting, Ada Lovelace, Airbnb, algorithmic trading, asset allocation, autonomous vehicles, balance sheet recession, bank run, banks create money, Basel III, basic income, Ben Bernanke: helicopter money, bitcoin, blockchain, Bretton Woods, business process, call centre, capital controls, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, cashless society, cellular automata, central bank independence, Claude Shannon: information theory, cloud computing, cognitive dissonance, collateralized debt obligation, commoditize, complexity theory, constrained optimization, corporate governance, creative destruction, credit crunch, Credit Default Swap, credit default swaps / collateralized debt obligations, crowdsourcing, cryptocurrency, David Graeber, deskilling, Diane Coyle, discrete time, distributed ledger, diversification, double entry bookkeeping, ethereum blockchain, fiat currency, financial innovation, financial intermediation, Flash crash, floating exchange rates, Fractional reserve banking, full employment, George Akerlof, illegal immigration, income inequality, income per capita, inflation targeting, information asymmetry, interest rate derivative, inventory management, invisible hand, John Maynard Keynes: technological unemployment, John von Neumann, joint-stock company, Joseph Schumpeter, Kenneth Arrow, Kenneth Rogoff, Kevin Kelly, knowledge economy, labour market flexibility, large denomination, liquidity trap, London Whale, low skilled workers, M-Pesa, Marc Andreessen, market bubble, market fundamentalism, Mexican peso crisis / tequila crisis, money market fund, money: store of value / unit of account / medium of exchange, mortgage debt, natural language processing, Network effects, new economy, Nikolai Kondratiev, offshore financial centre, packet switching, Pareto efficiency, pattern recognition, peer-to-peer lending, Ponzi scheme, precariat, pre–internet, price mechanism, price stability, private sector deleveraging, profit maximization, QR code, quantitative easing, quantitative trading / quantitative finance, Ray Kurzweil, Real Time Gross Settlement, rent control, rent-seeking, Satoshi Nakamoto, Satyajit Das, savings glut, seigniorage, Silicon Valley, Skype, smart contracts, software as a service, software is eating the world, speech recognition, statistical model, Stephen Hawking, supply-chain management, technology bubble, The Chicago School, The Future of Employment, The Great Moderation, the market place, The Nature of the Firm, the payments system, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, too big to fail, trade liberalization, transaction costs, Turing machine, Turing test, universal basic income, Von Neumann architecture, Washington Consensus

The brain is constantly updating its cognitive map, or belief system, based on new information. As new ideas take hold, older beliefs are upgraded or discarded. Economics maybe an old discipline of study, but science shows us that we can still teach an old dog new tricks. Economic Entropy versus Economic Equilibrium Technology is generally studied as per the scientific method since science is the creative engine of technology. The scientific method was best described by the philosopher Karl Popper, who stated that any science should be scrutinized by decisive experimentation to determine a scientific law. As per this method, also known as Popperian falsifiability, the empirical truth of any scientific law cannot be verified beyond a shadow of a doubt and cannot be known with absolute certainty. They can only be falsified by testing - Even a single failed test is enough to falsify and no number of conforming instances is sufficient to verify.

What is more surprising is the fact that this tendency to separate bitcoin from blockchain is a repeat of what happened when the Internet first came into existence. As banks try to harness the power of the blockchain by creating private blockchains, we find ourselves witnessing the same execution of events as when private companies tried to create intranets instead of simply using the Internet. Whether you are a fan of the bitcoin or the blockchain or both, having a nuanced or biased view on the subject needs to be developed using the scientific method. This is a new technology that has been in existence for less than a decade. But what it represents is a change in our perception of trust along with a change in the organization of authority from traditional hierarchical systems to network-centric flat systems. It allows us to redefine how money and currency derive their actual value and forces us to think about the rebalancing of power on a global socioeconomic scale.

It is being done in order to look at the conversation from a much-needed different point of view. This is because, first, we already have TBTF. So from an investigative perspective, it makes sense to explore the other extreme. Second, although Kashkari pushes for ending TBTF,14 his arguments are grounded in legislation and are challenged by others who base their statements on past laurels. Hence, Kashkari’s hypotheses need to be tested via the scientific method. Third, as it will be shown in the next sections of this chapter, the fragmentation is already underway, with and without the blessings of regulators. With these tasks in hindsight, we can now go about the challenge of understanding the fragmenting of an industry. To help us understand whether there are structural benefits to the fragmentation, we will need to see if this has occurred in the past in other sectors, as this provides us with some frame of reference.

pages: 278 words: 83,468

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries


3D printing, barriers to entry, call centre, Clayton Christensen, clean water, cloud computing, commoditize, Computer Numeric Control, continuous integration, corporate governance, experimental subject, Frederick Winslow Taylor, Lean Startup, Marc Andreessen, Mark Zuckerberg, Metcalfe’s law, minimum viable product, Network effects, payday loans, Peter Thiel,, Ponzi scheme, pull request, risk tolerance, selection bias, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, six sigma, skunkworks, stealth mode startup, Steve Jobs, the scientific method, Toyota Production System, transaction costs

I call this the “just do it” school of entrepreneurship after Nike’s famous slogan.1 Unfortunately, if the plan is to see what happens, a team is guaranteed to succeed—at seeing what happens—but won’t necessarily gain validated learning. This is one of the most important lessons of the scientific method: if you cannot fail, you cannot learn. FROM ALCHEMY TO SCIENCE The Lean Startup methodology reconceives a startup’s efforts as experiments that test its strategy to see which parts are brilliant and which are crazy. A true experiment follows the scientific method. It begins with a clear hypothesis that makes predictions about what is supposed to happen. It then tests those predictions empirically. Just as scientific experimentation is informed by theory, startup experimentation is guided by the startup’s vision. The goal of every startup experiment is to discover how to build a sustainable business around that vision.

In the modern economy, almost any product that can be imagined can be built. The more pertinent questions are “Should this product be built?” and “Can we build a sustainable business around this set of products and services?” To answer those questions, we need a method for systematically breaking down a business plan into its component parts and testing each part empirically. In other words, we need the scientific method. In the Lean Startup model, every product, every feature, every marketing campaign—everything a startup does—is understood to be an experiment designed to achieve validated learning. This experimental approach works across industries and sectors, as we’ll see in Chapter 4. 4 EXPERIMENT I come across many startups that are struggling to answer the following questions: Which customer opinions should we listen to, if any?

We will walk through a complete turn of the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop, discussing each of the components in detail. The purpose of Part One was to explore the importance of learning as the measure of progress for a startup. As I hope is evident by now, by focusing our energies on validated learning, we can avoid much of the waste that plagues startups today. As in lean manufacturing, learning where and when to invest energy results in saving time and money. To apply the scientific method to a startup, we need to identify which hypotheses to test. I call the riskiest elements of a startup’s plan, the parts on which everything depends, leap-of-faith assumptions. The two most important assumptions are the value hypothesis and the growth hypothesis. These give rise to tuning variables that control a startup’s engine of growth. Each iteration of a startup is an attempt to rev this engine to see if it will turn.

pages: 357 words: 110,072

Trick or Treatment: The Undeniable Facts About Alternative Medicine by Edzard Ernst, Simon Singh


Barry Marshall: ulcers, Berlin Wall, correlation does not imply causation, false memory syndrome, Florence Nightingale: pie chart, germ theory of disease, John Snow's cholera map, Louis Pasteur, meta analysis, meta-analysis, placebo effect, profit motive, publication bias, randomized controlled trial, Ronald Reagan, Simon Singh, The Design of Experiments, the scientific method

Second, which disease are we applying it to? Third, what is meant by effective? In order to address these questions properly, we have divided the book into six chapters. Chapter 1 provides an introduction to the scientific method. It explains how scientists, by experimenting and observing, can determine whether or not a particular therapy is effective. Every conclusion we reach in the rest of this book depends on the scientific method and on an unbiased analysis of the best medical research available. So, by first explaining how science works, we hope to increase your confidence in our subsequent conclusions. Chapter 2 shows how the scientific method can be applied to acupuncture, one of the most established, most tested and most widely used alternative therapies. As well as examining the numerous scientific trials that have been conducted on acupuncture, this chapter will also look at its ancient origins in the East, how it migrated to the West and how it is practised today.

The second warning is that all the truths in this book are based on science, because Hippocrates was absolutely correct when he said that science begets knowledge. Everything we know about the universe, from the components of an atom to the number of galaxies, is thanks to science, and every medical breakthrough, from the development of antiseptics to the eradication of smallpox, has been built upon scientific foundations. Of course, science is not perfect. Scientists will readily admit that they do not know everything, but nevertheless the scientific method is without doubt the best mechanism for getting to the truth. If you are a reader who is sceptical about the power of science, then we kindly request that you at least read Chapter 1. By the end of that first chapter, you should be sufficiently convinced about the value of scientific method that you will consider accepting the conclusions in the rest of the book. It could be, however, that you refuse to acknowledge that science is the best way to decide whether or not an alternative therapy works.

It might be that you are so close-minded that you will stick to your worldview regardless of what science has to say. You might have an unwavering belief that all alternative medicine is rubbish, or you might adamantly hold the opposite view, that alternative medicine offers a panacea for all our aches, pains and diseases. In either case, this is not the book for you. There is no point in even reading the first chapter if you are not prepared to consider the possibility that the scientific method can act as the arbiter of truth. In fact, if you have already made up your mind about alternative medicine, then it would be sensible for you to return this book to the bookshop and ask for a refund. Why on Earth would you want to hear about the conclusions of thousands of research studies when you already have all the answers? But our hope is that you will be sufficiently open-minded to want to read further. 1 How Do You Determine the Truth?

Science...For Her! by Megan Amram


Albert Einstein, blood diamonds, butterfly effect, crowdsourcing, dark matter, Dmitri Mendeleev, double helix, Google Glasses, Isaac Newton, Kickstarter, Mark Zuckerberg, pez dispenser, Schrödinger's Cat, Steve Jobs, Ted Kaczynski, the scientific method, Wall-E, wikimedia commons

More like he’s “below” it—six feet below it! * * * WHITNEY HOUSTON . . . DIES! This “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” singer should have been singing “I Wanna Die in Some Tubby!” Because she died in a bathtub! The Scientific Method * * * If you’re looking for a fun way to practice your chemistry, you’ve come on the right face! Use that one with boys! :) The only way to really grasp chemistry is to get hands-on. You’re not going to learn it just by reading about it or drinking a bottle of wine and kissing your gymnastics coach in the locker room. The scientific method is a process by which scientists try to test hypotheses. I’ve adapted some classic experiments to better fit a woman’s lifestyle. Classic Science Experiments . . . for Her! * * * If you need to make chemistry more fun than I’ve already made it (just add Cosmos!

• Healthy Cookin’ • Paula Deen’s Health-Food Cookbook • Household Chemicals • Household-Chemical Cocktails • Acids & Bases & Tigers & Lions, Oh My! • Alcohols • Bad Adjectives to Use at a Wine Tasting • The Science of Chemistry ;) • Sexiest Molecules • Who Wore It Best? Molecules Edition • The Periodic Table of the Elements • Periodic Table Settings • The Period! Ick! Table • Carb-On Feel the Noise! • The Scientific Method • Classic Science Experiments . . . for Her! • Science . . . for Her . . . for Lesbos! • Quiz: Why Did You Decide to Become a Lesbian? • Bondage!!!! ;) • Gases, Gases, Everywhere, but Not a Drop to Stink! • Nuclear Chemistry • Most Embarrassing Moments: Meltdown Edition • Air Pollution • Most Romantic Places to See Smog • Famous Chemists • Marie Curie vs. Marie Claire Physics “Let’s Get Physics, Y’all!”

Love you, girls! Chemistry Introduction Food & Cooking—Yum Yum! Healthy Cookin’ Paula Deen’s Health-Food Cookbook A Lady on the Streets, but a Scientist Also on the Streets! Household Chemicals Acids & Bases & Tigers & Lions, Oh My! Alcohols The Science of Chemistry ;) Sexiest Molecules Who Wore It Best? The Periodic Table of the Elements The Period! Ick! Table Carb-On Feel the Noise! The Scientific Method Science . . . for Her . . . for Lesbos! Quiz: Why Did You Decide to Become a Lesbian? Bondage!!!! ;) Gases, Gases, Everywhere, but Not a Drop to Stink! Nuclear Chemistry Air Pollution Famous Chemists Chemistry Recap Introduction You’re back! OMG I’ve missed you so much, baby girl!!! I know we promised to keep in touch over the chapter break, I’m honestly so sorry I didn’t write or call or anything.

pages: 200 words: 60,987

The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America by Steven Johnson


Albert Einstein, Chance favours the prepared mind, conceptual framework, Copley Medal, Danny Hillis, discovery of DNA, Edmond Halley, Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, Kevin Kelly, planetary scale, side project, South Sea Bubble, stem cell, Stewart Brand, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, zero-sum game

Those who drank coffee instead of alcohol began the day alert and stimulated, rather than relaxed and mildly inebriated, and the quality and quantity of their work improved. . . . Western Europe began to emerge from an alcoholic haze that had lasted for centuries. Emerging from that centuries-long bender, armed with a belief in the scientific method and the conviction, inherited from Newtonian physics, that simple laws could be unearthed beneath complex behavior, the networked, caffeinated minds of the eighteenth century found themselves in a universe that was ripe for discovery. The everyday world was teeming with mysterious phenomena—air, fire, animals, plants, rocks, weather—that had never before been probed with the conceptual tools of the scientific method. This sense of terra incognita also helps explain why Priestley could be so innovative in so many different disciplines, and why Enlightenment culture in general spawned so many distinct paradigm shifts.

(We have names like “Renaissance” precisely to mark exactly how extreme the transformation is.) Priestley was a key participant in one of these cultural-phase transitions, what was described self-consciously at the time, by Kant and others, as the Enlightenment, a term that embraces both the widening of political and religious possibility in eighteenth-century Europe and the extensive application of the scientific method to problems that had previously been shrouded in darkness. There were literally dozens of paradigm shifts in distinct fields during Priestley’s lifetime, watershed moments of sudden progress where new rules and frameworks of understanding emerged. Priestley alone was a transformative figure in four of them: chemistry, electricity, politics, and faith. Each paradigm shift on its own has its own internally consistent narrative that describes its path, explaining how we came to understand something like the single-fluid theory: a litany of hunches, experiments, published papers, and popularizations.

We tend to talk about the history of ideas in terms of individual genius and broader cultural categories—the spirit of the age, the paradigm of research. But ideas happen in specific physical environments as well, environments that bring their own distinct pressures, opportunities, limitations, and happy accidents to the evolution of human understanding. Take Joseph Priestley out of Enlightenment culture, and deprive him of the scientific method, and his legendary streak no doubt disappears, or turns into something radically different. But take Priestley out of Meadow Lane, and deprive him of his hours at the brewery, and you would likely get a different story as well. Ideas are situated in another kind of environment as well: the information network. Theoretically, it is possible to imagine good ideas happening in a vacuum—a lone Inuit scientist conjuring up breathtaking discoveries in his igloo, and then keeping them to himself.

pages: 460 words: 107,712

A Devil's Chaplain: Selected Writings by Richard Dawkins


Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Buckminster Fuller, butterfly effect, Claude Shannon: information theory, complexity theory, Desert Island Discs, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, epigenetics, experimental subject, Fellow of the Royal Society, gravity well, Necker cube, out of africa, phenotype, placebo effect, random walk, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Silicon Valley, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, the scientific method

The reader’s knowing chuckle is out before he realizes that actually he is in no position to respond knowingly to that ‘even’. Medawar has become a sort of chief spokesman for ‘The Scientist’ in the modern world. He takes a less doleful view of the human predicament than is fashionable, believing that hands are for solving problems rather than for wringing. He regards the scientific method – in the right hands – as our most powerful tool for ‘finding out what is wrong with [the world] and then taking steps to put it right’. As for the scientific method itself, Medawar has a good deal to tell us, and he is well qualified to do so. Not that being a Nobel Prize-winner and a close associate of Karl Popper is in itself an indication that one will talk sense: far from it when you think of others in that category. But Medawar not only is a Nobel Prize-winner, he seems like a Nobel Prize-winner; he is everything we think a Nobel Prize-winner ought to be.

This has never struck me as a particularly profound or wise remark,1 but it comes into its own in the special case where the little learning is in philosophy (as it often is). A scientist who has the temerity to utter the t-word (‘true’) is likely to encounter a form of philosophical heckling which goes something like this: There is no absolute truth. You are committing an act of personal faith when you claim that the scientific method, including mathematics and logic, is the privileged road to truth. Other cultures might believe that truth is to be found in a rabbit’s entrails, or the ravings of a prophet up a pole. It is only your personal faith in science that leads you to favour your brand of truth. That strand of half-baked philosophy goes by the name of cultural relativism. It is one aspect of the Fashionable Nonsense detected by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont,12 or the Higher Superstition of Paul Gross and Norman Levitt.13 The feminist version is ably exposed by Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge, authors of Professing Feminism: Cautionary Tales from the Strange World of Women’s Studies:14 Women’s Studies students are now being taught that logic is a tool of domination … the standard norms and methods of scientific inquiry are sexist because they are incompatible with ‘women’s ways of knowing’ … These ‘subjectivist’ women see the methods of logic, analysis and abstraction as ‘alien territory belonging to men’ and ‘value intuition as a safer and more fruitful approach to truth’.

Those of us who have renounced one or another of the three ‘great’ monotheistic religions have, until now, moderated our language for reasons of politeness. Christians, Jews and Muslims are sincere in their beliefs and in what they find holy. We have respected that, even as we have disagreed with it. The late Douglas Adams put it with his customary good humour, in an impromptu speech in 199892 (slightly abridged): Now, the invention of the scientific method is, I’m sure we’ll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked. If it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day, and if it doesn’t withstand the attack then down it goes. Religion doesn’t seem to work like that.

pages: 299 words: 98,943

Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization by Stephen Cave

Albert Einstein, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, back-to-the-land, clean water, double helix, George Santayana, invention of the printing press, Isaac Newton, Lao Tzu, life extension, planetary scale, Ray Kurzweil, stem cell, technoutopianism, the scientific method

Its practitioners developed life-extension techniques that are now, over two thousand years later, continuing to prosper: meditation, breathing exercises, the gentle gymnastics of tai chi and qigong, and the consumption of tea, ginseng and many other herbs and minerals. One of its core texts, known as The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon, remains the central source for Chinese traditional medicine. Until well into the Renaissance in Europe, there was no distinction between chemistry and alchemy or scientist and wizard. What we now see as the rigors of the scientific method, the antithesis of all superstition, emerged only slowly from the alchemical quest for immortality. Many of the great figures at the dawn of the scientific age, such as Robert Boyle and even Sir Isaac Newton, were steeped in alchemical teachings—Newton himself saw his contributions to alchemy as more important than his discoveries in physics. As the successes of the new evidence-based methods rapidly grew, faith in ancient wisdom and the occult eventually declined.

Usually this magic stuff is a gift from God or gods; it might be equated with the soul or spirit, like the Egyptian ka; and it separates absolutely the living from the nonliving—men from mud, birds from rocks. But the pioneering philosophers and early scientists of the Enlightenment challenged this view, arguing that living things were natural phenomena, obeying the same rules that governed all matter. By careful study, they argued, we could understand those rules. To the founders of the scientific method, from René Descartes to Nicolas de Condorcet, man was a machine. Therefore just as a good watchmaker could ensure that a watch continues to run perfectly, so the physicians would one day be able to keep humans in perfect working order indefinitely. By the time Condorcet was writing in the late eighteenth century, this link between science, progress and indefinitely extended lifespans was well established.

If Condorcet, who died in the upheavals of the French Revolution, had lived longer, he would have witnessed something like the progress he described. Life expectancy in the France of his day, as in most of the rest of the world, was around thirty years. These people—your great-great-great-great-great-grandparents—lived in a world of grand cities and gunpowder, yet still their life expectancy was little better than that of cavemen. By the end of the nineteenth century, life expectancy had made the significant leap to over forty, as the scientific method began to be applied to questions of public hygiene and the practice of medicine. But then came the real breakthrough: if we fast-forward just a few more generations, children born at the end of the twentieth century in France, as in most of the Western world, could expect to live to over eighty years of age. That is, in one century, life expectancy doubled. This is one of the most extraordinary achievements in history—without which there is a high chance that neither I nor you, dear reader, would be here.

pages: 692 words: 127,032

Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America by Shawn Lawrence Otto


affirmative action, Albert Einstein, anthropic principle, Berlin Wall, Brownian motion, carbon footprint, Cepheid variable, clean water, Climategate, Climatic Research Unit, cognitive dissonance, Columbine, commoditize, cosmological constant, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, Dean Kamen, desegregation, double helix, energy security, Exxon Valdez, fudge factor, ghettoisation, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, informal economy, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, mutually assured destruction, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, Saturday Night Live, shareholder value, sharing economy, smart grid, Solar eclipse in 1919, stem cell, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, transaction costs, University of East Anglia, War on Poverty, white flight, Winter of Discontent, working poor, yellow journalism, zero-sum game

It is filled with objects and processes that exist independently of us and our beliefs about them. 2. The goal of science is to create descriptions of reality that are independent of us and our opinions or beliefs. We call these descriptions knowledge. 3. To create this knowledge, we use the scientific method, which is a collection of several techniques, including observation, hypothesizing, induction, experimentation, unique prediction, recording, and critical peer review. These techniques have evolved over time and will likely continue to evolve. 4. Like our senses, the scientific method is fallible and often leads us astray. But it is the best method we have come up with so far, and it has proven to be very powerful. The religious right took issue with these claims when they conflicted with dogma or a literal reading of the Bible.

Inevitably this is uncomfortable, because the process compels us to give up, alter, or somehow intellectually sequester many comforting notions, notions that are often profoundly powerful because they are our most deeply rooted and awestruck explanations about the wonders of creation, the specialness of our identities, our history, and the possibility that our spirits may somehow live on after death. THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD How do we create knowledge? There is no one “scientific method”; rather, there is a collection of strategies that have proven effective in answering our questions about how things in nature really work. How do plants grow? What is stuff made of? How do viruses work? Why are montane voles promiscuous while prairie voles are loyal lifelong mates? The process usually begins with a question about something, and that suggests a strategy for making and recording observations and measurements.

Gaining these powers? What is life? Is life an unbroken chain of genetic code, running down through the generations, endlessly recombining in new forms? Is it software? When does it become an individual with rights? Where do we draw the legal line? The moral line? Can we draw a line at all? Is that the right way to be thinking about it? In each of the above cases, new knowledge was gained by applying the scientific method of making careful observations and recording the data, then testing and drawing conclusions based on the results instead of on assumptions or beliefs, and then publishing those for others to review and attempt to disprove if they can. The knowledge gained through this incredible process gives us new power over the physical world, the power to assist or prevent pregnancy, but it also forces us to reevaluate intuitive assumptions and to refine and in some cases redefine the meanings of words and values we thought we understood.

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Code Complete (Developer Best Practices) by Steve McConnell


Ada Lovelace, Albert Einstein, Buckminster Fuller, call centre, choice architecture, continuous integration, data acquisition, database schema, don't repeat yourself, Donald Knuth, fault tolerance, Grace Hopper, haute cuisine, if you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras, index card, inventory management, iterative process, Larry Wall, late fees, loose coupling, Menlo Park, Perl 6, place-making, premature optimization, revision control, Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, slashdot, sorting algorithm, statistical model, Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Turing machine, web application

Even better, the effective programmers who debug in one-twentieth the time used by the ineffective programmers aren't randomly guessing about how to fix the program. They're using the scientific method—that is, the process of discovery and demonstration necessary for scientific investigation. The Scientific Method of Debugging Here are the steps you go through when you use the classic scientific method: Gather data through repeatable experiments. Form a hypothesis that accounts for the relevant data. Design an experiment to prove or disprove the hypothesis. Prove or disprove the hypothesis. Repeat as needed. The scientific method has many parallels in debugging. Here's an effective approach for finding a defect: Stabilize the error. Locate the source of the error (the "fault").

Analyze the data that has been gathered, and form a hypothesis about the defect. Determine how to prove or disprove the hypothesis, either by testing the program or by examining the code. Prove or disprove the hypothesis by using the procedure identified in 2(c). Fix the defect. Test the fix. Look for similar errors. The first step is similar to the scientific method's first step in that it relies on repeatability. The defect is easier to diagnose if you can stabilize it—that is, make it occur reliably. The second step uses the steps of the scientific method. You gather the test data that divulged the defect, analyze the data that has been produced, and form a hypothesis about the source of the error. You then design a test case or an inspection to evaluate the hypothesis, and you either declare success (regarding proving your hypothesis) or renew your efforts, as appropriate.

Add a unit test that exposes the defect. Look for similar defects. General Approach to Debugging Do you use debugging as an opportunity to learn more about your program, mistakes, code quality, and problem-solving approach? Do you avoid the trial-and-error, superstitious approach to debugging? Do you assume that errors are your fault? Do you use the scientific method to stabilize intermittent errors? Do you use the scientific method to find defects? Rather than using the same approach every time, do you use several different techniques to find defects? Do you verify that the fix is correct? Do you use compiler warning messages, execution profiling, a test framework, scaffolding, and interactive debugging? Additional Resources The following resources also address debugging: Agans, David J.

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Bad Science by Ben Goldacre


Asperger Syndrome, correlation does not imply causation, experimental subject, hygiene hypothesis, Ignaz Semmelweis: hand washing, John Snow's cholera map, Louis Pasteur, meta analysis, meta-analysis, offshore financial centre, p-value, placebo effect, publication bias, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, risk tolerance, Ronald Reagan, selection bias, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), the scientific method, urban planning

When they start to write about serious issues like MMR, you can see that this is what people in the media really think science is about. The next stop on our journey is inevitably going to be statistics, because this is one area that causes unique problems for the media. But first, we need to go on a brief diversion. 13 Why Clever People Believe Stupid Things The real purpose of the scientific method is to make sure nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you actually don’t know. Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Why do we have statistics, why do we measure things, and why do we count? If the scientific method has any authority—or as I prefer to think of it, ‘value’—it is because it represents a systematic approach; but this is valuable only because the alternatives can be misleading. When we reason informally—call it intuition, if you like—we use rules of thumb which simplify problems for the sake of efficiency.

There is a moral and financial issue here too: randomising your patients properly doesn’t cost money. Blinding your patients to whether they had the active treatment or the placebo doesn’t cost money. Overall, doing research robustly and fairly does not necessarily require more money, it simply requires that you think before you start. The only people to blame for the flaws in these studies are the people who performed them. In some cases they will be people who turn their backs on the scientific method as a ‘flawed paradigm’; and yet it seems their great new paradigm is simply ‘unfair tests’. These patterns are reflected throughout the alternative therapy literature. In general, the studies which are flawed tend to be the ones that favour homeopathy, or any other alternative therapy; and the well-performed studies, where every controllable source of bias and error is excluded, tend to show that the treatments are no better than placebo.

Garrow read McKeith’s book closely, as have I. These ‘clinical trials’ seemed to be a few anecdotes about how incredibly well her patients felt after seeing her. No controls, no placebo, no attempt to quantify or measure improvements. So Garrow made a modest proposal in a fairly obscure medical newsletter. I am quoting it in its entirety, partly because it is a rather elegantly written exposition of the scientific method by an eminent academic authority on the science of nutrition, but mainly because I want you to see how politely he stated his case: I also am a clinical nutritionist, and I believe that many of the statements in this book are wrong. My hypothesis is that any benefits which Dr McKeith has observed in her patients who take her living food powder have nothing to do with their enzyme content.

pages: 261 words: 86,261

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out: The Best Short Works of Richard P. Feynman by Richard P. Feynman, Jeffrey Robbins


Albert Einstein, Brownian motion, impulse control, index card, John von Neumann, Murray Gell-Mann, pattern recognition, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman: Challenger O-ring, the scientific method

Penology, prison reform–to understand why people do crimes; look at the world–we understand it more and more with our modern understanding of these things. More about education, more about crime; the scores on the tests are going down and there’s more people in prison; young people are committing crimes, we just don’t understand it at all. It just isn’t working, to discover things about these things by using the scientific method in the type of imitation which they are using now. Now whether the scientific method would work in these fields if we knew how to do it, I don’t know. It’s particularly weak in this way. There may be some other method. For example, to listen to the ideas of the past and the experience of people for a long time might be a good idea. It’s only a good idea not to pay attention to the past when you have another independent source of information that you’ve decided to follow.

So you begin by being uncertain as to what the answer is. This is very, very important, so important that I would like to delay that aspect, and talk about that still further along in my speech. The question of doubt and uncertainty is what is necessary to begin; for if you already know the answer there is no need to gather any evidence about it. Well, being uncertain, the next thing is to look for evidence, and the scientific method is to begin with trials. But another way and a very important one that should not be neglected and that is very vital is to put together ideas to try to enforce a logical consistency among the various things that you know. It is a very valuable thing to try to connect this, what you know, with that, that you know, and try to find out if they are consistent. And the more activity in the direction of trying to put together the ideas of different directions, the better it is.

And, although you may gain some temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation as a scientist if you haven’t tried to be very careful in this kind of work. And it’s this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in Cargo Cult Science. A great deal of their difficulty is, of course, the difficulty of the subject and the inapplicability of the scientific method to the subject. Nevertheless, it should be remarked that this is not the only difficulty. That’s why the planes don’t land–but they don’t land. We have learned a lot from experience about how to handle some of the ways we fool ourselves. One example: Millikan measured the charge on an electron by an experiment with falling oil drops and got an answer which we now know not to be quite right.

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The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch by Lewis Dartnell


agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, clean water, Dava Sobel, decarbonisation, discovery of penicillin, Dmitri Mendeleev, global village, Haber-Bosch Process, invention of movable type, invention of radio, invention of writing, iterative process, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, lone genius, mass immigration, nuclear winter, off grid, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, technology bubble, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, trade route

The exploitation of knowledge and scientific principles is the essence of technology, and as we’ll see in this book, the practices of scientific research and technological development are inextricably intertwined. Inspired by Feynman, I’d argue that the best way to help survivors of the Fall is not to create a comprehensive record of all knowledge, but to provide a guide to the basics, adapted to their likely circumstances, as well as a blueprint of the techniques necessary to rediscover crucial understanding for themselves—the powerful knowledge-generation machinery that is the scientific method. The key to preserving civilization is to provide a condensed seed that will readily unpack to yield the entire expansive tree of knowledge, rather than attempting to document the colossal tree itself. Which fragments, to paraphrase T. S. Eliot, are best shored against our ruins? The value of such a book is potentially enormous. What might have happened in our own history if the classical civilizations had left condensed seeds of their accumulated knowledge?

But at what point does a technologically progressing civilization reach a peak beyond which further advance brings diminishing returns? Perhaps a recovering civilization will reach equilibrium at a certain technological level, neither advancing further nor regressing, once it has achieved a stable economy, comfortable population size, and the ability to draw sustainably on natural resources. THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD This book is of course not a complete compendium of all the information you would need to rebuild your world from scratch. A great deal of material has necessarily been left out. We’ve mostly focused on inorganic chemistry, useful for making agricultural fertilizers or industrial reagents, rather than the synthesis or transformations of organic molecules. Organic chemistry has become increasingly important over the past century: processing the fractions of crude oil, purifying and modifying natural pharmaceutical compounds into more potent versions, synthesizing pesticides and herbicides for more reliable food production, and creating a whole new domain of materials with properties unlike anything we find in nature: plastics.

But rather than using water itself as the fluid, you’ll realize that mercury expands far more uniformly for an accurate thermometer. For thermometers capable of operating at temperatures beyond the boiling point of mercury, for use in a kiln or furnace, for example, you will need to exploit other physical phenomena. Your investigations of electricity, for instance, will reveal that the resistance of a wire often increases with temperature. THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD—CONTINUED This, then, is the fundamental process for devising reliable means for measurement of any attribute. As the recovering civilization discovers strange new phenomena of nature, new fields of scientific research emerge. Means of isolating the properties of these phenomena and translating them into something that can be reliably measured must be devised before they can begin to be understood and exploited for technological applications.

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Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz


affirmative action, anti-communist, banking crisis, Bernie Madoff, car-free, Cass Sunstein, cognitive dissonance, colonial rule, conceptual framework, cosmological constant, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, dark matter, desegregation, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, lake wobegon effect, mandatory minimum, Pierre-Simon Laplace, Ronald Reagan, six sigma, stem cell, Steven Pinker, Tenerife airport disaster, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, trade route

This idea began to emerge during the Scientific Revolution, through that era’s hallmark development, the scientific method. It is a measure of the method’s success (and its simplicity, in theory if not in practice) that, some 400 years later, virtually every reader of this book will have learned it in junior high school. The gist of the scientific method is that observations lead to hypotheses (which must be testable), which are then subjected to experiments (whose results must be reproducible). If all goes well, the outcome is a theory, a logically consistent, empirically tested explanation for a natural phenomenon. As an ideal of intellectual inquiry and a strategy for the advancement of knowledge, the scientific method is essentially a monument to the utility of error. Most of us gravitate toward trying to verify our beliefs, to the extent that we bother investigating their validity at all.

., Official Guide Book: New York World’s Fair 1939: The World of Tomorrow (Exposition Publications, 1939), 2. error’s “grosser forms.” Sully, 186. Ralph Linton. Ralph Linton, “Error in Anthropology,” in Jastrow, ed., 298. that era’s hallmark development, the scientific method. Systematic methods for inquiring into the natural world have been around for ages: ancient Greek naturalists practiced a form of empiricism, and medieval Muslim scientists developed a method of inquiry that relied on experimentation to weigh competing hypotheses. But the scientific method as we understand it today was introduced to the world through the work of Francis Bacon in his 1620 Novum Organum, and René Descartes in his 1637 Discourse on the Method. Whether or not this method has ever been practiced as such (that is, to what extent scientists, especially as individuals, seek to replicate experiments and falsify hypotheses) is an open question, as Thomas Kuhn made abundantly clear in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

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Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger, Kenneth Cukier


23andMe, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, airport security, AltaVista, barriers to entry, Berlin Wall, big data - Walmart - Pop Tarts, Black Swan, book scanning, business intelligence, business process, call centre, cloud computing, computer age, correlation does not imply causation, dark matter, double entry bookkeeping, Eratosthenes, Erik Brynjolfsson, game design, IBM and the Holocaust, index card, informal economy, intangible asset, Internet of things, invention of the printing press, Jeff Bezos, lifelogging, Louis Pasteur, Mark Zuckerberg, Menlo Park, Moneyball by Michael Lewis explains big data, Nate Silver, natural language processing, Netflix Prize, Network effects, obamacare, optical character recognition, PageRank, performance metric, Peter Thiel, Post-materialism, post-materialism, random walk, recommendation engine, self-driving car, sentiment analysis, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, smart grid, smart meter, social graph, speech recognition, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, the scientific method, The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Turing test, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!

For much of history, humankind’s highest achievements arose from conquering the world by measuring it. The quest for exactitude began in Europe in the middle of the thirteenth century, when astronomers and scholars took on the ever more precise quantification of time and space—“the measure of reality,” in the words of the historian Alfred Crosby. If one could measure a phenomenon, the implicit belief was, one could understand it. Later, measurement was tied to the scientific method of observation and explanation: the ability to quantify, record, and present reproducible results. “To measure is to know,” pronounced Lord Kelvin. It became a basis of authority. “Knowledge is power,” instructed Francis Bacon. In parallel, mathematicians, and what later became actuaries and accountants, developed methods that made possible the accurate collection, recording, and management of data.

In the future, our understanding will be driven more by the abundance of data rather than by hypotheses. These hypotheses have often been derived from theories of the natural or the social sciences, which in turn help explain and/or predict the world around us. As we transition from a hypothesis-driven world to a data-driven world, we may be tempted to think that we also no longer need theories. In 2008 Wired magazine’s editor-in-chief Chris Anderson trumpeted that “the data deluge makes the scientific method obsolete.” In a cover story called “The Petabyte Age,” he proclaimed that it amounted to nothing short of “the end of theory.” The traditional process of scientific discovery—of a hypothesis that is tested against reality using a model of underlying causalities—is on its way out, Anderson argued, replaced by statistical analysis of pure correlations that is devoid of theory. To support his argument, Anderson described how quantum physics has become an almost purely theoretical field, because experiments are too expensive, too complex, and too large to be feasible.

., “Machine Learning for the New York City Power Grid,” IEEE Transactions on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence 34, no. 2 (2012), pp. 328–345 ( [>] Messiness of the term “service box”—This list comes from Rudin et al., “21st-Century Data Miners Meet 19th-Century Electrical Cables.” Rudin quotation—From interview with Cukier, March 2012. [>] Anderson’s views—Chris Anderson, “The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete,” Wired, June 2008 ( [>] Anderson’s backpedal—National Public Radio, “Search and Destroy,” July 18, 2008 ( [>] On choices influencing our analysis—danah boyd and Kate Crawford. “Six Provocations for Big Data,” paper presented at Oxford Internet Institute’s “A Decade in Internet Time: Symposium on the Dynamics of the Internet and Society,” September 21, 2011 ( 5.

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The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-But Some Don't by Nate Silver


airport security, availability heuristic, Bayesian statistics, Benoit Mandelbrot, Berlin Wall, Bernie Madoff, big-box store, Black Swan, Broken windows theory, Carmen Reinhart, Claude Shannon: information theory, Climategate, Climatic Research Unit, cognitive dissonance, collapse of Lehman Brothers, collateralized debt obligation, complexity theory, computer age, correlation does not imply causation, Credit Default Swap, credit default swaps / collateralized debt obligations, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, diversification, Donald Trump, Edmond Halley, Edward Lorenz: Chaos theory,, equity premium, Eugene Fama: efficient market hypothesis, everywhere but in the productivity statistics, fear of failure, Fellow of the Royal Society, Freestyle chess, fudge factor, George Akerlof, haute cuisine, Henri Poincaré, high batting average, housing crisis, income per capita, index fund, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Internet Archive, invention of the printing press, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, John Nash: game theory, John von Neumann, Kenneth Rogoff, knowledge economy, locking in a profit, Loma Prieta earthquake, market bubble, Mikhail Gorbachev, Moneyball by Michael Lewis explains big data, Monroe Doctrine, mortgage debt, Nate Silver, negative equity, new economy, Norbert Wiener, PageRank, pattern recognition,, Pierre-Simon Laplace, prediction markets, Productivity paradox, random walk, Richard Thaler, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Rodney Brooks, Ronald Reagan, Saturday Night Live, savings glut, security theater, short selling, Skype, statistical model, Steven Pinker, The Great Moderation, The Market for Lemons, the scientific method, The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Bayes, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, too big to fail, transaction costs, transfer pricing, University of East Anglia, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, wikimedia commons

Nickerson, “Null Hypothesis Significance Testing: A Review of an Old and Continuing Controversy,” Psychological Methods, 5, 2 (2000), pp. 241–301. 62. Andrew Gelman and Cosma Tohilla Shalizi, “Philosophy and the Practice of Bayesian Statistics,” British Journal of Mathematical and Statistical Psychology, pp. 1–31, January 11, 2012. 63. Although there are several different formulations of the steps in the scientific method, this version is mostly drawn from “APPENDIX E: Introduction to the Scientific Method,” University of Rochester. 64. Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Kindle edition). 65. Jacob Cohen, “The Earth Is Round (p<.05),” American Psychologist, 49, 12 (December 1994), pp. 997–1003. 66.

The Promise and Pitfalls of “Big Data” The fashionable term now is “Big Data.” IBM estimates that we are generating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day, more than 90 percent of which was created in the last two years.36 This exponential growth in information is sometimes seen as a cure-all, as computers were in the 1970s. Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine, wrote in 2008 that the sheer volume of data would obviate the need for theory, and even the scientific method.37 This is an emphatically pro-science and pro-technology book, and I think of it as a very optimistic one. But it argues that these views are badly mistaken. The numbers have no way of speaking for themselves. We speak for them. We imbue them with meaning. Like Caesar, we may construe them in self-serving ways that are detached from their objective reality. Data-driven predictions can succeed—and they can fail.

(The problem with Fisher’s notion of hypothesis testing is not with having hypotheses but with the way Fisher recommends that we test them.)62 In fact, this is critical to what Voulgaris does. Everyone can see the statistical patterns, and they are soon reflected in the betting line. The question is whether they represent signal or noise. Voulgaris forms hypotheses from his basketball knowledge so that he might tell the difference more quickly and more accurately. Voulgaris’s approach to betting basketball is one of the purer distillations of the scientific method that you’re likely to find (figure 8-7). He observes the world and asks questions: why are the Cleveland Cavaliers so frequently going over on the total? He then gathers information on the problem, and formulates a hypothesis: the Cavaliers are going over because Ricky Davis is in a contract year and is trying to play at a fast pace to improve his statistics. The difference between what Voulgaris does and what a physicist or biologist might do is that he demarcates his predictions by placing bets on them, whereas a scientist would hope to validate her prediction by conducting an experiment.

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The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis by Jeremy Rifkin


agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, back-to-the-land, British Empire, carbon footprint, collaborative economy, death of newspapers, delayed gratification, distributed generation,, energy security, feminist movement, global village, hydrogen economy, illegal immigration, income inequality, income per capita, interchangeable parts, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Internet Archive, invention of movable type, invention of the steam engine, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, labour mobility, Mahatma Gandhi, Marshall McLuhan, means of production, megacity, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Milgram experiment, new economy, New Urbanism, Norbert Wiener, off grid, out of africa, Peace of Westphalia, peak oil, peer-to-peer, planetary scale, Simon Kuznets, Skype, smart grid, smart meter, supply-chain management, surplus humans, the medium is the message, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, transaction costs, upwardly mobile, uranium enrichment, working poor, World Values Survey

Still, many of us have difficulty accepting the idea of reality as the collective understandings we create about the world around us by dint of the relationships we enter. That’s in large part because we were weaned on the “scientific method,” which informed us that objective reality exists and human beings are capable of knowing it by becoming detached observers—the exact opposite of the embodied approach to reality. Francis Bacon, the pre-Enlightenment English philosopher, wrote of a new way to understand and order reality in his master work, the Novum Organum. Bacon outlined what would later be called the scientific method. Impatient with the ancient Greek approach to science with its emphasis on the “why” of things, Bacon turned his attention to the “how” of things. The Greeks, he wrote, had not “adduced a single experiment which tends to relieve and benefit the condition of man.”29 Bacon was far more interested in harnessing nature for productive ends than merely contemplating the reason for its existence.

In this sense, collaborative learning transforms the classroom into a laboratory for empathic expression which, in turn, enriches the educational process. TEACHING EMPATHIC SCIENCE If we were going to look for ground zero in the teaching of the conventional Enlightenment model of classroom education, it would be the inculcation of the scientific method—an approach to learning that has been nearly deified in the centuries that have followed the European Enlightenment. Children are introduced to the scientific method in middle school and informed that it is the only accurate process by which to gather knowledge and learn about the real world around us. Students are instructed that the best way to investigate phenomena and discover truths is by objective observation. A premium is put on dispassionate neutrality. The objective approach to analyzing phenomena assumes that the world is made up of objects that can be analyzed in isolation, independent of the larger wholes of which they are a part.

The Greeks, he wrote, had not “adduced a single experiment which tends to relieve and benefit the condition of man.”29 Bacon was far more interested in harnessing nature for productive ends than merely contemplating the reason for its existence. Bacon’s method, which was heavily influenced by the new ideas about “perspective” that were revolutionizing art, is based on the idea that the only way to know reality is to remove oneself and create a neutral barrier so that a disembodied mind can observe and make value-free judgments about its workings. Bacon was convinced that the scientific method was a powerful new mental tool that would allow the human mind to “conquer and subdue” nature and “shake her to her foundations.” The goal of the new science, said Bacon, was to “establish and extend the power of dominion of the human race itself over the universe.”30 Bacon and the rationalist philosophers who followed him believed that nature is little more than a storehouse of valuable resources and that the only relationship that counted was the exercise of power over it.

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The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World by Pedro Domingos


3D printing, Albert Einstein, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Arthur Eddington, basic income, Bayesian statistics, Benoit Mandelbrot, bioinformatics, Black Swan, Brownian motion, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, combinatorial explosion, computer vision, constrained optimization, correlation does not imply causation, creative destruction, crowdsourcing, Danny Hillis, data is the new oil, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, Erik Brynjolfsson, experimental subject, Filter Bubble, future of work, global village, Google Glasses, Gödel, Escher, Bach, information retrieval, job automation, John Markoff, John Snow's cholera map, John von Neumann, Joseph Schumpeter, Kevin Kelly, lone genius, mandelbrot fractal, Mark Zuckerberg, Moneyball by Michael Lewis explains big data, Narrative Science, Nate Silver, natural language processing, Netflix Prize, Network effects, NP-complete, off grid, P = NP, PageRank, pattern recognition, phenotype, planetary scale, pre–internet, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Second Machine Age, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, speech recognition, statistical model, Stephen Hawking, Steven Levy, Steven Pinker, superintelligent machines, the scientific method, The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, theory of mind, Thomas Bayes, transaction costs, Turing machine, Turing test, Vernor Vinge, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, white flight, zero-sum game

While the first company’s experts write a thousand rules to predict what its customers want, the second company’s algorithms learn billions of rules, a whole set of them for each individual customer. It’s about as fair as spears against machine guns. Machine learning is a cool new technology, but that’s not why businesses embrace it. They embrace it because they have no choice. Supercharging the scientific method Machine learning is the scientific method on steroids. It follows the same process of generating, testing, and discarding or refining hypotheses. But while a scientist may spend his or her whole life coming up with and testing a few hundred hypotheses, a machine-learning system can do the same in a fraction of a second. Machine learning automates discovery. It’s no surprise, then, that it’s revolutionizing science as much as it’s revolutionizing business.

But the debate really took off during the Enlightenment, with a trio of great thinkers on each side: Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz were the leading rationalists; Locke, Berkeley, and Hume were their empiricist counterparts. Trusting in their powers of reasoning, the rationalists concocted theories of the universe that—to put it gently—did not stand the test of time, but they also invented fundamental mathematical techniques like calculus and analytical geometry. The empiricists were altogether more practical, and their influence is everywhere from the scientific method to the Constitution of the United States. David Hume was the greatest of the empiricists and the greatest English-speaking philosopher of all time. Thinkers like Adam Smith and Charles Darwin count him among their key influences. You could also say he’s the patron saint of the symbolists. He was born in Scotland in 1711 and spent most of his life in eighteenth-century Edinburgh, a prosperous city full of intellectual ferment.

Accuracy you can believe in In practice, Valiant-style analysis tends to be very pessimistic and to call for more data than you have. So how do you decide whether to believe what a learner tells you? Simple: you don’t believe anything until you’ve verified it on data that the learner didn’t see. If the patterns the learner hypothesized also hold true on new data, you can be pretty confident that they’re real. Otherwise you know the learner overfit. This is just the scientific method applied to machine learning: it’s not enough for a new theory to explain past evidence because it’s easy to concoct a theory that does that; the theory must also make new predictions, and you only accept it after they’ve been experimentally verified. (And even then only provisionally, because future evidence could still falsify it.) Einstein’s general relativity was only widely accepted once Arthur Eddington empirically confirmed its prediction that the sun bends the light of distant stars.

The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy by Seth Mnookin


Albert Einstein, AltaVista, British Empire, Cass Sunstein, cognitive dissonance, correlation does not imply causation, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky,, illegal immigration, index card, Isaac Newton, loss aversion, meta analysis, meta-analysis, mouse model, neurotypical, pattern recognition, placebo effect, Richard Thaler, Saturday Night Live, selection bias, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions

The success of such a gambit depended on the public’s misunderstanding of the approach scientists rely on to understand the world. The steps of the scientific method are the same whether you’re a sixth grader prepping for a science fair or a physicist proposing a new framework for the universe: Observations lead to hypotheses, hypotheses are tested by experimentation, results are analyzed, conclusions are submitted for publication, and the whole process undergoes peer review. (To be fair, for a typical twelve-year-old, “publication and peer review” usually means “write it up on a piece of poster board and appeal to your teacher for a good grade.”) It’s a formula so central to the very definition of science that it’s easy to assume it has been accepted as gospel throughout history. That, however, is not the case. The scientific method is actually a relatively new construct, the product of several millennia worth of arguments about the merits of purely hypothetical analysis versus the observation of the world outside ourselves.

Until the authors of a given theory have provided a detailed explanation of exactly how they got their results, they’re essentially telling the rest of the world to accept their conclusions on faith—which puts them back on the side of the ideologues who define “truth” as whatever they happen to believe at the moment. This emphasis on disproving what your colleagues had previously believed to be accurate can make listening in on scientific debates feel a little like eavesdropping on a newly divorced couple arguing over child visitation rights. The realities of the scientific method also present an uncomfortable challenge for anyone tasked with explaining to the public why this inherent open-endedness doesn’t negate the high degree of certainty that accompanies widely accepted conclusions. The combination of ambiguity and authority implicit in science is hard enough to understand if you are sitting across the table from a scientist; it is an exponentially more challenging point to convey when filtered through media outlets that eschew nuance and depth in favor of attention-grabbing declarations. 35 A Special Master is someone who has been granted the authority to carry out a course of action designated by a court.

They also show why two reasonable, intelligent people who disagree can be equally certain that the evidence supports their understanding of the “facts.” It’s at this point that confirmation bias, the granddaddy of all cognitive biases, kicks into action—which is to say, it’s at the precise moment when we should be looking for reasons that we might be wrong that we begin to overvalue any indication that points to our being right. (This is part of the reason the scientific method can be so hard to grasp, and so hard to adhere to: It goes against our makeup to try to find ways to punch holes in our own arguments.) Misapprehensions about medicine are particularly vulnerable to the effects of confirmation bias, because the process by which a given intervention works is so often contra-logical: It makes no intuitive sense that rebreaking a bone would help a fracture to heal or that using chemotherapy to kill living tissue would help a person survive cancer.

pages: 397 words: 110,130

Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better by Clive Thompson


3D printing, 4chan, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, augmented reality, barriers to entry, Benjamin Mako Hill, butterfly effect, citizen journalism, Claude Shannon: information theory, conceptual framework, corporate governance, crowdsourcing, Deng Xiaoping, discovery of penicillin, Douglas Engelbart, Douglas Engelbart, drone strike, Edward Glaeser, Edward Thorp,, experimental subject, Filter Bubble, Freestyle chess, Galaxy Zoo, Google Earth, Google Glasses, Gunnar Myrdal, Henri Poincaré, hindsight bias, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, information retrieval, iterative process, jimmy wales, Kevin Kelly, Khan Academy, knowledge worker, lifelogging, Mark Zuckerberg, Marshall McLuhan, Menlo Park, Netflix Prize, Nicholas Carr, patent troll, pattern recognition, pre–internet, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Coase, Ronald Reagan, Rubik’s Cube, sentiment analysis, Silicon Valley, Skype, Snapchat, Socratic dialogue, spaced repetition, telepresence, telepresence robot, The Nature of the Firm, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, transaction costs, Vannevar Bush, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, WikiLeaks, X Prize, éminence grise

Steinkuehler now argues that video games are one of the best modern conduits to teach kids about the scientific method—why and how it works. As she points out, many kids hate science because it’s taught as a set of facts. Indeed, that’s how most adults see science: a bunch of guys in lab coats solemnly delivering information about How the World Works. But science isn’t about facts. It’s about the quest for facts—the process by which we hash through confusing thickets of ignorance. It’s dynamic, argumentative, collaborative, competitive, filled with flashes of crazy excitement and hours of drudgework, and driven by ego: our desire to be the one who figures it out, at least for now. Viewed this way, the scientific method is deeply relevant to everyday life, because it describes how to approach and solve problems.

It turns out a group of the teenagers had built Excel spreadsheets into which they dumped all the information they’d gathered about how each boss behaved: what magical potions and weapons wounded it the most, what counterattacks the boss would employ, and how much damage each attack would cause. Like many video games, Lineage is quite numeric—each attack shows a number toting up the damage done. After carefully collecting all their data, the teenagers used Excel to build a mathematical model that explained how the boss worked. Then they’d use the model to predict which attacks would be most likely to beat him. That’s when it hit Steinkuehler: the kids were using the scientific method. They’d think of a hypothesis, like “This boss is really susceptible to fire spells.” They’d collect evidence to see if the hypothesis was correct. If it wasn’t, they’d improve it until their hypothesis accounted for the observed data. “My head was spinning,” she tells me. When she met up with one of the kids, she asked him, “Do you realize that what you’re doing is the essence of science?”

Viewed this way, the scientific method is deeply relevant to everyday life, because it describes how to approach and solve problems. But in school, students are rarely asked to actually use the scientific method. Games, Steinkuehler says, are an ideal native environment for teaching the power of scientific rigor. If science seeks to uncover the invisible rules that govern the world around us, video games are simulated worlds with invisible rule sets just waiting to be uncovered. Teachers should bring games into the classroom, she argues, so they can use them to help explain how science works. These are fighting words. Educationally, video games are derided as a supreme waste of time and a detriment to literacy, sucking up teenagers’ hours that could be devoted to reading or presumably more productive hobbies. These concerns can be valid, as I can attest; I’ve played video games avidly for thirty years and am painfully aware how compulsive they can become.

pages: 492 words: 149,259

Big Bang by Simon Singh


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Andrew Wiles, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, Astronomia nova, Brownian motion, carbon-based life, Cepheid variable, Chance favours the prepared mind, Commentariolus, Copley Medal, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, dark matter, Dava Sobel, Defenestration of Prague, discovery of penicillin, Dmitri Mendeleev, Edmond Halley, Edward Charles Pickering, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, Erwin Freundlich, Fellow of the Royal Society, fudge factor, Hans Lippershey, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Henri Poincaré, horn antenna, if you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras, Index librorum prohibitorum, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Karl Jansky, Louis Daguerre, Louis Pasteur, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, Murray Gell-Mann, music of the spheres, Olbers’ paradox, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Paul Erdős, retrograde motion, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, scientific mainstream, Simon Singh, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, unbiased observer, V2 rocket, Wilhelm Olbers, William of Occam

The Big Bang model of the universe was developed over the last hundred years, and this was only possible because twentieth-century breakthroughs were built upon a foundation of astronomy constructed in previous centuries. In turn, these theories and observations of the sky were set within a scientific framework that had been assiduously crafted over two millennia. Going back even further, the scientific method as a path to objective truth about the material world could start to blossom only when the role of myths and folklore had begun to decline. All in all, the roots of the Big Bang model and the desire for a scientific theory of the universe can be traced right back to the decline of the ancient mythological view of the world. From Giant Creators to Greek Philosophers According to a Chinese creation myth that dates to 600 BC, Phan Ku the Giant Creator emerged from an egg and proceeded to create the world by using a chisel to carve valleys and mountains from the landscape.

When the planet is closer to the Sun the radius vector is short, but this is compensated by its greater speed, which means that it covers more of the ellipse’s circumference in a fixed time. When the planet is far from the Sun the radius vector is much longer, but it has a slower speed so it covers a smaller section of the circumference in the same time. Kepler’s ellipses provided a complete and accurate vision of our Solar System. His conclusions were a triumph for science and the scientific method, the result of combining observation, theory and mathematics. He first published his breakthrough in 1609 in a huge treatise entitled Astronomia nova, which detailed eight years of meticulous work, including numerous lines of investigation that led only to dead ends. He asked the reader to bear with him: ‘If thou art bored with this wearisome method of calculation, take pity on me who had to go through with at least seventy repetitions of it, at a very great loss of time.’

One student who saw Lemaître upon his return from hearing the Pope’s address to the Academy recalled him ‘storming into class…his usual jocularity entirely missing’. Lemaître was determined to discourage the Pope from making proclamations about cosmology, partly to halt the embarrassment that was being caused to supporters of the Big Bang, but also to avoid any potential difficulties for the Church. If the Pope—caught up as he was by his enthusiasm for the Big Bang model—were to endorse the scientific method and utilise it to support the Catholic Church, then this policy might rebound if new scientific discoveries contradicted Biblical teachings. Lemaître contacted Daniel O’Connell, director of the Vatican Observatory and the Pope’s science advisor, and suggested that together they try to persuade the Pope to keep quiet on cosmology. The Pope was surprisingly compliant and agreed to the request—the Big Bang would no longer be a matter suitable for Papal addresses.

pages: 327 words: 103,336

Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer by Duncan J. Watts


active measures, affirmative action, Albert Einstein, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Black Swan, butterfly effect, Carmen Reinhart, Cass Sunstein, clockwork universe, cognitive dissonance, collapse of Lehman Brothers, complexity theory, correlation does not imply causation, crowdsourcing, death of newspapers, discovery of DNA, East Village, easy for humans, difficult for computers, edge city,, Erik Brynjolfsson, framing effect, Geoffrey West, Santa Fe Institute, George Santayana, happiness index / gross national happiness, high batting average, hindsight bias, illegal immigration, industrial cluster, interest rate swap, invention of the printing press, invention of the telescope, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Jane Jacobs, Jeff Bezos, Joseph Schumpeter, Kenneth Rogoff, lake wobegon effect, Long Term Capital Management, loss aversion, medical malpractice, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Milgram experiment, natural language processing, Netflix Prize, Network effects, oil shock, packet switching, pattern recognition, performance metric, phenotype, Pierre-Simon Laplace, planetary scale, prediction markets, pre–internet, RAND corporation, random walk, RFID, school choice, Silicon Valley, statistical model, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, supply-chain management, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, too big to fail, Toyota Production System, ultimatum game, urban planning, Vincenzo Peruggia: Mona Lisa, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, X Prize

But as frustrating as it can be for physics students, the consistency with which our commonsense physics fails us has one great advantage for human civilization: It forces us to do science. In science, we accept that if we want to learn how the world works, we need to test our theories with careful observations and experiments, and then trust the data no matter what our intuition says. And as laborious as it can be, the scientific method is responsible for essentially all the gains in understanding the natural world that humanity has made over the past few centuries. But when it comes to the human world, where our unaided intuition is so much better than it is in physics, we rarely feel the need to use the scientific method. Why is it, for example, that most social groups are so homogeneous in terms of race, education level, and even gender? Why do some things become popular and not others? How much does the media influence society? Is more choice better or worse?

Most working scientists regard Ockham’s razor with something close to reverence—Albert Einstein, for example, once claimed that a theory “ought to be as simple as possible, and no simpler”—and the history of science would seem to justify this reverence, filled as it is with examples of complex and unwieldy ideas being swept away by simpler, more elegant formulations. What is perhaps less appreciated about the history of science is that it is also filled with examples of initially simple and elegant formulations becoming increasingly more complex and inelegant as they struggle to bear the burden of empirical evidence. Arguably, in fact, it is the capacity of the scientific method to pursue explanatory power, even at the cost of theoretical elegance and parsimony, where its real strength lies. 17. For Berlin’s full analysis of the differences between science and history, and the impossibility of remaking the latter in the image of the former, see Berlin (1960). 18. See Gaddis (2002) for a warning about the perils of generalizing, and also some examples of doing just that. 19.

pages: 376 words: 110,321

Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson


Albert Einstein, British Empire, Fellow of the Royal Society, haute cuisine, Kitchen Debate, Louis Pasteur, refrigerator car, sexual politics, the scientific method, Upton Sinclair, Wall-E

People in this second group are more likely to think that what they are doing is scientific, the idea being that the more we can measure and pin cooking down, the more like science it will be. Both groups are probably deluding themselves. Artistic cooks do far more measuring than they admit. And cooking-by-numbers cooks are much less scientific than they pretend. Cooking by numbers is based on a subtle misunderstanding of the scientific method. The popular view of “science” is one of unswerving formulas and a set of final answers. In this reading, scientific cooking would be able to come up, once and for all, with the definitive formula for, say, bechamel sauce: how many grams of flour, butter, and milk, the exact temperature at which it should cook, the diameter of the pan, the precise number of seconds for which it should simmer and the number of revolutions of your whisk as it cooks: cooking by numbers.

It is striking how often cooks and chefs who are otherwise wedded to the numbers game do not quantify the salt content in a recipe. Nathan Myhrvold in Modernist Cuisine weighs everything, gram for gram, even water, yet advises that salt is “to taste.” Similarly, Heston Blumenthal measures the dry-matter content in his potatoes but does not measure the salt and pepper in his signature mashed potatoes. This underscores the point that no kitchen formula can ever be definitive. The scientific method is far more open-ended than is generally allowed. It is not a dogmatic set of numbers but a process of forming and testing conjectures based on experience using controlled experiments, which then throw up new conjectures. The process of cooking supper every night can certainly be understood in this light. My experience tells me that lemon and Parmesan taste delicious together, particularly in a pasta sauce.

The first time you make a dish you may need to follow the numbers fairly closely, which can help to “abbreviate the romantic but lengthy learning process one might characterize as ‘guess, feel, botch, puzzle, try again and try to remember what you did.’” By the second or third time, the numbers are less important because you have started to trust your own senses. After all, Rodgers remarks, you do not need to measure “the exact amount of sugar or milk you add to your coffee or tea.” Numbers, therefore, are crucial, but never the whole story. There is a world outside of measuring in the kitchen. Part of the scientific method is accepting that not everything is within the domain of science. I am fond enough of my measuring devices—there’s a quiet contentment in peering at that classic Pyrex measuring cup trying to see if stock for a pilaf has reached the 600 ml mark; or watching the dial swing around on a candy thermometer when making fudge; or using a tape measure to verify the diameter of biscotti dough. I even use my iPhone as a kitchen timer.

pages: 304 words: 88,773

The Ghost Map: A Street, an Epidemic and the Hidden Power of Urban Networks. by Steven Johnson


call centre, clean water, correlation does not imply causation, creative destruction, Dean Kamen, digital map, double helix, edge city, germ theory of disease, Google Earth, Jane Jacobs, John Nash: game theory, John Snow's cholera map, lone genius, Louis Pasteur, mass immigration, megacity, mutually assured destruction, New Urbanism, nuclear winter, pattern recognition, peak oil, side project, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the scientific method, trade route, unbiased observer, working poor

And indeed, one British doctor, Thomas Latta, hit upon this precise cure in 1832, months after the first outbreak, injecting salty water into the veins of the victims. Latta’s approach differed from the modern treatment only in terms of quantity: liters of water are necessary to ensure a full recovery. Tragically, Latta’s insight was lost in the swarming mass of cholera cures that emerged in the subsequent decades. Despite all the technological advances of the Industrial Age, Victorian medicine was hardly a triumph of the scientific method. Reading through the newspapers and medical journals of the day, what stands out is not just the breadth of remedies proposed, but the breadth of people involved in the discussion: surgeons, nurses, patent medicine quacks, public-health authorities, armchair chemists, all writing the Times and the Globe (or buying classified advertising there) with news of the dependable cure they had concocted.

The London Epidemiological Society had been formed only four years before, with Snow as a founding member. The basic technique of population statistics—measuring the incidence of a given phenomenon (disease, crime, poverty) as a percentage of overall population size—had entered the mainstream of scientific and medical thought only in the previous two decades. Epidemiology as a science was still in its infancy, and many of its basic principles had yet to be established. At the same time, the scientific method rarely intersected with the development and testing of new treatments and medicines. When you read through that endless stream of quack cholera cures published in the daily papers, what strikes you most is not that they are all, almost without exception, based on anecdotal evidence. What’s striking is that they never apologize for this shortcoming. They never pause to say, “Of course, this is all based on anecdotal evidence, but hear me out.”

The first is to embrace—as a matter of philosophy and public policy—the insights of science, in particular the fields that descend from the great Darwinian revolution that began only a matter of years after Snow’s death: genetics, evolutionary theory, environmental science. Our safety depends on being able to predict the evolutionary path that viruses and bacteria will take in the coming decades, just as safety in Snow’s day depended on the rational application of the scientific method to public-health matters. Superstition, then and now, is not just a threat to the truth. It’s also a threat to national security. The second is to commit ourselves anew to the kinds of public-health systems that developed in the wake of the Broad Street outbreak, both in the developed world and the developing: clean water supplies, sanitary waste-removal and recycling systems, early vaccination programs, disease detection and mapping programs.

pages: 378 words: 110,518

Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future by Paul Mason


Alfred Russel Wallace, bank run, banking crisis, banks create money, Basel III, basic income, Bernie Madoff, Bill Gates: Altair 8800, bitcoin, Branko Milanovic, Bretton Woods, BRICs, British Empire, business process, butterfly effect, call centre, capital controls, Cesare Marchetti: Marchetti’s constant, Claude Shannon: information theory, collaborative economy, collective bargaining, Corn Laws, corporate social responsibility, creative destruction, credit crunch, currency manipulation / currency intervention, currency peg, David Graeber, deglobalization, deindustrialization, deskilling, discovery of the americas, Downton Abbey, drone strike,, energy security, eurozone crisis, factory automation, financial repression, Firefox, Fractional reserve banking, Frederick Winslow Taylor, full employment, future of work, game design, income inequality, inflation targeting, informal economy, information asymmetry, intangible asset, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Internet of things, job automation, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, Joseph Schumpeter, Kenneth Arrow, Kevin Kelly, knowledge economy, knowledge worker, late capitalism, low skilled workers, market clearing, means of production, Metcalfe's law, money: store of value / unit of account / medium of exchange, mortgage debt, Network effects, new economy, Norbert Wiener, Occupy movement, oil shale / tar sands, oil shock, Paul Samuelson, payday loans, Pearl River Delta, post-industrial society, precariat, price mechanism, profit motive, quantitative easing, race to the bottom, RAND corporation, rent-seeking, reserve currency, RFID, Richard Stallman, Robert Gordon, Robert Metcalfe, secular stagnation, sharing economy, Stewart Brand, structural adjustment programs, supply-chain management, The Future of Employment, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Transnistria, union organizing, universal basic income, urban decay, urban planning, Vilfredo Pareto, wages for housework, women in the workforce

We want to know why, during a million repetitions of their normal lifecycles, small variations can emerge and then, suddenly, massive change. Theories allow us to describe the reality we can’t see. And they allow us to predict. All forms of economics accept the need for theory. But the difficulty of finding one, and confronting its implications, led economics in the late nineteenth century to retreat from the scientific method. Q: Why can’t I ‘see’ value, surplus value and labour time? If they don’t show up in the accounts of companies, and professional economists don’t acknowledge them, aren’t they just a mental construct? A: A more sophisticated way of putting it would be to say, as the Cambridge economist Joan Robinson did in the 1960s, that the labour-theory is ‘metaphysical’ – a mental construct whose existence could never be disproved.

After that, there was a demographic shock: too few workers for the land, which raised their wages and made the old feudal obligation system impossible to enforce. The labour shortage also made technological innovation necessary. The new technologies that underpinned the rise of merchant capitalism were the ones that stimulated commerce (printing and accountancy), the creation of tradable wealth (mining, the compass and fast ships) and productivity (mathematics and the scientific method). Present throughout the whole process is something that looks incidental to the old system – money and credit – but which is destined to become the basis of the new system. Many laws and customs are actually shaped around ignoring money; in high feudalism credit is seen as sinful. So when money and credit burst through the boundaries and create a market system, it feels like a revolution.

A combination of all these factors took a set of people who had been persecuted or marginalized under feudalism – humanists, scientists, craftsmen, lawyers, radical preachers and bohemian playwrights like Shakespeare – and put them at the head of a social transformation. At key moments, though tentatively at first, the state switched from hindering the change to promoting it. There won’t be exact parallels in the transition to postcapitalism but the rough parallels are there. The thing that is corroding capitalism, barely rationalized by mainstream economics, is information. The equivalent of the printing press and the scientific method is information technology and its spillover into all other forms of technology, from genetics to healthcare to agriculture to the movies. The modern equivalent of the long stagnation of late feudalism is the stalled fifth Kondratieff cycle, where instead of rapidly automating work out of existence, we are reduced to creating bullshit jobs on low pay, and many economies are stagnating. The equivalent of the new source of free wealth?

pages: 287 words: 87,204

Erwin Schrodinger and the Quantum Revolution by John Gribbin


Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Arthur Eddington, British Empire, Brownian motion, double helix, Drosophila, Edmond Halley, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, Henri Poincaré, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Schrödinger's Cat, Solar eclipse in 1919, The Present Situation in Quantum Mechanics, the scientific method, trade route, upwardly mobile

That notion of “sure experiments and demonstrated arguments” is the basis of science. Of course, the person who is usually credited with developing the scientific method, and in particular with doing experiments with falling bodies, is Galileo Galilei (1564–1642)—although as it happens Galileo himself did not drop objects from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He did experiments with balls rolling down inclined planes, and also interpreted the famous Leaning Tower experiment, actually carried out by a rival trying to disprove Galileo’s claim that a light object and a heavy object dropped at the same time would hit the ground together. Where, though, did Galileo learn the scientific method? He was certainly capable of working it out for himself; but if he needed any prodding in the right direction, he definitely got it.

Right at the beginning of the seventeenth century, the English physician and scientist1 William Gilbert (1544–1603) published a treatise on magnetism, De magnete, in which he not only gave a description of magnetic phenomena that was unsurpassed for two hundred years, but extended the understanding derived from his laboratory studies to explain the Earth’s magnetic field—a significant step out into the cosmos at that time. Gilbert also spelled out the basis of what became the scientific method: testing hypotheses by experiment and observation, and rejecting any ideas which do not stand up to those tests. Bizarre though it may seem to us, even in Gilbert’s day it was still common for philosophers to try to settle arguments about what we would regard as scientific matters—such as whether a heavy object falls faster than a lighter object—literally by argument, rather than by doing experiments.

pages: 293 words: 88,490

The End of Theory: Financial Crises, the Failure of Economics, and the Sweep of Human Interaction by Richard Bookstaber

asset allocation, bank run, bitcoin, butterfly effect, capital asset pricing model, cellular automata, collateralized debt obligation, conceptual framework, constrained optimization, Craig Reynolds: boids flock, credit crunch, Credit Default Swap, credit default swaps / collateralized debt obligations, dark matter, disintermediation, Edward Lorenz: Chaos theory, epigenetics, feminist movement, financial innovation, fixed income, Flash crash, Henri Poincaré, information asymmetry, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, John Conway, John Meriwether, John von Neumann, Joseph Schumpeter, Long Term Capital Management, margin call, market clearing, market microstructure, money market fund, Paul Samuelson, Pierre-Simon Laplace, Piper Alpha, Ponzi scheme, quantitative trading / quantitative finance, railway mania, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, risk/return, Saturday Night Live, self-driving car, sovereign wealth fund, the map is not the territory, The Predators' Ball, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, too big to fail, transaction costs, tulip mania, Turing machine, Turing test, yield curve

He believed that if economics could not explain market crises and “detect and exhibit every kind of periodic fluctuation,” then it was not a complete theory.17 The inquiry into the causes of phenomena as complex as commercial crises could not approach the rigor or mathematical purity of a science unless Jevons purged this subject of all traces of human emotion, unless he assumed—even if he could not prove—that some physical cause was acting on events others might describe as socially driven. Without some observable natural phenomenon to serve as causal agent, commercial crises threatened to become uninterpretable, limiting the claim of economics to be a science. Because Jevons patterned his economic methods after the scientific methods used for studying the natural world, he looked for a natural phenomenon as the anchor for his study of otherwise unexplainable crises. This led him to theorize that sunspots were the culprit.18 He was determined to link sunspot periodicity to the periodicity of commercial crises. And Britain had certainly been subject to them, most recently the 1845–1850 railway mania bubble, which, like all bubbles, did not end well.

You can do all sorts of gymnastics to find a set of stable preferences to encompass this, but I can point to any number of other context-driven preferences, and by the time you adjust to take all of them into account you have left economics in the dust; you have a model of the human psyche. If this dynamic is inevitable, then we have lost an essential part of what is necessary for economics to appeal to the scientific method. Economics operates as if we are like MGonz, like a “goddamn robot,” and it will present a reasonable view of our behavior and preferences if we live in such a contextless world. The fact of humanity is an impediment. That characteristic might not matter in the short term or in a stable world, but times of crisis are not such a world. So we get back to the point that in using crises as the crucible we find limitations to the standard economics approach. 6 Human Experience and Radical Uncertainty During the war in Iraq, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld referred, somewhat indecorously, to “unknown unknowns” when describing U.S. operations strategy.

Jevons accepted Walras as an ally and promised to spread the news of his Elements of Pure Economics, though in the end he did so only halfheartedly. 17. Jevons and Foxwell (1884), 4. 18. A treatment of Jevons’ interest in crises and his pursuit of sunspots as the explanation is in Poovey (2008), especially 275–83. 19. His reasoning in considering sunspots has a logical structure that echoes in the scientific methods of economics even today. He wrote (Jevons and Foxwell 1884, 194–95): It is a well-known principle of mechanics that the effects of a periodically varying cause are themselves periodic, and usually go through their phases in periods of time equal to those of the cause. There is no doubt that the energy poured upon the earth’s surface in the form of sunbeams is the principal agent in maintaining life here.

pages: 227 words: 62,177

Numbers Rule Your World: The Hidden Influence of Probability and Statistics on Everything You Do by Kaiser Fung


American Society of Civil Engineers: Report Card, Andrew Wiles, Bernie Madoff, Black Swan, call centre, correlation does not imply causation, cross-subsidies, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, edge city, Emanuel Derman, facts on the ground, fixed income, Gary Taubes, John Snow's cholera map, moral hazard, p-value, pattern recognition, profit motive, Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, statistical model, the scientific method, traveling salesman

If reasonable people could not ascertain the source of unfairness even after a test item showed a difference between groups, there was no reasonable basis on which to accuse test developers of malpractice. The problem of false alarms demonstrated that some group differences were not caused by test developers but by differential ability, elevating the need to untangle the two factors. Henceforth, the mere existence of a racial gap should not automatically implicate item writers in the creation of unfair tests. While the initial foray into the scientific method turned out bad science, it nevertheless produced some good data, paving the way to rampant technical progress. By 1987, Anrig could turn his back on the Golden Rule procedure because the team at ETS had achieved the breakthrough needed to unravel the two factors. Simply put, the key insight was to compare like with like. The statisticians learned not to carelessly lump together examinees with varying levels of ability.

If Rosenthal chose to absorb a higher false-positive rate—as much as one in a hundred is typical—he could reduce the chance of a false negative, which is the failure to expose dishonest store owners. This explains why he could reject the no-fraud hypothesis for western Canada as well, even though the odds of 1 in 2.3 million were higher.) The Power of Being Impossible Statistical thinking is absolutely central to the scientific method, which requires theories to generate testable hypotheses. Statisticians have created a robust framework for judging whether there is sufficient evidence to support a given hypothesis. This framework is known as statistical testing, also called hypothesis testing or significance testing. See De Veaux’s textbook Stats: Data and Models for a typically fluent introduction to this vast subject.

pages: 230 words: 61,702

The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data by Michael P. Lynch


Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, Amazon Mechanical Turk, big data - Walmart - Pop Tarts, bitcoin, Cass Sunstein, Claude Shannon: information theory, crowdsourcing, Edward Snowden, Firefox, Google Glasses, hive mind, income inequality, Internet of things, John von Neumann, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Nate Silver, new economy, patient HM, prediction markets, RFID, sharing economy, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, WikiLeaks

One of the lessons of previous chapters is that big data and our digital form of life, while sometimes making it easier to be a responsible and reasonable believer, often makes it harder as well—while at the same time setting up conditions that make reasonable belief more important than ever before. The same thing could be said for understanding—except even more so. And that’s important, because understanding is what keeps the “human” in what I earlier called the digital human. The End of Theory? In 2008, Chris Anderson, then editor of Wired, wrote a controversial and widely cited editorial called “The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete.” Anderson claimed that what we are now calling big data analytics was overthrowing traditional ways of doing science: This is a world where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear. Out with every theory of human behavior, from linguistics to sociology. Forget taxonomy, ontology, and psychology. Who knows why people do what they do?

., 75 dictionaries, 21–22 digital form of life, xviii, 3–20 as abstract and depersonalized, 41–50 caveats about, 184–88 as a construction, 70–74, 83–86, 187 defined, 10 limitations of, 16 understanding in, 153–78 see also Internet of Us digital groups, 118–19 digital knowledge: caveats about, 184–88 dependence on, xvi–xviii, 5, 12, 21–26, 31, 36, 179 distribution of, 113 education and, 148–54 full and equal participation in, 146 as interconnective, 184–88 international access rates for, 135, 144–45 massive proliferation of, 8, 11–12, 32, 56, 128 network of, 111–32 as power, 9, 98–99, 186 ready accessibility of, 3–4, 23, 30, 42, 56, 113–16, 135–36, 141, 149, 153, 180 speed of, 23, 29–30, 42, 135 using alternative sources to, 21–23 see also Google-knowing dinosaurs, 66 discursive knowledge, 169 “divided line” graph of knowledge, 126 DNA identification techniques, 93–94 Dreyfus, Hubert, 168, 171 drugs: abilities changed by, 173 SIM life compared to, 77 Duke University, 152 earthquakes, emotional epicenters of, 160–61 eavesdropping, 101 Ebola, 16 economy, 111, 162 as digitally dependent, 7–8, 9 free-market, 145 full and equal participation in, 146 globalization of, 139, 142 of knowledge, 138–45 manufacturing in, 138–39 prediction markets in, 122–23 education: cheapening of, 152–53 crisis in, 149–50 as epistemic resource, 143, 145 information technology and, 148–54 old model of, 151–52 U.S. hegemony in, 149 education bubble, 149, 152 education systems, 35–36 edX, 150 Einstein, Albert, 175, 177 elections, 120–23 emails, 81 emotion, reasoning vs., 51–55 “End of Theory, The: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete” (Anderson), 156–57 Enlightenment, 33–34, 58–59 environment: interacting with, 174 receptive tracking of, 27–30, 131 “environmental luck,” 203 epilepsy, 168 epistêmê, 14, 170, 172 epistemic economy, 147–48 epistemic equality, 138–48, 150, 187 epistemic inclusivity, 135–36 epistemic inequality, 142–48, 201 epistemic injustice, 146–48, 201 epistemic principles, 14, 47, 50, 55, 57, 60 as democratic, 62, 135–36 epistemic resources, 143–45 epistemic trust, 195 epistemology, defined, see epistemic principles Epistemology and Cognition (Goldman), 194 Essay concerning Human Understanding, An (Locke), 35 ethical values: changes in, 53–54 democratic, 58 and fragmentation, 44 technology and, xvii, 6, 89–90 “eureka” moment, 176, 177 Eurocentrism, 162 Euthyphro (Plato), 165–66, 172 evangelicals, 47–49 evidence, in change of belief, 54–55 expectations: in changing of social constructs, 72–73 conclusions colored by, 29–30, 160 theoretical, 159 of truth, 79–80 experience: as foundation for knowledge, 127, 131 in hands-on movements, 173–74 illusion and reality in, 18–19 procedural knowledge in, 172–73 understanding through, 16, 173–74 experts, expertise: knowledge based on, 15, 35–38, 120, 139–40 outsourcing of, 141–42 in predicting, 122–23 in problem solving, 137 understanding and, 170–71 explanation, 165–67, 182 extended mind hypothesis, 115 fabric metaphor, for structure of beliefs, 129 Facebook, xvii, 8, 24, 43, 72, 124 hegemony of, 146 as simulacrum, 16 tracking by, 105 fact-checking, 46–47, 56, 85, 130 falsehoods, 77–83 “fast thinking” processes, 29–30 FBI, data searched by, 99 fiction, 79–80 fingerprints, 93 FISA, see Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act fishbowls, digital life compared to, 91 Fishburne, Laurence, 18–19 Flanagan, Owen, 73–74 Floridi, Luciano, 10, 69–71 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA; 1978), 88 court of, 99, 109 form of life: defined, 10 philosophy in, 17–18 Forms (Platonic), 126 foundationalism, Cartesian, 126–29, 131 Fox News, 43 fragmentation: of reason, 148 threat of, 4, 41–63 Freebase, 151 freedom of choice, autonomy of decision vs., 102 French Revolution, 58 Freud, Sigmund, 184 Fricker, Miranda, 146–48, 201 Galileo, 34, 68 Galton, Francis, 120 games, gaming, 20, 191 gatekeeping, 128, 134, 146 gender, 162 in marriage, 53–54, 72 in problem solving, 137 Georgetown University, 77–78 Gilbert, Margaret, 117–19, 200 Glass, Ira, 78 Glaucon, 54 Glauconian reasoning, 54–55, 56–58 global economy, 139, 142, 152 global warming, 56, 100, 124, 144, 185, 198 Goldberg, Sandy, 115 Goldman, Alvin, 194 Google, 5, 23, 30, 113, 128, 130, 135, 163, 174, 182, 203 business model of, 9 data collection and tracking by, 90, 155–56, 158, 161 as hypothetical “guy,” 24 monopolization by, 145–46 propaganda disseminated on, 66 in reinforcement of one’s own beliefs, 56 Google Complete, 155 Google Flu Trends, 158, 183 Google Glass, 149, 186 Google-knowing, xvi, 21–40, 25 defined, 23 limitations of, 174, 180 reliance on, 6–7, 23, 25–26, 30–31, 36, 113, 116, 153, 163, 179–80 Google Maps, 116 Google Street View, 23 Gordon, Lewis, 148 gorilla suit experiment, 30 government: autonomy limited by, 109 closed politics of, 144–45 data mining and analysis used by, 9, 90–91, 93, 104, 107 online manipulation used by, 81 purpose of, 38 transparency of, 137–38 Greece, classical philosophy of, 13, 47, 166–67, 171–72 Grimm, Stephen, 164 Guardian, 81 Gulf of Mexico, oil spill in, 118 H1N1 flu outbreak, tracking of, 158 Haidt, Jonathan, 51–54, 56, 57, 60, 196–97 Halpern, Sue, 106 Harvard Law Review, 89 Hazlett, Allan, 49 HBO GO, 145 Heidegger, Martin, 177 Hemingway, Mark, 46 Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS), 61 Hippocrates, 13 hive-mind, 4, 136 HM (patient), 168–69 Hobbes, Thomas, 38, 109 holiness, logical debate over, 166–67 homosexuality, changing attitudes toward, 53–54 Houla massacre, 83 Howe, Jeff, 136 Huffington Post, 43 human dignity: autonomy and, 58, 59–60 information technology as threat to, 187 interconnectedness and, 184–88 privacy and, 101–9 human rights, 54, 60 digital equality as, 142–48 protection of, 145 Hume, David, 48 hyperconnectivity, 184–88 identity: digital reshaping of, 73–74 manufactured online, 80–81 “scrubbing” of, 74 illegal searches, 93 illusion, distinguishing truth from, 67–74 incidental data collection, 95–96, 99 inclusivity, 135–37 income inequality, 142 inference, 29, 60, 172 information: accuracy and reliability of, 14, 27–30, 39–40, 44–45 collected pools of, 95–100, 107–9 distribution vs. creation of, 24 immediate, unlimited access to, 3–4, 23, 30, 42, 56, 113–16, 135–36, 141, 149, 153, 180 as interconnective, 184–88 vs. knowledge, 14 sorting and filtering of, 12, 26–29, 44–45, 127–28 information age, 111 information analysis, techniques of, 8–9 information cascades, 36, 66, 121 defined, 32 information coordination problem, 38–39, 56 information “glut,” 9–10, 44 information privacy, 94–100 and autonomy, 102–7 information sharing, coordination in, 4–5 information technology: costs of, 145 data trail in, 9 democratization through, 133–38, 148 devices and platforms of, xvii–xviii, 3, 7–8, 10, 41–43, 69, 70, 77–78, 90–91, 106–7, 144, 148–49, 156, 180, 185–87 disquieting questions about, 6 in education, 148–54 experience vs., 173–74 hypothetical loss of, 5 paradox of, 6, 12, 179 pool of data in, 95–100 surveillance and, 89–109 typified and dephysicalized objects in, 69 unequal distribution of, 144–45 see also Internet of Things information theory, 12 infosphere: defined, 10 feedback loop of social constructs in, 72–73 network of, 180 pollution of, 148 vastness of, 128 InnoCentive, 136–37, 141 institutions, cooperative, 60–61 intellectual labor, 139–40 International Telecommunications Union, 135 Internet: author’s experiment in circumventing, 21–24, 25, 35 in challenges to reasonableness, 41–63 changes wrought by, xv–xviii, 6–7, 10–11, 23, 180, 184–88 as a construction, 69 cost and profit debate over, 145 as epistemic resource, 143–45 expectations of, 80–83 as force for cohesion and democracy, 55–63 freedom both limited and enhanced by, 92–93 international rates of access to, 135, 144–45 monopolization and hegemony in, 145–46 as network, 111–13 “third wave” of, 7 see also World Wide Web; specific applications Internet of Everything, 184 Internet of Things: blurring of online and offline in, 71 defined, 7–8 integration of, 10 shared economy in, 140–41 threat from, 107, 153, 184–88 Internet of Us, digital form of life as, 10, 39, 73, 83–86, 106, 179–88 interracial marriage, 54 interrogation techniques, 105 In the Plex (Levy), 5–6 Intrade, 122–23, 136 intuition, 15, 51–53 iPhone, production of, 77–78, 80, 139, 144 IQ, 52 Iraq, 83 Iraq War, 137 ISIS, 128 isolation, polarization and, 42–43 I think, I exist, 127 James, William, 11 Jefferson, Thomas, 143 Jeppesen, Lars Bo, 137 joint commitments, defined, 117–18 journalism, truth and, 84 judgment, 51–55, 57 collective vs. individual, 117, 120–25 justice, 54 “just so” stories, 27–28 Kahneman, Daniel, 29, 51 Kant, Immanuel, 34, 58–60, 62, 85 Kitcher, Philip, 182 knowing-which, as term, 171 knowledge: in big data revolution, 87–190 changing structure of, 125–32 common, 117–19 defined and explained, xvii, 12–17 democratization of, 133–38 digital, see digital knowledge; Google-knowing distribution of, 134–35, 138, 141 diverse forms of, 130 economy of, 138–45 hyperconnectivity of, 184–88 individual vs. aggregate, 120–24 information vs., 14 Internet revolution in, xv–xviii minimal definition of, 14–15 as networked, 111–32 new aspects in old problems of, 1–86, 90 personal observation in, 33–35 political economy of, 133–54 as power, 9, 98–99, 133, 185–86 practical vs. theoretical, 169, 172 procedural, 167–74 recording and storage of, 127–28 reliability of sources of, 14, 27–31, 39–40, 44–45, 114–16 as a resource, 38–39 shared cognitive process in attainment of, 114–25 three forms of, 15–17 three simple points about, 14–17 truth and, 19, 126 understanding vs. other forms of, 6, 16–17, 90, 154, 155–73, 181 value and importance of, 12–13 knowledge-based education, 61 Kodak camera, 89 Koran, 48, 61 Kornblith, Hilary, 194 Krakauer, John, 169 Kuhn, Thomas, 159–60 Lakhani, Karim, 137 Larissa, Greece, 13, 15, 182 Leonhardt, David, 122–23 Levy, Steven, 5–6 liberals, 43 libraries, 22, 134, 153–54 of Alexandria, 8 digital form of life compared to, xvi, 17, 20, 44–45, 56, 63, 128 as epistemic resource, 145 Google treated as, 24 “Library of Babel” (Borges), 17 “Lies, Damned Lies, and ‘Fact-Checking’: The Liberal Media’s Latest Attempt to Control the Discourse” (Hemingway), 46 Lifespan of a Fact, The (D’Agata), 79 literacy, 35, 134 literal artifacts: defined, 69 social artifacts and, 71, 72 lobectomy, 168 Locke, John, 33–36, 39, 60, 67–70, 85, 127, 143 “Locke’s command,” 33–34 London Underground, mapping of, 112–13 machines, control by, 116 “mainstream” media, 32 censorship of, 66 majority rule, 120 manipulation: data mining and, 97, 104–6 of expectations, 80–82 persuasion and, 55, 57–58, 81–83, 86 manuals, 22 manufacturing, 138–39 maps, 21–22 marine chronometer, 137 marketing: bots in, 82 Glauconian, 58 targeted, 9, 90, 91, 105 marriage: changing attitudes toward, 53–54 civil vs. religious, 58–59 as social construct, 72 martial arts, 170 mass, as primary quality, 68 Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), 150–53 mathematics, in data analysis, 160, 161 Matrix, The, 18–19, 75 Mayer-Schönberger, Viktor, 8, 158–59 measles vaccine, 7, 124 Mechanical Turk, 136, 141 media, 134 diversity in, 42 opinion affected by, 53 sensationalist, 77 memory: accessing of, 114, 115 in educational models, 152 loss of, 168–69 superceded by information technology, xv–xvi, 3, 4, 6, 94, 149 trust in, 28, 33 Meno, 13 merchandising, online vs. brick and mortar, 70 Mercier, Hugo, 54 metrics, 112 Milner, Brenda, 168–69 mirror drawing experiment, 169 misinformation, 6–7, 31–32 in support of moral truth, 78–80, 82 mob mentality, 32–33 MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), 150–53 moral dumbfounding, 52 morality, moral values, xvii, 6, 44, 53–54, 195 “Moses Illusion,” 29–30 motor acuity, mastery of, 170–71, 173 motor skills, 167–74 Murray, Charles J., 147 music, as dephysicalized object, 69–70 Nagel, Thomas, 84 naming, identification by, 94 narrative license, truth and falsehood in, 78–79 National Endowment for the Humanities, 61 National Science Foundation, 61 Nature, 158, 161 Netflix, 69, 145 Net neutrality, defined, 145 netography, 112–13 of knowledge, 125–32 networked age, 111 networks, 111–32 collective knowledge of, 116–25, 180 knowledge reshaped and altered by, 125–32, 133, 140 in problem solving, 136 use of term, 111–12 neural system, 26 neural transplants, 3, 5 Neurath, Otto, 128–29 neuromedia, 3–5, 12, 17–19, 113–14, 132, 149, 168, 180–82, 184 limitations of, 174 as threat to education, 153–54 Newton, Isaac, 175 New Yorker, 25, 26 New York Times, 122, 174 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 111 Nobel laureates, 149 noble lie, 83, 86 nonfiction, 79–80 NPR, 78, 80 NSA: alleged privacy abuses by, 98–100, 138 data mining by, 9, 91, 95–96, 108, 167 proposed limitations on, 109 Ntrepid, 81 nuclear weapons technology, xvii nullius in verba (take nobody’s word for it), 34 Obama, Barack, 7, 100 administration, 109 objectivity, objective truth, 45, 74 as anchor for belief, 131 in constructed world, 83–86 as foundation for knowledge, 127 observation, 49, 60 affected by expectations, 159–60 behavior affected by, 91, 97 “oceanic feeling,” 184 “offlife,” 70 OkCupid, 157 “onlife,” 70 online identity creation, 73–74 online ranking, 119–21, 136 open access research sharing sites, 135–36 open society: closed politics vs., 144–45 values of, 41–43, 62 open source software, 135 Operation Earnest Voice, 81 Operation Ivy, ix opinion: knowledge vs., 13, 14, 126 in online ranking, 119–20 persuasion and, 50–51 truth as constructed by, 85–86 optical illusions, 67 Oracle of Delphi, 16–17, 171 Outcome-Based Education (OBE), 61–62 ownership, changing concept of, 73 ox, experiment on weight of, 120 Oxford, 168 Page, Larry, 5–6 Panopticon, 91, 92, 97 perception: acuity of, 173 distinguishing truth in, 67–74 expectations and, 159–60 misleading, 29–30, 67 as relative, 67–68 perceptual incongruity, 159–60 personal freedom, 101 persuasion, 50–51, 54–55, 56–58 by bots, 82 phone books, 22 phone data collection, 95, 108 photography: privacy and, 89, 93 sexually-explicit, 99 photo-sharing, manipulation in, 82–83 Plato, 13–14, 16–17, 54, 59, 83, 126, 165–67 polarization, 7 herd mentality in, 66 isolated tribes in, 43–46 politics, 162, 196 accessibility in, 23 activism in, 66, 67 bias in, 43–46 closed, 144–45 elections in, 120–23 of knowledge, 133–54 opposition to critical thinking in, 61–62 persuasion in, 57–58, 82–83 power in, 86, 133 prediction market in, 122–23 Politifact, 46 Popper, Karl, 41–43 Postman, L.

pages: 1,197 words: 304,245

The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution by David Wootton


agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, British Empire, clockwork universe, Commentariolus, commoditize, conceptual framework, Dava Sobel, double entry bookkeeping, double helix,, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, fudge factor, germ theory of disease, Google X / Alphabet X, Hans Lippershey, interchangeable parts, invention of gunpowder, invention of the steam engine, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, Jacques de Vaucanson, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, knowledge economy, lone genius, Mercator projection, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Philip Mirowski, placebo effect, QWERTY keyboard, Republic of Letters, spice trade, spinning jenny, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions

Chesne, Joseph du. The Practise of Chymicall, and Hermeticall Physicke. Trans. T Timme. London: T Creede, 1605. Child, William. Wittgenstein. London: Routledge, 2011. Christianson, John Robert. On Tycho’s Island: Tycho Brahe, Science and Culture in the Sixteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Christie, Thony. ‘Nobody Invented the Scientific Method’. 29 August 2012. (accessed 10 December 2014). Cicero, Marcus Tullius. De natura deorum: Academica. Ed. H Rackham. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1933. Cieslak-Golonka, Maria and Bruno Morten. ‘The Women Scientists of Bologna’. American Scientist 88 (2000): 68–73. Ciliberto, Michele and Nicholas Mann (eds.). Giordano Bruno, 1583–1585: The English Experience.

The most striking example of this approach in action is Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer’s Leviathan and the Air-pump (1985), generally acknowledged as the most influential work in the discipline since Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions.xlix The new history of science offered, in Steven Shapin’s phrase, a social history of truth.l Scientific method, it was now argued, kept changing, so that there was no such thing as the scientific method: a famous book by Paul Feyerabend was entitled Against Method,li its catchphrase ‘Anything goes’; it was followed by Farewell to Reason.78 Some philosophers and nearly all anthropologists agreed: standards of rationality were, they insisted, local and highly variable.79 But we must reject the Wittgensteinian notion that truth is simply consensus, a notion incompatible with an understanding of one of the fundamental things science does, which is to show that a consensus view must be abandoned when it is at odds with the evidence.lii The classic text here is Galileo’s ‘Letter to Christina of Lorraine’ (1615) in defence of Copernicanism.

As Kuhn rightly put it, ‘Scientific development is like Darwinian evolution, a process driven from behind rather than pulled toward some fixed goal towards which it grows ever closer.’54 §9 The problem with the relativists is that they explain bad science and good science, phrenology and nuclear physics, in exactly the same way – advocates of ‘the strong programme’ explicitly insist on this equivalence.xxv The problem with the realists is that they assume there is nothing peculiar about the method and structure of science. According to them the scientific method is somehow natural, like walking, not artificial, like a watch. This book will look, I trust, realist to relativists and relativist to realists: that is how it is meant to look. It stands in the tradition of Kuhn’s 1991 lecture ‘The Trouble with the Historical Philosophy of Science’. There Kuhn criticized the relativists (who had taken much of their inspiration from his own work), saying that their mistake was taking the traditional view of scientific knowledge too much for granted.

pages: 746 words: 239,969

Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson


double helix, gravity well, means of production, oil shale / tar sands, phenotype, skunkworks, the scientific method

“Your science is a set of values,” Ann said. “The goal of your kind of science is the establishment of laws, of regularities, of exactness and certainty. You want things explained. You want to answer the whys, all the way back to the big bang. You’re a reductionist. Parsimony and elegance and economy are values for you, and if you can make things simpler that’s a real achievement, right?” “But that’s the scientific method itself,” Sax objected. “It’s not just me, it’s how nature itself works. Physics. You do it yourself.” “There are human values imbedded in physics.” “I’m not so sure.” He held out a hand to stop her for a second. “I’m not saying there are no values in science. But matter and energy do what they do. If you want to talk about values, better just to talk about them. They arise out of facts somehow, sure.

Down there, even more dramatically than on Mars, there was no plan. He needed a science of history, but unfortunately there was no such thing. History is Lamarckian, Arkady used to say, a notion that was ominously suggestive given the pseudospeciation caused by the unequal distribution of the gerontological treatments; but it was no real help. Psychology, sociology, anthropology, they were all suspect. The scientific method could not be applied to human beings in any way that yielded useful information. It was the fact-value problem stated in a different way; human reality could only be explained in terms of values. And values were very resistant to scientific analysis: Isolation of factors for study, falsifiable hypotheses, repeatable experiments— the entire apparatus as practiced in lab physics simply could not be brought to bear.

It was a real science; it had discovered, there among the contingency and disorder, some valid general principles of evolution— development, adaptation, complexification, and many more specific principles as well, confirmed by the various subdisciplines. What he needed were similar principles influencing human history. The little reading he did in historiography was not encouraging; it was either a sad imitation of the scientific method, or art pure and simple. About every decade a new historical explanation revised all that had come before, but clearly revisionism held pleasures that had nothing to do with the actual justice of the case being made. Sociobiology and bioethics were more promising, but they tended to explain things best when working on evolutionary time scales, and he wanted something for the past hundred years, and the next hundred.

pages: 274 words: 75,846

The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You by Eli Pariser


A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, A Pattern Language, Amazon Web Services, augmented reality, back-to-the-land, Black Swan, borderless world, Build a better mousetrap, Cass Sunstein, citizen journalism, cloud computing, cognitive dissonance, crowdsourcing, Danny Hillis, data acquisition, disintermediation, don't be evil, Filter Bubble, Flash crash, fundamental attribution error, global village, Haight Ashbury, Internet of things, Isaac Newton, Jaron Lanier, Jeff Bezos, jimmy wales, Kevin Kelly, knowledge worker, Mark Zuckerberg, Marshall McLuhan, megacity, Metcalfe’s law, Netflix Prize, new economy, PageRank, paypal mafia, Peter Thiel, recommendation engine, RFID, Robert Metcalfe, sentiment analysis, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, social graph, social software, social web, speech recognition, Startup school, statistical model, stem cell, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, technoutopianism, the scientific method, urban planning, Whole Earth Catalog, WikiLeaks, Y Combinator

Karl Popper, one of the preeminent philosophers of science, made it his life’s mission to try to sort out the problem of induction, as it came to be known. While the optimistic thinkers of the late 1800s looked at the history of science and saw a journey toward truth, Popper preferred to focus on the wreckage along the side of the road—the abundance of failed theories and ideas that were perfectly consistent with the scientific method and yet horribly wrong. After all, the Ptolemaic universe, with the earth in the center and the sun and planets revolving around it, survived an awful lot of mathematical scrutiny and scientific observation. Popper posed his problem in a slightly different way: Just because you’ve only ever seen white swans doesn’t mean that all swans are white. What you have to look for is the black swan, the counterexample that proves the theory wrong.

hl=en. 201 better and better: Nikki Tait, “Google to translate European patent claims,” Financial Times, Nov. 29, 2010, accessed Feb. 9, 2010, 202 “what to do with them”: Danny Sullivan, phone interview with author, Sept. 10, 2010. 202 “flash crash”: Graham Bowley, “Stock Swing Still Baffles, with an Ominous Tone,” New York Times, Aug. 22, 2010, accessed Feb. 8, 2010, 202 provocative article in Wired: Chris Anderson, “The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete,” Wired, June 23, 2008, accessed Feb. 10, 2010, 203 greatest achievement of human technology: Hillis quoted in Jennifer Riskin, Genesis Redux: Essays in the History and Philosophy of Artificial Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 200. 204 “advertiser-funded media”: Marisol LeBron, “ ‘Migracorridos’: Another Failed Anti-immigration Campaign,” North American Congress of Latin America, Mar. 17, 2009, accessed Dec. 17, 2010, 205 characters using the companies’ products throughout: Mary McNamara, “Television Review: ‘The Jensen Project,’ ” Los Angeles Times, July 16, 2010, accessed Dec. 17, 2010, http://articles.latimes. com/2010/jul/16/entertainment/la-et-jensen-project-20100716. 205 product-placement hooks throughout: Jenni Miller, “Hansel and Gretel in 3D?

pages: 235 words: 65,885

Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines by Richard Heinberg, James Howard (frw) Kunstler


anti-communist, Asilomar, back-to-the-land, clean water, Community Supported Agriculture, deindustrialization, delayed gratification, demographic transition, ending welfare as we know it, energy transition, Fractional reserve banking, greed is good, Haber-Bosch Process, happiness index / gross national happiness, income inequality, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), land reform, means of production, oil shale / tar sands, peak oil, Plutocrats, plutocrats, post-oil, reserve currency, ride hailing / ride sharing, Ronald Reagan, the built environment, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, too big to fail, urban planning

(Quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who was known for his abhorrence of sloppy thinking, once famously commented that another scientist’s work was “not even wrong.”) Grammar and logic give us the basis for making comprehensible statements about the world; linking logic with empirical evidence helps us formulate true statements and recognize when statements are false. This, again, is a long-standing practice: millennia before the scientific method was codified, people relied on feedback between language and sensory data to develop an accurate understanding of the world. Are the salmon running yet? Let’s go look. However, not all possible statements could be checked empirically. If someone said, “These berries taste good,” that was at least a matter for investigation, even if everyone didn’t agree. But the situation was more complicated if someone said, “The volcano smokes — that must be because the gods are angry; and if the gods are angry it must be because we haven’t provided enough sacrifices.”

, “What happens to us when we die?”, or “What is the greatest good?” Yet however strong the temptation to engage in it, magical thinking when tied to religion failed to provide much practical help in industry or commerce. As these limits came to be appreciated, and as industry and commerce expanded, philosophers and students of nature began to construct the formalized system of inquiry known as the scientific method. Here was a way to obtain verifiable knowledge of the physical world; better still, it was knowledge that could often be used to practical effect. The method came to hand at a propitious time: wealth was flowing to Europe from the rest of the world due to colonization and slavery; meanwhile the development of metallurgy and simple heat engines had proceeded to the point where the energy of fossil fuels could be put to widespread use.

pages: 369 words: 80,355

Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room by David Weinberger


airport security, Alfred Russel Wallace, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Berlin Wall, Black Swan, book scanning, Cass Sunstein, commoditize, corporate social responsibility, crowdsourcing, Danny Hillis, David Brooks, Debian, double entry bookkeeping, double helix,, Exxon Valdez, Fall of the Berlin Wall, future of journalism, Galaxy Zoo, Hacker Ethic, Haight Ashbury, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, invention of the telegraph, jimmy wales, John Harrison: Longitude, Kevin Kelly, linked data, Netflix Prize, New Journalism, Nicholas Carr, Norbert Wiener, openstreetmap, P = NP, Pluto: dwarf planet, profit motive, Ralph Waldo Emerson, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, Republic of Letters, RFID, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, semantic web, slashdot, social graph, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, technological singularity, Ted Nelson, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, Whole Earth Catalog, X Prize

Mary Poovey cites the invention in Italy of double-entry bookkeeping, which in the sixteenth century provided a process by which ledger entries could be proved accurate to anyone who, regardless of status, followed the proper procedure. 11 But most historians look to the seventeenth century, when the philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon, seeking to put knowledge on a more certain basis, invented the scientific method. Like Aristotle, he sought knowledge of universals.12 But he proposed getting to them through careful experiments on particulars. For example, when Bacon wanted to find out how much a liquid expands when it becomes a gas, he filled a one-ounce vial with alcohol, capped it with a bladder, heated the alcohol until the bladder filled, and then measured how much liquid was left.13 From this experiment on particulars, he was able to propose a theory that applied universally to heated liquids.

Some NPR listeners undoubtedly are to this day drinking an extra cup of coffee because a single experiment had an unexpected result. Thousands of babies grew up listening to cloying New Age renditions of Mozart’s works because a statistically insignificant, nonrepresentative sample of college kids did marginally better at a narrowly defined task under poorly controlled circumstances. That’s how science too often is taken up by our culture. Of course, science itself doesn’t work this way. The scientific method enables us to test hypotheses by isolating the causes of effects through carefully controlled, repeatable experiments. That’s true for much of day-to-day science carried out in labs and workshops around the world. Even in scientific disciplines that are more theoretical or observational than experimental—evolutionary biology, for example—science has been a careful and conservative practice, patiently trying to tie facts together into theories that make sense of them.

pages: 206 words: 70,924

The Rise of the Quants: Marschak, Sharpe, Black, Scholes and Merton by Colin Read


Albert Einstein, Bayesian statistics, Black-Scholes formula, Bretton Woods, Brownian motion, capital asset pricing model, collateralized debt obligation, correlation coefficient, Credit Default Swap, credit default swaps / collateralized debt obligations, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, discovery of penicillin, discrete time, Emanuel Derman,, Eugene Fama: efficient market hypothesis, financial innovation, fixed income, floating exchange rates, full employment, Henri Poincaré, implied volatility, index fund, Isaac Newton, John Meriwether, John von Neumann, Joseph Schumpeter, Kenneth Arrow, Long Term Capital Management, Louis Bachelier, margin call, market clearing, martingale, means of production, moral hazard, Myron Scholes, naked short selling, Paul Samuelson, price stability, principal–agent problem, quantitative trading / quantitative finance, RAND corporation, random walk, risk tolerance, risk/return, Ronald Reagan, shareholder value, Sharpe ratio, short selling, stochastic process, The Chicago School, the scientific method, too big to fail, transaction costs, tulip mania, Works Progress Administration, yield curve

Indeed, my appreciation for technical analysis came from my university studies toward a Bachelor of Science degree in physics, followed immediately by a PhD in economics. However, as I began to teach economics and finance, I realized that the analytic tools of physics that so pervaded modern economics have strayed too far from explaining this important dimension of human financial decision-making. To better understand the interplay between the scientific method, economics, human behavior, and public policy, I continued with my studies toward a Master of Accountancy in taxation, an MBA, and a Juris Doctor of Law. As I taught the economics of intertemporal choice, the role of money and financial instruments, and the structure of the banking and financial intermediaries, I recognized that my students had become increasingly fascinated with investment banking and Wall Street.

First, the development of the mean and variance characterization of returns, then the use of William Sharpe’s CAPM to determine the risk-adjusted value of individual securities, and then, finally, the BlackScholes equation for the pricing of derivatives, in both the static form, and in the more dynamic context developed by Robert Merton, in just a couple of decades endowed personal finance with the tools necessary to create a science out of an art form. With the confidence, or sometimes perhaps with the false confidence, of the scientific method, finance developed rapidly. Soon, finance became a top industry, and even constituted one out of every three dollars of profit in the USA by 2006. The era of financial theory, and its integration into financial markets, had arrived. And the academic world took notice. Nobel Prizes are now granted to financial theory discoveries almost as often as to the rest 179 180 The Rise of the Quants of the study of economics.

The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life by Steven E. Landsburg


Albert Einstein, Arthur Eddington, diversified portfolio, first-price auction, German hyperinflation, Golden Gate Park, information asymmetry, invisible hand, Kenneth Arrow, means of production, price discrimination, profit maximization, Ralph Nader, random walk, Ronald Coase, sealed-bid auction, second-price auction, second-price sealed-bid, statistical model, the scientific method, Unsafe at Any Speed

He proposed retaining the economist to study what makes teams punt. 211 212 THE PITFALLS OF SCIENCE The commissioner summoned the economist, who went home with a large retainer check and a mandate to discover the causes of punting. Many hours later (he billed by the hour) the answer was at hand. Volumes of computer printouts left no doubt: Punting nearly always takes place on the fourth down. But the economist was trained in the scientific method and knew that describing the past is less impressive than predicting the future. So before contacting the commissioner, he put his model to the acid test. He attended several football games and predicted in advance that all punting would take place on fourth down. When his predictions proved accurate, he knew he had made a genuine scientific discovery. The commissioner, however, was not paying for pure science.

As environmentalism becomes increasingly like an intrusive state religion, we dissenters become increasingly prickly about suggestions that we suffer from some kind of aberration. The naive environmentalism of my daughter's preschool is a force-fed potpourri of myth, superstition, and ritual that has 223 224 THE PITFALLS OF RELIGION much in common with the least reputable varieties of religious Fundamentalism. The antidote to bad religion is good science. The antidote to astrology is the scientific method, the antidote to naive creationism is evolutionary biology, and the antidote to naive environmentalism is economics. Economics is the science of competing preferences. Environmentalism goes beyond science when it elevates matters of preference to matters of morality. A proposal to pave a wilderness and put up a parking lot is an occasion for conflict between those who prefer wilderness and those who prefer convenient parking.

pages: 272 words: 76,089

Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium by Carl Sagan


Albert Einstein, anti-communist, clean water, cosmic abundance, dark matter, demographic transition, Exxon Valdez, F. W. de Klerk, germ theory of disease, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), invention of agriculture, invention of radio, invention of the telegraph, invention of the telephone, Isaac Newton, Mikhail Gorbachev, pattern recognition, planetary scale, prisoner's dilemma, profit motive, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ronald Reagan, stem cell, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, zero-sum game

Suppose further that what is required to prevent or mitigate the catastrophe is expensive: expensive in fiscal and intellectual resources, but also in challenging our way of thinking—that is, politically expensive. At what point do the pol-icymakers have to take the scientific prophets seriously? There are ways to assess the validity of the modern prophecies—because in the methods of science, there is an error-correcting procedure, a set of rules that have repeatedly worked well, sometimes called the scientific method. There are a number of tenets (I've outlined some of them in my book The Demon-Haunted World): Arguments from authority carry little weight ("Because I said so" isn't good enough); quantitative prediction is an extremely good way to sift useful ideas from nonsense; the methods of analysis must yield other results fully consistent with what else we know about the Universe; vigorous debate is a healthy sign; the same conclusions have to be drawn independently by competent competing scientific groups for an idea to be taken seriously; and so on.

No matter how stringent the protections of the people might be in constitutions or common law, there would always be a temptation, Jefferson thought, for the powerful, the wealthy, and the unscrupulous to undermine the ideal of government run by and for ordinary citizens. The antidote is vigorous support for the expression of unpopular views, widespread literacy, substantive debate, a common familiarity with critical thinking, and skepticism of pronouncements of those in authority—which are all also central to the scientific method. * After outlining traditional Christian views of women from patristic times to the Reformation, the Australian philosopher John Passmore (Man's Responsibility for Nature: Ecological Problems and Western Traditions [New York: Scrib-ner's, 1974]) concludes that Kinder, Kiiche, Kircher "as a description of the role of women is not an invention of Hitler's, but a typical Christian slogan." 252 • Billions and Billions THE REVELATIONS OF SCIENCE Every branch of science has made stunning advances in the twentieth century.

pages: 790 words: 150,875

Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson


Admiral Zheng, agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, Andrei Shleifer, Atahualpa, Ayatollah Khomeini, Berlin Wall, BRICs, British Empire, clean water, collective bargaining, colonial rule, conceptual framework, Copley Medal, corporate governance, creative destruction, credit crunch, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, Dean Kamen, delayed gratification, Deng Xiaoping, discovery of the americas, Dissolution of the Soviet Union, European colonialism, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Francisco Pizarro, full employment, Hans Lippershey, haute couture, Hernando de Soto, income inequality, invention of movable type, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, James Hargreaves, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, joint-stock company, Joseph Schumpeter, Kitchen Debate, land reform, land tenure, liberal capitalism, Louis Pasteur, Mahatma Gandhi, market bubble, Martin Wolf, mass immigration, means of production, megacity, Mikhail Gorbachev, new economy, Pearl River Delta, Pierre-Simon Laplace, probability theory / Blaise Pascal / Pierre de Fermat, profit maximization, purchasing power parity, quantitative easing, rent-seeking, reserve currency, road to serfdom, Ronald Reagan, savings glut, Scramble for Africa, Silicon Valley, South China Sea, sovereign wealth fund, special economic zone, spice trade, spinning jenny, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, The Great Moderation, the market place, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, Thorstein Veblen, total factor productivity, trade route, transaction costs, transatlantic slave trade, transatlantic slave trade, upwardly mobile, uranium enrichment, wage slave, Washington Consensus, women in the workforce, World Values Survey

It comes in many variants – medieval English individualism, humanism and the Protestant ethic – and it has been sought everywhere from the wills of English farmers to the account books of Mediterranean merchants and the rules of etiquette of royal courts. In The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, David Landes made the cultural case by arguing that Western Europe led the world in developing autonomous intellectual inquiry, the scientific method of verification and the rationalization of research and its diffusion. Yet even he allowed that something more was required for that mode of operation to flourish: financial intermediaries and good government.26 The key, it becomes ever more apparent, lies with institutions. Institutions are, of course, in some sense the products of culture. But, because they formalize a set of norms, institutions are often the things that keep a culture honest, determining how far it is conducive to good behaviour rather than bad.

That the struggle between radical Islam and Western civilization can be caricatured as ‘Jihad vs McWorld’ speaks volumes.91 In reality, the core values of Western civilization are directly threatened by the brand of Islam espoused by terrorists like Muktar Said Ibrahim, derived as it is from the teachings of the nineteenth-century Wahhabist Sayyid Jamal al-Din and the Muslim Brotherhood leaders Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb.92 The separation of church and state, the scientific method, the rule of law and the very idea of a free society – including relatively recent Western principles like the equality of the sexes and the legality of homosexual acts – all these things are openly repudiated by the Islamists. Estimates of the Muslim population of West European countries vary widely. According to one estimate the total population has risen from around 10 million in 1990 to 17 million in 2010.93 As a share of national populations, Muslim communities range in size from as much as 9.8 per cent in France to as little as 0.2 per cent in Portugal.94 Such figures seem to belie the warnings of some scholars of a future ‘Eurabia’ – a continent Islamicized by the end of the twenty-first century.

But what this means is that Western modes of operation are not in decline but are flourishing nearly everywhere, with only a few remaining pockets of resistance. A growing number of Resterners are sleeping, showering, dressing, working, playing, eating, drinking and travelling like Westerners.61 Moreover, as we have seen, Western civilization is more than just one thing; it is a package. It is about political pluralism (multiple states and multiple authorities) as well as capitalism; it is about the freedom of thought as well as the scientific method; it is about the rule of law and property rights as well as democracy. Even today, the West still has more of these institutional advantages than the Rest. The Chinese do not have political competition. The Iranians do not have freedom of conscience. They get to vote in Russia, but the rule of law there is a sham. In none of these countries is there a free press. These differences may explain why, for example, all three countries lag behind Western countries in qualitative indices that measure ‘national innovative development’ and ‘national innovation capacity’.62 Of course Western civilization is far from flawless.

pages: 560 words: 158,238

Fifty Degrees Below by Kim Stanley Robinson


airport security, bioinformatics, Burning Man, clean water, Donner party, full employment, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), invisible hand, iterative process, means of production, minimum wage unemployment, North Sea oil, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, statistical model, Stephen Hawking, the scientific method

Their usual lunchtime special ran parallel to Route 66 east for a while, then back around the curve of the Potomac and west back to NSF. They ran at talking speed, which for this group meant about an eight-minute mile pace. A lot of the talking came from Edgardo, riffing on one thing or another. He liked to make connections; he liked to question things. He didn’t believe in anything. Even the scientific method was to him a kind of ad hoc survival attempt, a not-very–successful concoction of emergency coping mechanisms. Which belief did not, however, keep him from working maniacally on every project thrown his way, nor from partying late almost every night at various Latin venues. He was from Buenos Aires originally, and this, he said, explained everything about him. “All of us porteños are the same.”

Social Science Experiment in Elective Politics (SSEEP) (notes by Edgardo Alfonso, for Diane Chang, the Vanderwal committee, and the National Science Board) The experiment is designed to ask, if the scientific community were to propose a platform of political goals based on scientific principles, how would it be formulated, and what would the platform say? In other words, what goals for improvement in society and government might follow logically from the aggregate of scientific findings and the application of the scientific method to the problem of change? The platform could conceivably take the form of the “Contract with America” adopted by the Republican Party before the 1994 election (a kind of list of Things To Do): “Contract with Humanity” “Contract with the Children” “Contract with the Generations to Come” commitment to inventing a sustainable culture (Permaculture, first iteration —what science is for) Some kind of underlying macro-goal or foundational axiom set might have to be synthesized from the particulars of scientific practice and the composite standard model of physical reality expressed by the various disciplines. 1) One axiom or goal might be some form of the “Greatest good for the greatest number” rubric.

MEANWHILE, IN THE MIDST OF ALL this, science itself proceeded in its usual manner; which is to say, very slowly. Anna Quibler liked it that way. Take a problem, break it down into parts (analyze), quantify whatever parts you could, see if what you learned suggested anything about causes and effects; then see if this suggested anything about long-term plans, and tangible things to do. She did not believe in revolution of any kind, and only trusted the mass application of the scientific method to get any real-world results. “One step at a time,” she would say to her team in bioinformatics, or Nick’s math group at school, or the National Science Board; and she hoped that as long as chaos did not erupt worldwide, one step at a time would eventually get them to some tolerable state. Of course there were all the hysterical operatics of “history” to distract people from this method and its incremental successes.

pages: 543 words: 147,357

Them And Us: Politics, Greed And Inequality - Why We Need A Fair Society by Will Hutton


Andrei Shleifer, asset-backed security, bank run, banking crisis, Benoit Mandelbrot, Berlin Wall, Bernie Madoff, Big bang: deregulation of the City of London, Bretton Woods, capital controls, carbon footprint, Carmen Reinhart, Cass Sunstein, centre right, choice architecture, cloud computing, collective bargaining, conceptual framework, Corn Laws, corporate governance, creative destruction, credit crunch, Credit Default Swap, debt deflation, decarbonisation, Deng Xiaoping, discovery of DNA, discovery of the americas, discrete time, diversification, double helix, Edward Glaeser, financial deregulation, financial innovation, financial intermediation, first-past-the-post, floating exchange rates, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane: The New Division of Labor, full employment, George Akerlof, Gini coefficient, global supply chain, Growth in a Time of Debt, Hyman Minsky, I think there is a world market for maybe five computers, income inequality, inflation targeting, interest rate swap, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, James Dyson, James Watt: steam engine, joint-stock company, Joseph Schumpeter, Kenneth Rogoff, knowledge economy, knowledge worker, labour market flexibility, liberal capitalism, light touch regulation, Long Term Capital Management, Louis Pasteur, low-wage service sector, mandelbrot fractal, margin call, market fundamentalism, Martin Wolf, mass immigration, means of production, Mikhail Gorbachev, millennium bug, money market fund, moral hazard, moral panic, mortgage debt, Myron Scholes, Neil Kinnock, new economy, Northern Rock, offshore financial centre, open economy, Plutocrats, plutocrats, price discrimination, private sector deleveraging, purchasing power parity, quantitative easing, race to the bottom, railway mania, random walk, rent-seeking, reserve currency, Richard Thaler, Right to Buy, rising living standards, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Ronald Reagan, Rory Sutherland, Satyajit Das, shareholder value, short selling, Silicon Valley, Skype, South Sea Bubble, Steve Jobs, The Market for Lemons, the market place, The Myth of the Rational Market, the payments system, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, too big to fail, unpaid internship, value at risk, Vilfredo Pareto, Washington Consensus, wealth creators, working poor, zero-sum game, éminence grise

., only 23 true GPTs have ever been invented, and 15 of them have appeared in the last 550 years.10 Moreover, the pace is accelerating. Nine GPTs – the internal combustion engine, electricity, the motor vehicle, the airplane, mass production, the computer, lean production, the internet and biotechnology – have been developed over the last 125 years. The movement to a scientific culture and the adoption of the scientific method since the Enlightenment have allowed systematic formulation of the principles underlying GPTs and the creation of a common knowledge base that grows cumulatively – thereby opening the path for the creation of new GPTs. There is every reason to believe that the number will double again in the next 125 years, as technologies build on each other at an exponential rate. Instead of an exhaustive account of each, I will discuss a sample.

James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood and George Stephenson were all non-conformists. Before 1829, dissenters were all prohibited from joining Parliament, the military or the civil service. Wedgwood typified the new breed: ‘everything yields to experiment’, he said, as he restlessly integrated art, industry and the latest technological processes. Britain had become an open-access society in every way, celebrating Newton’s mechanics and the scientific method that produced it but also welcoming the influence of thinkers from outside the mainstream.4 The country was locked into a virtuous circle. The threat of ossification The contrast between Britain’s embrace of the new in the first half of the nineteenth century and the resistance elsewhere is striking. Between 1825 and 1855, Russia built just one railway line. In the Habsburg Empire, the first railway was built only in 1835, and very few were permitted until the mid-1850s.

Education should be about much more than doing well in international test comparisons, achieving world-class grades, closing the achievement gap or possessing the skills to compete and be employable – the linear, learning-based discourse in which the case for education and training is usually cast. Gardner argues that there are five distinct sets of mental capabilities that are necessary for future progress. The first is what he dubs the ‘disciplined mind’ – the mind that can work with subject matter in any discipline to uncover laws, truths or insights via a systematic, disciplined process, be it the scientific method or a historian quarrying away in the archives to make empathetic sense of the past and the present. Gardner then makes the case for the ‘creative’, the ‘synthesising’, the ‘respectful’ and the ‘ethical’ mind. Synthesising minds are needed to marshal disparate information from the multiplicity of new sources, while creative minds challenge received wisdom and authority to make new breakthroughs.

pages: 406 words: 115,719

The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes


Albert Einstein, British Empire, cuban missile crisis, epigenetics, Everything should be made as simple as possible, Gary Taubes, Isaac Newton, meta analysis, meta-analysis, microbiome, phenotype, pre–internet, Ralph Nader, RAND corporation, randomized controlled trial, selection bias, the new new thing, the scientific method, Works Progress Administration

One danger here, of course, is that once we insist or pretend that we know the answer based on premature or incomplete evidence (even if we’re pushed against our will to take such stands), we’re likely to continue to insist we’re right, even when evidence accumulates to the contrary. This is a risk in any human endeavor. When Francis Bacon pioneered the scientific method almost four hundred years ago, he was hoping to create a methodology of critical or rational thinking that would minimize this all-too-human characteristic of avoiding evidence that disagrees with any preconceptions we might have formed.*1 Without rigorous tests, as many as necessary, beliefs and preconceptions will persevere because it’s always easier to believe that a single test has been flawed, or even a few of them, than it is to accept that our belief had been incorrect. The scientific method protects against this tendency; it does not eradicate it. — In 1969, John Yudkin discussed this conflict in the context of nutrition research and, specifically, the challenges of establishing reliable knowledge about sugar and chronic disease.

” *6 In May 1976, when the Public Relations Society of America awarded its Silver Anvil Award to the Sugar Association and Byoir and Associates for the advertising campaign in defense of sugar, the society emphasized the campaign’s “ability to stem the flow of reckless commentary” about sugar, and singled out the conclusions of the SCOGS report as an accomplishment that would make it “unlikely that sugar will be subject to legislative restriction in coming years.” CHAPTER 9 WHAT THEY DIDN’T KNOW I wish there were some formal courses in medical school on Medical Ignorance; textbooks as well, although they would have to be very heavy volumes. LEWIS THOMAS, “Medicine as a Very Old Profession,” 1985 Over the past four hundred years, thinking on the scientific method has distilled the concept down to two words: “hypothesis” and “test.” If we want to establish reliable knowledge—that what we think is true really is—this is the process that must be followed. In the words of the philosopher of science Karl Popper, “The method of science is the method of bold conjectures and ingenious and severe attempts to refute them.” The bold conjectures are the hypotheses, and they are the relatively easy part of science.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Pirsig

Albert Einstein, always be closing, Henri Poincaré, Isaac Newton, Lao Tzu, Parkinson's law, the scientific method

And suppose this child is fed intravenously and otherwise attended to and kept alive for eighteen years in this state of existence. The question is then asked: Does this eighteen-year-old person have a thought in his head? If so, where does it come from? How does he get it? Hume would have answered that the eighteen-year-old had no thoughts whatsoever, and in giving this answer would have defined himself as an empiricist, one who believes all knowledge is derived exclusively from the senses. The scientific method of experimentation is carefully controlled empiricism. Common sense today is empiricism, since an overwhelming majority would agree with Hume, even though in other cultures and other times a majority might have differed. The first problem of empiricism, if empiricism is believed, concerns the nature of “substance.” If all our knowledge comes from sensory data, what exactly is this substance which is supposed to give off the sensory data itself?

As we move off under the big trees Chris waves and he smiles and waves back. The desert road winds through rocky gorges and hills. This is the driest country yet. I want to talk now about truth traps and muscle traps and then stop this Chautauqua for today. Truth traps are concerned with data that are apprehended and are within the boxcars of the train. For the most part these data are properly handled by conventional dualistic logic and the scientific method talked about earlier, back just after Miles City. But there’s one trap that isn’t the truth trap of yes-no logic. Yes and no-this or that-one or zero. On the basis of this elementary two-term discrimination, all human knowledge is built up. The demonstration of this is the computer memory which stores all its knowledge in the form of binary information. It contains ones and zeros, that’s all.

Aristotle attacked this belief, saying that the dialectic was only suitable for some purposes to enquire into men’s beliefs, to arrive at truths about eternal forms of things, known as Ideas, which were fixed and unchanging and constituted reality for Plato. Aristotle said there is also the method of science, or “physical” method, which observes physical facts and arrives at truths about substances, which undergo change. This duality of form and substance and the scientific method of arriving at facts about substances were central to Aristotle’s philosophy. Thus the dethronement of dialectic from what Socrates and Plato held it to be was absolutely essential for Aristotle, and “dialectic” was and still is a fulcrum word. Phćdrus guessed that Aristotle’s diminution of dialectic, from Plato’s sole method of arriving at truth to a “counterpart of rhetoric,” might be as infuriating to modern Platonists as it would have been to Plato.

pages: 428 words: 121,717

Warnings by Richard A. Clarke

active measures, Albert Einstein, algorithmic trading, anti-communist, artificial general intelligence, Asilomar, Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA, Bernie Madoff, cognitive bias, collateralized debt obligation, complexity theory, corporate governance, cuban missile crisis, data acquisition, discovery of penicillin, double helix, Elon Musk, failed state, financial thriller, fixed income, Flash crash, forensic accounting, friendly AI, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Internet of things, James Watt: steam engine, Jeff Bezos, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, knowledge worker, Maui Hawaii, megacity, Mikhail Gorbachev, money market fund, mouse model, Nate Silver, new economy, Nicholas Carr, nuclear winter, pattern recognition, personalized medicine, phenotype, Ponzi scheme, Ray Kurzweil, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman: Challenger O-ring, risk tolerance, Ronald Reagan, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, smart grid, statistical model, Stephen Hawking, Stuxnet, technological singularity, The Future of Employment, the scientific method, The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, Tunguska event, uranium enrichment, Vernor Vinge, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, women in the workforce, Y2K

They have the self-confidence to be first but not the arrogance that would interfere with their understanding of the nuances of the data. *QUESTIONERS: Most Cassandras tend to disbelieve anything that has not been empirically derived and repeatedly tested. They also tend to doubt their own work initially, especially when it predicts disaster. This characteristic is more than just a belief in the scientific method. Rather, they challenge what is generally accepted until it is proven to their satisfaction. They are the philosophical descendants of Pyrrho of Elis, a philosopher in ancient Greece who accompanied Alexander the Great to India. There Pyrrho learned from Indian philosophers who challenged everything. Pyrrho’s teachings influenced another Greek philosopher who taught that all beliefs and assumptions should be challenged, that doubt, skepticism, and disbelief are healthy.

The result is a nonlinear, more exponential increase in the rate of ice melt and sea-level rise when global temperatures are pushed beyond a particular threshold. Why would the IPCC not focus on the effects of melting polar ice? Hansen believes that “scientific reticence,” i.e., restraint in coming to a controversial conclusion, is hindering communication with the public about the dangers of global warming. Policy makers need to recognize that, he said. “Scientific reticence may be a consequence of the scientific method. Success in science depends on objective skepticism. Caution, if not reticence, has its merits.” He allowed that reticence at the IPCC “is probably a necessary characteristic, given that the IPCC document is produced as a consensus among most nations in the world and represents the views of thousands of scientists.” Rather than getting everyone to a consensus with something as complicated as the dynamics of future sea level rise, they may have just punted and said that it’s just “too poorly understood.”

At least, as he observed, one government has acted by slightly opening its treasury, enough to map many of the possible asteroid threats. No government, however, has acted to give Earth a comprehensive defense system that can rapidly spring into action to deflect a large and threatening object, were one to be found. Morrison himself exhibits many of the traits of a Cassandra. He is a renowned expert, uses the scientific method, and is data driven. He was the first to see something and say something about it, loudly. Although a government employee, he influenced the system to get Congress to tell his agency what to do. He has not experienced the criticism of his colleagues as overtly as others. No one doubts that he’s right, but some have other priorities. People don’t want their projects derailed, especially by preparing for an unlikely catastrophe.

pages: 379 words: 109,612

Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net's Impact on Our Minds and Future by John Brockman


A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Albert Einstein, AltaVista, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Asperger Syndrome, availability heuristic, Benoit Mandelbrot, biofilm, Black Swan, British Empire, conceptual framework, corporate governance, Danny Hillis, Douglas Engelbart, Douglas Engelbart, Emanuel Derman, epigenetics, Flynn Effect, Frank Gehry, Google Earth, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, index card, information retrieval, Internet Archive, invention of writing, Jane Jacobs, Jaron Lanier, John Markoff, Kevin Kelly, lifelogging, lone genius, loss aversion, mandelbrot fractal, Marc Andreessen, Marshall McLuhan, Menlo Park, meta analysis, meta-analysis, New Journalism, Nicholas Carr, out of africa, Paul Samuelson, peer-to-peer, Ponzi scheme, pre–internet, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, Ronald Reagan, Schrödinger's Cat, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, SETI@home, Silicon Valley, Skype, slashdot, smart grid, social graph, social software, social web, Stephen Hawking, Steve Wozniak, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, Ted Nelson, telepresence, the medium is the message, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, theory of mind, trade route, upwardly mobile, Vernor Vinge, Whole Earth Catalog, X Prize

The beneficiaries of the system in which making things public was a privileged activity—academics, politicians, reporters, doctors—will complain about the way the new abundance of public thought upends the old order, but those complaints are like keening at a wake: The change they are protesting is already in the past. The real action is elsewhere. The Internet’s primary effect on how we think will reveal itself only when it affects the cultural milieu of thought, not just the behavior of individual users. The members of the Invisible College did not live to see the full flowering of the scientific method, and we will not live to see what use humanity makes of a medium for sharing that is cheap, instant, and global (both in the sense of “comes from everyone” and in the sense of “goes everywhere”). We are, however, the people who are setting the earliest patterns for this medium. Our fate won’t matter much, but the norms we set will. Given what we have today, the Internet might be seen as the Invisible High School, with a modicum of educational material in an ocean of narcissism and social obsessions.

Which, of course, is why it is rare—though intriguingly (and I think all to the good) not totally impossible—to find trained scientists who believe in biblical creationism or who doubt that global warming is a real and dangerous phenomenon. When I reflect on how I go about my intellectual work these days, I see that the Internet has changed it dramatically, but what has changed is the execution process (and hence, on some occasions, the conclusions I reach or the way I present them), not the underlying thinking process. I would hope for humanity’s future that the same is true for all my fellow highly trained specialists. The scientific method for reaching conclusions has served us well for many generations, leading to a length and quality of life for most of us that was beyond the imagination of our ancestors. If that way of thinking were to be replaced by a blind “wisdom of the crowd” approach, which the Internet offers, then we are likely in for real trouble. For wisdom of the crowd—like its best-known exemplar, Google search—gives you the mostly best answer most of the time.

pages: 356 words: 95,647

Sun in a Bottle: The Strange History of Fusion and the Science of Wishful Thinking by Charles Seife


Albert Einstein, anti-communist, Brownian motion, correlation does not imply causation, Dmitri Mendeleev, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, Gary Taubes, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Mikhail Gorbachev, Project Plowshare, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, the scientific method, Yom Kippur War

And that means that scientists, sometimes subtly and sometimes unsubtly, occasionally try to wrestle the scientific narrative in the wrong direction. Like the mythmakers of old, they try to craft nature in their image. The true power of science comes from its ability to withstand the wishful thinking of the humans who craft its stories. Individual scientists err. They deceive themselves—and they can deceive others. They might even lie or cheat in an attempt to win fame or glory or immortality. But the whole point of the scientific method is to try to insulate the scientific story from the whims and frailties of the scientists who write it. The mechanisms of science are, essentially, protection against wishful thinking. This protection takes many forms, but the strongest come from the scientific community itself. Published scientific research is peer reviewed and vetted by rivals to ensure that its authors have made no obvious mistakes.

The scientific community demands that experiments be repeatable, and if any question arises about the validity of an important experiment, scientists will clamor to have a second group verify the result with a different piece of equipment. And if there’s a hint of incompetence or fraud, the community will howl for the blood of the malefactors. It can be brutal, but this is the way science protects itself from the dishonesty, the stupidity, or the human failures of an individual scientist. This is what makes science seem so inhuman. The scientific method has no sympathy for wishful thinking. This can be hard on even the most brilliant scientists. As they practice their craft, they are forced to renounce some of their beliefs, no matter how deeply held they might be. If they err—as they almost certainly will—they must admit that they have deceived themselves. They have to do it publicly and without regard for their fragile human egos. They must eviscerate themselves on the altar of science.

pages: 336 words: 92,056

The Battery: How Portable Power Sparked a Technological Revolution by Henry Schlesinger


Albert Einstein, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, British Empire, Copley Medal, Fellow of the Royal Society, index card, invention of the telegraph, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, Livingstone, I presume, Menlo Park, Metcalfe’s law, popular electronics, Ralph Waldo Emerson, RFID, Robert Metcalfe, Stephen Hawking, the scientific method, transcontinental railway, Upton Sinclair, Vannevar Bush, Yogi Berra

THE BEAUTY OF GILBERT’S EFFORTS—indeed, all scientific work—was that nearly anyone with time and resources could duplicate any of his experiments and achieve pretty much the same results. Unlike the dubious work of alchemists or innovations by tradesmen, which were largely conducted in secret, Gilbert’s brand of science was freely shared and open to challenges. A better theory backed up by a credible experiment could displace even the most fundamental of Gilbert’s conclusions. The scientific method would even have a profound effect on alchemy. By the time De Magnete was published, the secretive endeavor, which uncomfortably merged the technical and the mystical, had already moved beyond its traditional wasted efforts of transmutation or eternal life toward legitimate medicine. Gilbert and the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century served to push it even further away from magic and mysticism toward experimentation and respectability.

Some other, far more likely, explanation must be the reason. So the controversy began. Given the participants, it was an odd debate. Galvani, the anatomist, had ventured into physics, while Volta, the physicist, was crossing over into anatomy. Cultured Europe, in which science was very much salonfähig, quickly began to line up on both sides of the issue. Volta, for his part, was a strict adherent to the scientific method. Using a methodology very much like Franklin’s disassembling of a Leyden jar, he discovered that electrical fluid generated in the frog experiment was a product of the sum of its parts rather than a single piece. In a series of experiments, he systematically substituted various components of Galvani’s original experiment and soon found the secret resided not in the frog, but in the two dissimilar metals.

pages: 370 words: 97,138

Beyond: Our Future in Space by Chris Impey


3D printing, Admiral Zheng, Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Berlin Wall, Buckminster Fuller, butterfly effect, California gold rush, carbon-based life, Colonization of Mars, cosmic abundance, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, dark matter, discovery of DNA, Doomsday Clock, Edward Snowden, Elon Musk, Eratosthenes, Haight Ashbury, Hyperloop, I think there is a world market for maybe five computers, Isaac Newton, Jeff Bezos, John von Neumann, Kickstarter, life extension, Mahatma Gandhi, Marc Andreessen, Mars Rover, mutually assured destruction, Oculus Rift, operation paperclip, out of africa, Peter H. Diamandis: Planetary Resources, phenotype, purchasing power parity, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, RFID, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman: Challenger O-ring, risk tolerance, Rubik’s Cube, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Searching for Interstellar Communications, Silicon Valley, skunkworks, Skype, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, supervolcano, technological singularity, telepresence, telerobotics, the medium is the message, the scientific method, theory of mind, There's no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home - Ken Olsen, V2 rocket, wikimedia commons, X Prize, Yogi Berra

But the baby specifically gave the experimenter a duck if the experimenter had drawn the relatively rare yellow ducks from the box. The baby knew it was unlikely for the experimenter to draw mostly ducks, so the experimenter’s behavior indicated a preference for ducks. Babies aren’t doing experiments or crunching statistics in the self-conscious way that adults do, but they’re unconsciously processing information in a way that parallels the scientific method. The next level of development involves play. When children say, “Let’s pretend,” they conjure up alternative worlds and populate them with imaginary friends. As we all know, these imaginary worlds can be very elaborate. Such behavior is uniquely human. Jane Goodall only spotted a few examples of pretend play in many hours of observing the Gombe chimpanzees in Tanzania, while it would be trivial to note this behavior in any four-year-old.

They undulate and turn, like a carpet that’s weaving itself. It seems chaotic, but suddenly the tendrils form spirals and complex geometric shapes. Then, just as suddenly, the patterns disappear. I stare, transfixed. 12 Journey to the Stars _______________________ Home Away from Home “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future,” according to Danish physicist Niels Bohr.1 Prediction is a core part of the scientific method. At a grainy level, scientists predict the outcome of an experiment or a measurement. At a big-picture level, scientists learn about our world by extrapolating laws of nature or predicting how they will operate in unfamiliar situations. It’s easy to cherry-pick predictions that make the prognosticator look foolish in hindsight. A classic example is that of Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, who said in 1943: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

pages: 397 words: 109,631

Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking by Richard E. Nisbett


affirmative action, Albert Einstein, availability heuristic, big-box store, Cass Sunstein, choice architecture, cognitive dissonance, correlation coefficient, correlation does not imply causation, cosmological constant, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, dark matter, endowment effect, experimental subject, feminist movement, fixed income, fundamental attribution error, glass ceiling, Henri Poincaré, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Isaac Newton, job satisfaction, lake wobegon effect, libertarian paternalism, loss aversion, low skilled workers, Menlo Park, meta analysis, meta-analysis, quantitative easing, Richard Thaler, Ronald Reagan, selection bias, Socratic dialogue, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, William of Occam, Zipcar

Statistics is usually taught in such a way that people can see only that it applies to data of particular, rather limited types. What’s needed is what’s provided in this book—namely the ability to code events and objects in such a way that rough-and-ready versions of statistical principles can be applied to them. The book also presents the most important concepts of microeconomics and decision theory, the basic principles of the scientific method as they apply to solving everyday problems, the basic concepts of formal logic, the much less familiar principles of dialectical reasoning, and some of the most important concepts developed by philosophers who study how scientists as well as ordinary folks think (or should think). 4. The concepts in the book can be triangulated to understand a given problem from many perspectives. For example, a particularly serious error in everyday life is gross overgeneralization from a small number of observations of a person, object, or event.

P is a condition requiring Q, or, differently put, P is a sufficient condition for Q. In contrast to deductive logic, inductive reasoning is a “bottom-up” type of reasoning. Observations are collected that suggest or support some conclusion. One type of inductive reasoning consists of observing facts and reaching a general conclusion about facts of their particular kind. This book is full of different types of inductive reasoning. The scientific method nearly always involves—in fact often is completely dependent on—inductive reasoning of one kind or another. All of the types of inductive reasoning in this book are inductively valid, but their conclusions are not deductively valid, merely probable. On the basis of observation and calculation we induce that the mean of the population of some events is X plus or minus Y standard deviations.

pages: 369 words: 90,630

Mindwise: Why We Misunderstand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want by Nicholas Epley


affirmative action, airport security, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Cass Sunstein, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, drone strike, friendly fire, invisible hand, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Milgram experiment, payday loans, Peter Singer: altruism, pirate software, Richard Thaler, school choice, the scientific method, theory of mind

Only at the rare times when it is stretched beyond its limits, or is proven to be profoundly mistaken, does its existence come back into view. ON MY MIND My goal is to bring what I think is your brain’s greatest ability out of the shadows and into the light of scientific inspection. Like thousands of other psychologists at research universities around the world, I use the basic principles of the scientific method to understand why you think, act, and feel as you do. More specifically, I conduct experiments that test your sixth sense to learn exactly how, and how well, you reason about the thoughts, motives, attitudes, beliefs, and emotions of others. This ability is one of your brain’s greatest because it allows you to achieve one of the most important goals in any human life: connecting, deeply and honestly, with other human beings.

The biggest gender differences are biological: men have penises and women have vaginas, and, yes, research confirms that most men throw a baseball faster and farther than most women.21 The gender differences that most strongly capture our imagination and define our genders, however, are psychological: women are communal, emotional, relational, and think mainly about others, whereas men are independent, logical, spatial, and think mainly about sex. Scientists also love to talk about psychological gender differences, in part because the scientific method—just like our senses—uses methods that detect differences between groups rather than similarities. Consider the largest single study of gender preferences ever conducted in psychology, a survey of 10,047 men and women (ages twenty to twenty-five) from 37 cultures. These men and women were asked to rate the importance of thirteen attributes in a romantic partner (from 0, meaning it’s unimportant, to 3, meaning it’s indispensable).

pages: 371 words: 108,317

The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly


3D printing, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, AI winter, Airbnb, Albert Einstein, Amazon Web Services, augmented reality, bank run, barriers to entry, Baxter: Rethink Robotics, bitcoin, blockchain, book scanning, Brewster Kahle, Burning Man, cloud computing, commoditize, computer age, connected car, crowdsourcing, dark matter, dematerialisation, Downton Abbey, Edward Snowden, Elon Musk, Filter Bubble, Freestyle chess, game design, Google Glasses, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, index card, indoor plumbing, industrial robot, Internet Archive, Internet of things, invention of movable type, invisible hand, Jaron Lanier, Jeff Bezos, job automation, John Markoff, Kevin Kelly, Kickstarter, lifelogging, linked data, Lyft, M-Pesa, Marc Andreessen, Marshall McLuhan, means of production, megacity, Minecraft, multi-sided market, natural language processing, Netflix Prize, Network effects, new economy, Nicholas Carr, old-boy network, peer-to-peer, peer-to-peer lending, personalized medicine, placebo effect, planetary scale, postindustrial economy, recommendation engine, RFID, ride hailing / ride sharing, Rodney Brooks, self-driving car, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, slashdot, Snapchat, social graph, social web, software is eating the world, speech recognition, Stephen Hawking, Steven Levy, Ted Nelson, the scientific method, transport as a service, two-sided market, Uber for X, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Whole Earth Review, zero-sum game

Nothing is finished. Nothing is done. This never-ending change is the pivotal axis of the modern world. Constant flux means more than simply “things will be different.” It means processes—the engines of flux—are now more important than products. Our greatest invention in the past 200 years was not a particular gadget or tool but the invention of the scientific process itself. Once we invented the scientific method, we could immediately create thousands of other amazing things we could have never discovered any other way. This methodical process of constant change and improvement was a million times better than inventing any particular product, because the process generated a million new products over the centuries since we invented it. Get the ongoing process right and it will keep generating ongoing benefits.

The proofs are not understandable by humans alone so it is necessary to trust a cascade of algorithms, and this demands new skills in knowing when to trust these creations. Dealing with alien intelligences will require similar skills, and a further broadening of ourselves. An embedded AI will change how we do science. Really intelligent instruments will speed and alter our measurements; really huge sets of constant real-time data will speed and alter our model making; really smart documents will speed and alter our acceptance of when we “know” something. The scientific method is a way of knowing, but it has been based on how humans know. Once we add a new kind of intelligence into this method, science will have to know, and progress, according to the criteria of new minds. At that point everything changes. AI could just as well stand for “alien intelligence.” We have no certainty we’ll contact extraterrestrial beings from one of the billion earthlike planets in the sky in the next 200 years, but we have almost 100 percent certainty that we’ll manufacture an alien intelligence by then.

pages: 433 words: 106,048

The End of Illness by David B. Agus M. D.


Danny Hillis, discovery of penicillin, double helix, epigenetics, germ theory of disease, Google Earth, impulse control, information retrieval, meta analysis, meta-analysis, microbiome, Murray Gell-Mann, pattern recognition, personalized medicine, randomized controlled trial, risk tolerance, Steve Jobs, the scientific method

The reason for this has everything to do with demographics and the genetics of ethnicity. The Rochester community is heavily populated with German and Norwegian Americans who tend to marry and procreate within their community, thus maintaining a steady gene pool. Hence, their ancestry’s genetics will be vastly different from that of a homogenous community elsewhere. The meaning of studies performed will be different depending on the group studied, even when the rigors of the scientific method are employed to generate a “randomized” group of participants. So the next time you read an eye-popping headline about a health-related study revealing something “new” (especially those that tend to be alarmist), look behind that headline to see where the study was done and who participated in it. Does it reflect you and your genomic ancestry? You just might find that you can ignore those findings, as they won’t apply to you and your library of personal metrics.

But despite its role in many of the body’s vital functions, we must be careful about making broad statements about vitamin D and its link (“associations”) to various illnesses and disease. Despite thousands of studies, there’s not a lot of strong research showing consistent benefits from vitamin D supplementation; and here, semantics again comes into play. “Studies” should mean large, controlled, double-blind, randomized trials that honor the scientific method. That doesn’t always happen, especially with regard to vitamin D. Performing a true study on vitamin D’s potential benefit, which should theoretically result in reliable conclusions, is nearly impossible since vitamin D cannot be controlled in any given person. First, we have the stumbling block of dealing with a vitamin that can be obtained naturally from sunlight and certain foods such as wild salmon and fortified milk and cereals.

pages: 335 words: 95,280

The Greatest Story Ever Told—So Far by Lawrence M. Krauss

Albert Einstein, complexity theory, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, dark matter, Ernest Rutherford, Isaac Newton, Magellanic Cloud, Murray Gell-Mann, RAND corporation, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman: Challenger O-ring, the scientific method

Everything about our evolutionary history has primed our minds to be comfortable with concepts that helped us survive, such as the natural teleological tendency children have to assume objects exist to serve a goal, and the broader tendency to anthropomorphize, to assign agency to lifeless objects, because clearly it is better to mistake an inert object for a threat than a threat for an inert object. Evolution didn’t prepare our minds to appreciate long or short timescales or short or huge distances that we cannot experience directly. So it is no wonder that some of the remarkable discoveries of the scientific method, such as evolution and quantum mechanics, are nonintuitive at best, and can draw most of us well outside our myopic comfort zone. This is also what makes the greatest story ever told so worth telling. The best stories challenge us. They cause us to see ourselves differently, to realign our picture of ourselves and our place in the cosmos. This is not only true for the greatest literature, music, and art.

Plato further argues that this is what those who would act rationally should strive for, in both public and private life—seeking the “good” by focusing on reason and truth. He suggests that we can only do so by exploring the realities that underlie the world of our direct experience, rather than by exploring the illusions of a reality that we might want to exist. Only through rational examination of what is real, and not by faith alone, is rational action—or good—possible. Today, Plato’s vision of “pure thought” has been replaced by the scientific method, which, based on both reason and experiment, allows us to discover the underlying realities of the world. Rational action in public and private life now requires a basis in both reason and empirical investigation, and it often requires a departure from the solipsistic world of our direct experience. This principle is the source of most of my own public activism in opposition to government policies based on ideology rather than evidence, and it is also probably why I respond so negatively to the concept of the “sacred”—implying as it does some idea or admonition that is off-limits to public questioning, exploration, discussion, and sometimes ridicule.

pages: 296 words: 86,188

Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong-And the New Research That's Rewriting the Story by Angela Saini

Albert Einstein, demographic transition, Drosophila, feminist movement, gender pay gap, meta analysis, meta-analysis, mouse model, out of africa, place-making, scientific mainstream, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, women in the workforce

But whether or not it sits easily with us, we can’t ignore biology either. If biological differences exist, we can’t help but want to know. More than that, if we want to build a fairer society, we need to be able to understand these gaps and accommodate them. The problem is that answers in science aren’t everything they seem. When we turn to scientists for resolution, we assume they will be neutral. We think the scientific method can’t be biased or loaded against women. But we’re wrong. The puzzle of why there are so few women in the sciences is crucial to understanding why, not because it tells us something about what women are capable of but because it explains why science has failed to rid us of the gender stereotypes and dangerous myths we’ve been laboring under for centuries. Women are so grossly underrepresented in modern science because, for most of history, they were treated as intellectual inferiors and deliberately excluded from it.

Christian models for female behavior and virtue were challenged. “Darwin created a space where women could say that maybe the Garden of Eden didn’t happen. . .and this was huge. You cannot overestimate how important Adam and Eve were in terms of constraining and shaping people’s ideas about women.” Although not a scientist herself, through Darwin’s work Gamble realized just how devastating the scientific method could be. If humans were descended from lesser creatures, the same as all other life on earth, then it made no sense for women to be confined to the home or subservient to men. These obviously weren’t the rules in the rest of the animal kingdom. “It would be unnatural for women to sit around and be totally dependent on men,” Hamlin tells me. The story of women could be rewritten. In reality of course, for all the latent revolutionary power in his ideas, Darwin himself never believed that women were the intellectual equals of men.

pages: 108 words: 28,348

Code Simplicity by Max Kanat-Alexander


don't repeat yourself, premature optimization, the scientific method

This knowledge must have some sort of organization. It has to be put into categories, the various pieces have to be correctly related to each other in terms of importance, etc. A science must contain general truths or basic laws. A science must tell you how to do something in the physical universe. It must be somehow applicable in work or in life. Usually, a science is discovered and proven through the scientific method, which involves observation of the physical universe, making a theory about how the universe works, performing experiments to verify your theory, and showing that the same experiment works everywhere to demonstrate that the theory is a general truth and not just a coincidence or something that worked just for you. In the world of software, we have lots of knowledge; it’s been collected in books, and it has even been somewhat organized.

pages: 194 words: 36,223

Smart and Gets Things Done: Joel Spolsky's Concise Guide to Finding the Best Technical Talent by Joel Spolsky


Build a better mousetrap, David Heinemeier Hansson, knowledge worker, linear programming, nuclear winter, Ruby on Rails, Sand Hill Road, Silicon Valley, sorting algorithm, Superbowl ad, the scientific method, type inference, unpaid internship

I looked at everything he said through rose-colored glasses. I wound up saying Hire even though he was a crappy candidate. You know what? Everybody else who interviewed him said No Hire. So: don’t listen to recruiters; don’t ask around about the person before you interview them; and never, ever talk to the other interviewers about the candidate until you’ve both made your decisions independently. That’s the scientific method. The introduction phase of the interview is intended to put the candidate at ease. I ask them if they had a nice flight. I spend about thirty seconds telling the person who I am and how the interview will work. I always reassure candidates that we are interested in how they go about solving problems, not the actual answer. Part two is a question about some recent project that the candidate worked on.

pages: 107 words: 33,799

The Meaning of It All by Richard P. Feynman


means of production, Murray Gell-Mann, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman: Challenger O-ring, the scientific method

In order to answer a question like that, one would have to gather all cases in which prayers had been given in the favor of Mother Seaton for the cures of various people, in various states of disease. They would then have to compare the success of the cure of these people with the average cure of people for whom such prayers were not made, and so forth. It’s an honest, straightforward way to do it, and there is nothing dishonest and nothing sacriligious about it, because if it’s a miracle, it will hold up. And if it’s not a miracle, the scientific method will destroy it. The people who study medicine and try to cure people are interested in every method that they can find. And they have developed clinical techniques in which (all these problems are very difficult) they are trying all kinds of medicines too, and the woman got better. She also had chicken pox just before she got better. Has that got anything to do with it? So there is a definite clinical way to test what it is that might have something to do with it—by making comparisons and so forth.

pages: 100 words: 28,911

A Short Guide to a Long Life by David B. Agus


Danny Hillis, Ignaz Semmelweis: hand washing, lifelogging, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Murray Gell-Mann, personalized medicine, placebo effect, risk tolerance, the scientific method

And even when I suggest something that comes with a price, such as paying for a DNA screening test, there’s often an inexpensive, if not totally free, alternative (see Rule 19), which can be even more informative and useful. When I went on the Dr. Oz Show in the fall of 2012, I was billed as the most controversial doctor in America. But I think I’m the absolute opposite. I won’t endorse anything that’s not backed by well-controlled clinical trials—studies that live up to the rigors of the scientific method. In that regard, I’m one of the most conservative of doctors in America. People tend to label certain things as aggressive or, conversely, mainstream. Many individuals think taking aspirin and statins on a daily basis is aggressive but taking vitamins is mainstream. But the data tell a totally different story, painting a picture in which aspirin and statins can significantly reduce your risk of death (what scientists call “all cause mortality”) while vitamins and supplements may raise your risk for a variety of illnesses, including cancer.

pages: 1,737 words: 491,616

Rationality: From AI to Zombies by Eliezer Yudkowsky

Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, anthropic principle, anti-pattern, anti-work, Arthur Eddington, artificial general intelligence, availability heuristic, Bayesian statistics, Berlin Wall, Build a better mousetrap, Cass Sunstein, cellular automata, cognitive bias, cognitive dissonance, correlation does not imply causation, cosmological constant, creative destruction, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, dematerialisation, discovery of DNA, Douglas Hofstadter, Drosophila, effective altruism, experimental subject, Extropian, friendly AI, fundamental attribution error, Gödel, Escher, Bach, hindsight bias, index card, index fund, Isaac Newton, John Conway, John von Neumann, Long Term Capital Management, Louis Pasteur, mental accounting, meta analysis, meta-analysis, money market fund, Nash equilibrium, Necker cube, NP-complete, P = NP, pattern recognition, Paul Graham, Peter Thiel, Pierre-Simon Laplace, placebo effect, planetary scale, prediction markets, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, reversible computing, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, risk tolerance, Rubik’s Cube, Saturday Night Live, Schrödinger's Cat, scientific mainstream, sensible shoes, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, Singularitarianism, Solar eclipse in 1919, speech recognition, statistical model, Steven Pinker, strong AI, technological singularity, The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, the map is not the territory, the scientific method, Turing complete, Turing machine, ultimatum game, X Prize, Y Combinator, zero-sum game

“It means the trick didn’t work. Once I broke ritual by that single misstep, the power did not linger, but vanished instantly; the heap of paperclips and the pile of dollar bills no longer went empty at the same time.” “You actually tried this?” asks Mark. “Yes,” I say, “I actually performed the experiment, to verify that the outcome matched my theoretical prediction. I have a sentimental fondness for the scientific method, even when it seems absurd. Besides, what if I’d been wrong?” “If it had worked,” says Mark, “you would have been guilty of counterfeiting! Imagine if everyone did that; the economy would collapse! Everyone would have billions of dollars of currency, yet there would be nothing for money to buy!” “Not at all,” I reply. “By that same logic whereby adding another paperclip to the heap creates another dollar bill, creating another dollar bill would create an additional dollar’s worth of goods and services.”

Indeed, as the man thought upon the Great Idea more and more, he realized that it was not just a great idea, but the most wonderful idea ever. The Great Idea would unravel the mysteries of the universe, supersede the authority of the corrupt and error-ridden Establishment, confer nigh-magical powers upon its wielders, feed the hungry, heal the sick, make the whole world a better place, etc., etc., etc. The man was Francis Bacon, his Great Idea was the scientific method, and he was the only crackpot in all history to claim that level of benefit to humanity and turn out to be completely right. (Bacon didn’t singlehandedly invent science, of course, but he did contribute, and may have been the first to realize the power.) That’s the problem with deciding that you’ll never admire anything that much: Some ideas really are that good. Though no one has fulfilled claims more audacious than Bacon’s; at least, not yet.

On the other hand, Popper’s idea that there is only falsification and no such thing as confirmation turns out to be incorrect. Bayes’s Theorem shows that falsification is very strong evidence compared to confirmation, but falsification is still probabilistic in nature; it is not governed by fundamentally different rules from confirmation, as Popper argued. So we find that many phenomena in the cognitive sciences, plus the statistical methods used by scientists, plus the scientific method itself, are all turning out to be special cases of Bayes’s Theorem. Hence the Bayesian revolution. * * * Having introduced Bayes’s Theorem explicitly, we can explicitly discuss its components. We’ll start with P(A|X). If you ever find yourself getting confused about what’s A and what’s X in Bayes’s Theorem, start with P(A|X) on the left side of the equation; that’s the simplest part to interpret.

pages: 859 words: 204,092

When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Rise of the Middle Kingdom by Martin Jacques


Admiral Zheng, Asian financial crisis, Berlin Wall, Bob Geldof, Bretton Woods, BRICs, British Empire, credit crunch, Dava Sobel, deindustrialization, Deng Xiaoping, deskilling, discovery of the americas, Doha Development Round, energy security, European colonialism, failed state, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, global reserve currency, global supply chain, illegal immigration, income per capita, invention of gunpowder, James Watt: steam engine, joint-stock company, Kenneth Rogoff, land reform, land tenure, Malacca Straits, Martin Wolf, Naomi Klein, new economy, New Urbanism, one-China policy, open economy, Pearl River Delta, pension reform, price stability, purchasing power parity, reserve currency, rising living standards, Ronald Reagan, Scramble for Africa, Silicon Valley, South China Sea, sovereign wealth fund, special drawing rights, special economic zone, spinning jenny, Spread Networks laid a new fibre optics cable between New York and Chicago, the scientific method, Thomas L Friedman, trade liberalization, urban planning, Washington Consensus, Westphalian system, Xiaogang Anhui farmers, zero-sum game

It is accepted that Western drugs are superior for diseases like cancer, but even when these are used, people will generally revert to Chinese medicines subsequently.104 The contrast between Chinese and Western medicine eloquently sums up the difference between civilizational wisdom and scientific knowledge. Chinese medicine, rather like the world’s cuisines, is a product of thousands of years of trial and error, of the everyday experience and resourcefulness of hundreds of millions of people and their interaction with their plant environment; Western medicine is a rigorous product of the scientific method and the invention and refining of chemicals. With the exception of those fundamentalists of the scientific method who believe that they enjoy a monopoly of true knowledge, there is a widespread and growing acceptance in the West that medicinal palliatives and cures derived from civilizational experience are a valid and important part of medicine, even if we do not understand, at least as yet, how the great majority of them actually work. THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE WEST The purpose of this chapter has been to explore the ways in which Chinese global hegemony is likely to grow over the next half-century.

Even the Renaissance and the Reformation, two great efflorescences of European life, were, as their names suggest, couched in terms of the past, despite the fact that they contained much that was forward-looking and novel.1 Scholars of Renaissance Europe believed that the learning of classical antiquity was being restored even while they were busy transforming the very manner in which people understood history.2 From the sixteenth century, this retrospective way of thinking gradually began to subside, not just in Europe but also in China, India, Japan and the Islamic world, though the process has been best chronicled in Europe. The growth of scientific knowledge, the expanding influence of the scientific method, the spread of secularism, and the burgeoning importance of the market and commerce slowly eroded the idea that the present and the future were little more than replays of the past. From the late eighteenth century, a fundamentally different outlook began to take root with the arrival of modernity. Instead of the present being lived as the past, it became increasingly orientated towards the future.

pages: 490 words: 150,172

The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance by Henry Petroski


business climate, Douglas Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, Khartoum Gordon, Menlo Park, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Richard Feynman, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thorstein Veblen

There are now a few pencils among the books and literary material in the Thoreau alcove in the library, but their method of manufacture seems to be more mysterious than that of any of Henry David Thoreau’s literary works. While it may be excusable that Thoreau’s pencil engineering is seldom emphasized relative to his other achievements, there is no excuse for ignoring engineering in our culture generally. Yet it is rare to find generalizations about engineering qua engineering that are the equivalent of the scientific method or to find universal insights about engineering that have the ring of Archimedes’ “Eureka!” Great engineers have seldom left articulate generalizations or insights in ink; they have usually only sketched them in pencil, to be fleshed out in state-of-the-art structures and machines. Yet even as the state of the art is constantly evolving and developing, there are deep underlying similarities in what the first engineers or those described by Vitruvius did and what today’s engineers still do.

Conté could make a quantum leap in thinking about how to fashion a pencil lead out of graphite dust and clay because he was already familiar with the way those materials combined to produce excellent crucibles, broken fragments of which incidentally might act as marking stones, or so Conté might have noted in his tinkering in the laboratory. The laboratory is really the modern workshop. And modern engineering results when the scientific method is united with experience with the tools and products of craftsmen. While it would emerge more slowly in Britain and America, modern engineering, in spirit if not in name, would come to play a more and more active role in turning the craft tradition into modern technology, with its base of research and development. And in the century following Conté this transformation would take place in virtually every aspect of technological life from common pencil making to monumental bridge building.

pages: 487 words: 151,810

The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks


Albert Einstein, asset allocation, assortative mating, Atul Gawande, Bernie Madoff, business process, Cass Sunstein, choice architecture, clean water, creative destruction, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, David Brooks, delayed gratification, deliberate practice, disintermediation, Donald Trump, Douglas Hofstadter, Emanuel Derman,, fear of failure, financial deregulation, financial independence, Flynn Effect, George Akerlof, Henri Poincaré, hiring and firing, impulse control, invisible hand, Joseph Schumpeter, labor-force participation, loss aversion, medical residency, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Monroe Doctrine, Paul Samuelson, Richard Thaler, risk tolerance, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, school vouchers, six sigma, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, The Spirit Level, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thorstein Veblen, transaction costs, Walter Mischel, young professional

Great investigators began to dissect and understand their world. The metaphor, “the world is a machine,” began to replace the metaphor, “the world is a living organism.” Society was often seen as a clock with millions of moving pieces, and God was the Divine Clock-maker, the author of an exquisitely rational universe. Great figures like Francis Bacon and René Descartes helped create a different way of thinking—the scientific method. Descartes aimed to begin human understanding anew. He would start from scratch and work logically and consciously through every proposition to see, step by step, what was true and certain. He would rebuild human understanding on a logical foundation. In this scientific age, the mind could not, Bacon urged, be “left to take its own course, but guided at every step.” What was needed was a “sure plan” and a new reliable methodology.

Problems must be broken down into their discrete parts. He must proceed consciously and methodically, beginning with the simplest element of the problem and then proceeding step by step toward the complex. He must develop a scientific language that will avoid the vagueness and confusion of ordinary language. The aim of the whole method is to arrive at certain lawlike generalizations about human behavior—to arrive at certainty and truth. The scientific method brought rigor to where there had once been guesswork and intuition. In the realm of physics, chemistry, biology, and the other natural sciences, the results were awesome to behold. Inevitably, rationalist techniques were applied to the science of organizing society, so that progress in the social realm could be as impressive as progress in the scientific one. The philosophies of the French Enlightenment compiled a great encyclopedia, trying to organize all human knowledge in one reference book.

pages: 467 words: 154,960

Trend Following: How Great Traders Make Millions in Up or Down Markets by Michael W. Covel


Albert Einstein, asset allocation, Atul Gawande, backtesting, beat the dealer, Bernie Madoff, Black Swan, buy low sell high, capital asset pricing model, Clayton Christensen, commodity trading advisor, computerized trading, correlation coefficient, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, delayed gratification, deliberate practice, diversification, diversified portfolio, Edward Thorp, Elliott wave, Emanuel Derman, Eugene Fama: efficient market hypothesis, Everything should be made as simple as possible, fiat currency, fixed income, game design, hindsight bias, housing crisis, index fund, Isaac Newton, John Meriwether, John Nash: game theory, linear programming, Long Term Capital Management, mandelbrot fractal, margin call, market bubble, market fundamentalism, market microstructure, mental accounting, money market fund, Myron Scholes, Nash equilibrium, new economy, Nick Leeson, Ponzi scheme, prediction markets, random walk, Renaissance Technologies, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, risk tolerance, risk-adjusted returns, risk/return, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, shareholder value, Sharpe ratio, short selling, South Sea Bubble, Stephen Hawking, survivorship bias, systematic trading, the scientific method, Thomas L Friedman, too big to fail, transaction costs, upwardly mobile, value at risk, Vanguard fund, volatility arbitrage, William of Occam, zero-sum game

FAQ #3: Insight on Computers and Cur ve Fitting Larry Hite has said that a computer can’t get up on the wrong side of the bed in the morning, which is why he relies on computers for his decision making and for his implementation of his trading rules: “If your boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with you, you’ll feel one way; if you get engaged, you’ll feel another way.”34 Hite said he would much rather have one smart guy working on a lone Macintosh than a team of well-paid timekeepers with an army of supercomputers. At the same time, however, Hite was adamant that the real key to using computers successfully was the thinking that went into the computer code. When someone asked why even go the computer route if people power is so important. Hite responded: “[B]ecause it works—it’s countable and replicable. I’m a great fan of the scientific method. And the other things are not scientific. If I give you the algorithms, you should be able to get the same results I did. That to me means a great deal.”35 Whales only get harpooned when they come to the surface, and turtles can only move forward when they stick their neck out, but investors face risk no matter what they do. Charles A. Jaffe However, challenges go along with back testing.

Of course, in the real world, markets are both efficient and inefficient, some more than others. In the real world, there are traders who do beat the market by a wide margin, and many of them are trend followers. After word 289 What accounts for the patience, discipline, and commitment to long-term success as a trend follower? It might ultimately be about making a profit, but it is also an understanding and keen appreciation for the scientific method. Just as scientists start with a hypothesis, trend followers start with a certain view of the world. Their divergent view sees the world in trends. Facing the reality of any market environment head on is the philosophical foundation of trend following. Yet, if the approach is that simple (and profitable), then why does trend following continue to be ignored or confused by so-called bright and market-wise people?

pages: 420 words: 124,202

The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention by William Rosen


Albert Einstein, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, barriers to entry, collective bargaining, computer age, Copley Medal, creative destruction, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, decarbonisation, delayed gratification, Fellow of the Royal Society, Flynn Effect, fudge factor, full employment, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Islamic Golden Age, iterative process, Jacquard loom, James Hargreaves, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, Joseph Schumpeter, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, knowledge economy, moral hazard, Network effects, Paul Samuelson, Peace of Westphalia, Peter Singer: altruism, QWERTY keyboard, Ralph Waldo Emerson, rent-seeking, Ronald Coase, Simon Kuznets, spinning jenny, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, transaction costs, transcontinental railway, zero-sum game, éminence grise

Coke’s motivation was not, needless to say, a longing to see steam engines decorating the English countryside, but rather a desire to see it filled with English craftsmen. A high level of craftsmanship alone, however, wasn’t going to result in anything like Newcomen’s engine, much less Rocket; artisans can be—frequently are—ingenious without being innovative. Craftsmanship needed to be married to a new way of thinking, one not yet known as the “scientific” method. Luckily for history, a culture of observation, experimentation, and innovation was being cultivated in England at exactly the same moment that Coke was advocating for her artisans. Luckily for historians, its patron saint was not only Coke’s contemporary, but his professional, political, and even romantic rival. THE MAN WHO DIED in April 1626 with the titles Baron Verulam and Viscount St.

Suffice it to say that before Bacon, the gold standard in inquiry was essentially contemplative and syllogistic; truth could be discovered by comparing opposing ideas. Afterward—particularly after he wrote Novum Organum, in 1622, in which he famously stated his belief that the compass, the printing press, and gunpowder had changed history more than any empire or religion—truth was something extracted from nature using the tools of observation and experiment. He didn’t, as is sometimes suggested, invent the scientific method; he had too feeble a handle on hypotheses, and especially mathematics, to do so. But what he did understand about the scientific enterprise was profoundly important for the wave of inventions that would inundate the world a century after his death. He knew that to be self-sustaining, both science and invention needed to be social enterprises, depending utterly on the free flow of information among investigators.

pages: 852 words: 157,181

The Origins of the British by Stephen Oppenheimer


active measures, agricultural Revolution, British Empire, Eratosthenes, gravity well, mass immigration, out of africa, phenotype, the scientific method, trade route

Undetected borrowing distorts both kinds of language tree (comparative and lexico-statistical) and is probably the main underlying reason for structural differences between them. So, what to do? There are basic differences between the disciplines of archaeology and linguistics on the one hand, and sciences such as geology and biology on the other. In their attitude to the scientific method, some linguists seem to misunderstand the meaning of, or are unable to accept, uncertainty. They interpret the scientific method as implying authority, rigour and certainty, while scientists accept that, in many situations, comparisons have to be made using measurements that have some degree of error and theories of classification with a degree of uncertainty. A statistical approach has to be used to handle such uncertainty. Unlike disagreements between academic authorities, there are standard methods of dealing with sources of observational error and of uncertainty.

pages: 320 words: 87,853

The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information by Frank Pasquale


Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, algorithmic trading, Amazon Mechanical Turk, American Legislative Exchange Council, asset-backed security, Atul Gawande, bank run, barriers to entry, basic income, Berlin Wall, Bernie Madoff, Black Swan, bonus culture, Brian Krebs, call centre, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, Chelsea Manning, Chuck Templeton: OpenTable, cloud computing, collateralized debt obligation, computerized markets, corporate governance, Credit Default Swap, credit default swaps / collateralized debt obligations, crowdsourcing, cryptocurrency, Debian, don't be evil, drone strike, Edward Snowden,, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Filter Bubble, financial innovation, financial thriller, fixed income, Flash crash, full employment, Goldman Sachs: Vampire Squid, Google Earth, Hernando de Soto, High speed trading, hiring and firing, housing crisis, informal economy, information asymmetry, information retrieval, interest rate swap, Internet of things, invisible hand, Jaron Lanier, Jeff Bezos, job automation, Julian Assange, Kevin Kelly, knowledge worker, Kodak vs Instagram, kremlinology, late fees, London Interbank Offered Rate, London Whale, Marc Andreessen, Mark Zuckerberg, mobile money, moral hazard, new economy, Nicholas Carr, offshore financial centre, PageRank, pattern recognition, Philip Mirowski, precariat, profit maximization, profit motive, quantitative easing, race to the bottom, recommendation engine, regulatory arbitrage, risk-adjusted returns, Satyajit Das, search engine result page, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Snapchat, Spread Networks laid a new fibre optics cable between New York and Chicago, statistical arbitrage, statistical model, Steven Levy, the scientific method, too big to fail, transaction costs, two-sided market, universal basic income, Upton Sinclair, value at risk, WikiLeaks, zero-sum game

One attorney at the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project (now the New Economy Project) called subprime lending a systematic “equity stripping” targeted at minorities— even if they were longtime homeowners.124 Subtle but persistent racism, arising out of implicit bias or other factors, may have influenced past terms of credit, and it’s much harder to keep up on a loan at 15 percent interest than one at 5 percent.125 Late payments will be more likely, and then will be fed into present credit scoring models as neutral, objective, nonracial indicia of reliability and creditworthiness.126 Far from liberating individuals to be judged on their character rather than their color, credit scores in scenarios like these launder past practices of discrimination into a black-boxed score, immune from scrutiny.127 Continuing unease about black box scoring reflects long-standing anxiety about misapplications of natural science methods to the social realm.128 A civil engineer might use data from a thousand bridges to estimate which one might next collapse; now fi nancial engineers scrutinize millions of transactions to predict consumer defaults. But unlike the engineer, whose studies do nothing to the bridges she examines, a credit scoring system increases the chance of a consumer defaulting once it labels him a risk and prices a loan accordingly. Moreover, the “science” of secret scoring does not adopt a key safeguard of the scientific method: publicly testable generalizations and observations.129 As long as the analytics are secret, they will remain an opaque and troubling form of social sorting. Bias can embed itself in other self-reinforcing cycles based on ostensibly “objective” data. Police in the past may have watched certain 42 THE BLACK BOX SOCIETY neighborhoods more closely than others. Thus it’s not surprising if such neighborhoods account for a disproportionate share of the overall number of crimes recorded, even if crime rates are identical across neighborhoods, because they happen to be where the police were looking.

mod=googlenews _wsj; Christopher Ingraham, “Wal- Mart Has a Lower Acceptance Rate than Harvard,” Washington Post, Mar. 28, 2014, at http://www.washingtonpost .com /blogs / wonkblog /wp /2014 /03 /28 /wal -mart -has -a -lower -acceptance -rate -than -harvard /. 98. Barbara Ehrenreich, “Time Theft,” New Internationalist Magazine, November 2, 2002, /. 99. O’Connell, “Test for Dwindling Retail Jobs Spawns a Culture of Cheating.” 100. Chris Anderson, “The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete,” Wired, June 23, 2008, /science/discoveries/magazine/16-07/pb_theory. 101. Ibid. 236 NOTES TO PAGES 37–40 102. Charles Tilly, Why?: What Happens When Persons Give Reasons (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008). 103. Omer Tene and Jules Polonetsky, “A Theory of Creepy: Technology, Privacy and Shifting Social Norms,” Yale Journal of Law and Technology 16 (2014): 59–102. 104.

pages: 436 words: 141,321

Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness by Frederic Laloux, Ken Wilber


Albert Einstein, augmented reality, blue-collar work, Buckminster Fuller, call centre, carbon footprint, conceptual framework, corporate social responsibility, crowdsourcing, failed state, future of work, hiring and firing, index card, interchangeable parts, invisible hand, job satisfaction, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Kenneth Rogoff, meta analysis, meta-analysis, pattern recognition, post-industrial society, quantitative trading / quantitative finance, randomized controlled trial, selection bias, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, the market place, the scientific method, Tony Hsieh, zero-sum game

“Social Darwinism”—the notion of the survival of the fittest applied to all aspects of human existence as well—began to insidiously invade all the humanities, ethics, and politics of humans, including the two major new economic systems, capitalism and socialism. Scientific materialism—the idea that all phenomena in the universe (including consciousness, culture, and creativity) could be reduced to material atoms and their interactions, which could be known only by the scientific method—and the generally liberal politics that accompanied such beliefs, set the stage for the next three centuries. Until the 1960s, when not only the reign of scientific materialism was challenged (as being itself largely a cultural construction, not some deified access to universal truths), but also all of the remaining indignities of the Mythic-religious era (some of which were addressed by Modernism, and some of which were exacerbated by it)—indignities such as, overall, the oppression of women and other minorities, the toxic despoliation of nature and the environment, the lack of evenly applied civil rights, the general reign of materialism itself—all were aggressively attacked, and attempted to be remedied, by Postmodernism.

To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. Richard Buckminster Fuller Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher and scientist, proclaimed in a treatise written in 350 BC that women have fewer teeth than men.1 Today we know this is nonsense. But for almost 2,000 years, it was accepted wisdom in the Western World. Then one day, someone had the most revolutionary of ideas: let’s count! The scientific method—formulating a hypothesis and then testing it—is so deeply ingrained in our thinking that we find it hard to conceive that intelligent people would blindly trust authority and not put assumptions to the test. We could be forgiven for thinking that, perhaps, people simply weren’t that smart back then! But before we judge them too harshly, let’s ask ourselves: could future generations be similarly amused about us?

pages: 351 words: 123,876

Beautiful Testing: Leading Professionals Reveal How They Improve Software (Theory in Practice) by Adam Goucher, Tim Riley


Albert Einstein, barriers to entry, Black Swan, call centre, continuous integration, Debian, Donald Knuth,, Firefox, Grace Hopper, index card, Isaac Newton, natural language processing, p-value, performance metric, revision control, six sigma, software as a service, software patent, the scientific method, Therac-25, Valgrind, web application

Although we can find examples of this principle being applied in structured programming, object-oriented design (OOD), and design patterns, beauty and simplicity aren’t yet common considerations in bug management or QA test design. In this chapter we discuss how to manage bugs and measure test case effectiveness. We hope you will find this approach to be more beautiful, simple, and true than the more common haphazard QA approaches, which often stray from the scientific method and rely a bit too much on luck. 67 Bug Management The following sections explain bug management. The First Bug Found The Smithsonian National Museum of American History has part of an engineering notebook on display. The notebook’s terse handwritten notes bring to light some arcane details of the operation of Harvard University’s Mark II electromechanical computer. Page 92 of this notebook, shown in Figure 6-1, displays typical engineering notes from September 9, 1947: 1525 Started Mult+Adder Test. 1545 Relay # 70 Panel F (moth) in relay.

Bugjuicer bug search BUG MANAGEMENT AND TEST CASE EFFECTIVENESS 75 Tags If the user finds bugs upstream or in the distribution database that are particularly relevant to his problem (bug or metabug), he can apply tags to these bugs (Figure 6-6) so they can be tracked together in a “tag cloud” or “tag set” (Figure 6-7). FIGURE 6-6. Bugjuicer tag set FIGURE 6-7. Tagged defect sets (tag clouds) 76 CHAPTER SIX Tagged Defect Sets (Tag Clouds): Why? Defect reports often contain multiple hypotheses describing theoretical root causes. But when a defect is closed, the validated root cause should be highlighted. If the developer and QA engineers have followed the scientific method, a closed defect should reference the following: • The code base the defect resides in • The hypothesized root cause • A description of the fix and/or a link to the source code patch • A test case proving that the root cause of the defect has indeed been fixed It is also useful to include test cases that disprove or eliminate alternative hypothesized root causes. As Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes character would put it, “When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

pages: 444 words: 151,136

Endless Money: The Moral Hazards of Socialism by William Baker, Addison Wiggin


Andy Kessler, asset allocation, backtesting, bank run, banking crisis, Berlin Wall, Bernie Madoff, Black Swan, Branko Milanovic, break the buck, Bretton Woods, BRICs, business climate, capital asset pricing model, commoditize, corporate governance, correlation does not imply causation, credit crunch, Credit Default Swap, crony capitalism, cuban missile crisis, currency manipulation / currency intervention, debt deflation, Elliott wave,, Fall of the Berlin Wall, feminist movement, fiat currency, fixed income, floating exchange rates, Fractional reserve banking, full employment, German hyperinflation, housing crisis, income inequality, index fund, inflation targeting, Joseph Schumpeter, laissez-faire capitalism, land reform, liquidity trap, Long Term Capital Management, McMansion, mega-rich, money market fund, moral hazard, mortgage tax deduction, naked short selling, negative equity, offshore financial centre, Ponzi scheme, price stability, pushing on a string, quantitative easing, RAND corporation, rent control, reserve currency, riskless arbitrage, Ronald Reagan, school vouchers, seigniorage, short selling, Silicon Valley, six sigma, statistical arbitrage, statistical model, Steve Jobs, The Great Moderation, the scientific method, time value of money, too big to fail, upwardly mobile, War on Poverty, Yogi Berra, young professional

To solve the debt crisis we have issued more debt. To reverse the damage from reckless lending, we have showered money on risky banks, stunting competitive gains that would have been realized by smaller prudent institutions. The academic and investment community has intellectually bought into theories of interest rate manipulation based upon signals gleaned from the quicksand of near-term economic statistics. Although proven by the scientific methods of economics, somehow the chain of desired short-term outcomes generated through this central planning has a side effect of producing long waves of debt accumulation. While we were still in the long wave of debt accumulation relative to national income that stretched from the early 1950s to 2008, it was impossible for anyone to refute the case for such a system. Academic studies reinforced the view that inflationary money growth was beneficial and optimal, and importantly, they did not anticipate a financial meltdown.

Knowing that a leverage problem develops over a long stretch of time and that it involves human psychology, the reality is that such a regression will never exist. In fact, it’s impossible, for if it did, all humans would be machines that never strayed far from a straight line, and there would neither have been business cycles nor hyperinflation and great depressions. Interestingly, the logic that flows from this is that under a monetary system anchored firmly by gold, man’s weaknesses are counteracted. Oddly, the scientific method so honored by economists is the enabler of outrageous and risky behavior. Entranced by mathematics and caught in the headlights of the coming credit implosion, Bernanke believed that papering over a debt problem with more loans and guarantees Spitting into the Wind 119 would be effective. According to Cassidy, he told a visitor to his office in August, and maintained through Labor Day, “A lot can still go wrong, but at least I can see a path that will bring us out of this entire episode relatively intact.”5 In the speech, he posits a parable wherein a modern alchemist invents a way to produce unlimited amounts of gold at no cost.

Year 501 by Noam Chomsky


anti-communist, Bartolomé de las Casas, Berlin Wall, Bolshevik threat, Bretton Woods, British Empire, capital controls, colonial rule, corporate governance, cuban missile crisis, declining real wages, Deng Xiaoping, deskilling, Dissolution of the Soviet Union, European colonialism, experimental subject, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Howard Zinn, invisible hand, land reform, land tenure, long peace, mass incarceration, means of production, Monroe Doctrine, non-tariff barriers, offshore financial centre, Plutocrats, plutocrats, price stability, Ralph Nader, Ralph Waldo Emerson, RAND corporation, Ronald Reagan, Simon Kuznets, strikebreaker, structural adjustment programs, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, trade liberalization, trickle-down economics, union organizing, War on Poverty, working poor

Chapter 9 The Burden of Responsibility 1. Irrational Disdain As the US proceeded to “assume, out of self-interest, responsibility for the welfare of the world capitalist system” after World War II, it also extended the “experiments in pragmatism” that it had been conducting in its narrower domains to “accelerate the process of national growth and save much waste” (Gerald Haines, Ulysses Weatherby). One striking feature of the “scientific methods of development” designed for our wards is what Hans Schmidt calls the “irrational disdain for the agricultural experience of local peasants.” This was the source of “a series of disastrous failures” as US experts attempted to apply “the latest developments in scientific agriculture” to their Haitian testing area—as always, sincerely believing that they were doing good while (by the sheerest accident) benefiting US corporations.

Max Allen, curator of one of the world’s leading textile museums, observes that “In most Northern-hemisphere traditional societies, the most impressive man-made artifacts are not made by men at all, but by women,” namely textile products, which “are certainly artistic,” though not regarded as “art” by Western tradition. They are assigned to the category of crafts, not art. The fact that the artistic traditions extending over thousands of years are “women’s work,” may contribute to these dubious interpretations, Allen suggests.4 The “suspicious” will not fail to observe that, however ruinous to Liberia, the “scientific methods of development” offer many benefits to the western corporate sector, perhaps well beyond the usual beneficiaries, agribusiness and petrochemicals. As the variety of crops is reduced, and disease and blight become an increasing threat, genetic engineering may have to come to the rescue with artificially designed crops, offering the rising biotech industries alluring prospects for growth and profit Following standard doctrine, US experts advised Liberia to convert farmland to plantation cash crops (which, incidentally, also happens to benefit US corporations).

pages: 461 words: 128,421

The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street by Justin Fox


activist fund / activist shareholder / activist investor, Albert Einstein, Andrei Shleifer, asset allocation, asset-backed security, bank run, beat the dealer, Benoit Mandelbrot, Black-Scholes formula, Bretton Woods, Brownian motion, capital asset pricing model, card file, Cass Sunstein, collateralized debt obligation, complexity theory, corporate governance, corporate raider, Credit Default Swap, credit default swaps / collateralized debt obligations, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, discovery of the americas, diversification, diversified portfolio, Edward Glaeser, Edward Thorp, endowment effect, Eugene Fama: efficient market hypothesis, experimental economics, financial innovation, Financial Instability Hypothesis, fixed income, floating exchange rates, George Akerlof, Henri Poincaré, Hyman Minsky, implied volatility, impulse control, index arbitrage, index card, index fund, information asymmetry, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, John Meriwether, John Nash: game theory, John von Neumann, joint-stock company, Joseph Schumpeter, Kenneth Arrow, libertarian paternalism, linear programming, Long Term Capital Management, Louis Bachelier, mandelbrot fractal, market bubble, market design, Myron Scholes, New Journalism, Nikolai Kondratiev, Paul Lévy, Paul Samuelson, pension reform, performance metric, Ponzi scheme, prediction markets, pushing on a string, quantitative trading / quantitative finance, Ralph Nader, RAND corporation, random walk, Richard Thaler, risk/return, road to serfdom, Robert Bork, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, rolodex, Ronald Reagan, shareholder value, Sharpe ratio, short selling, side project, Silicon Valley, South Sea Bubble, statistical model, The Chicago School, The Myth of the Rational Market, The Predators' Ball, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas L Friedman, Thorstein Veblen, Tobin tax, transaction costs, tulip mania, value at risk, Vanguard fund, Vilfredo Pareto, volatility smile, Yogi Berra

“These fundamentalist paradigms, in the hands of a sensitive and informed analyst, did seem to work,” Samuelson said.15 Cootner became a ringleader of the random walkers, compiling an influential 1964 book of writings on the subject that included the first English translation of Bachelier’s doctoral thesis. But as his commodity trading indicated, Cootner never believed market movements were entirely random. “My model is perfectly compatible with much of what I interpret Wall Street chart reading to be all about,” he told a financial journalist in the mid-1960s. “Like the Indian folk doctors who discovered tranquilizers, the Wall Street witch doctors, without benefit of the scientific method, have produced something with their magic, even if they can’t tell you what it is or how it works.”16 As a scientist, Cootner figured he could beat the witch doctors. At one speech in the 1960s, a Wall Streeter introduced him with the standard anti-economist crack, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” To which Cootner reputedly replied, “If you’re so rich, why aren’t you smart?”17 This summed up the MIT attitude.

For several decades the discipline had separated microeconomics, which was about selfish, rational people interacting in perfect markets, from macroeconomics, which was built around simple hydraulic models not based on any consistent theory of human behavior. It was an awkward coexistence, and it was probably inevitable that one day a mathematically inclined graduate student in economics would apply the elegant formulas he was learning in micro class to the inelegant problems of the business cycle. It was also perhaps inevitable that this would happen at Carnegie Tech’s Graduate School of Industrial Administration, that pioneer in imposing the scientific method on matters of money and human behavior. Economics maverick Herbert Simon was the instigator, in a backward sort of way. He had argued, decades before Kahneman and Tversky, that because people don’t have unlimited time and brain-power to devote to decision making they take shortcuts and follow rules of thumb. Humans don’t “optimize,” as the mathematical economists of the day theorized, but “satisfice” (a blending of “satisfy” and “suffice”).

pages: 414 words: 121,243

What's Left?: How Liberals Lost Their Way by Nick Cohen

anti-communist, Ayatollah Khomeini, Berlin Wall, Boycotts of Israel, British Empire, centre right, Etonian, failed state, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Farzad Bazoft, feminist movement, haute couture, kremlinology, liberal world order, light touch regulation, mass immigration, moral hazard, Naomi Klein, Plutocrats, plutocrats, post-industrial society, profit motive, Ralph Nader, road to serfdom, Ronald Reagan, Scientific racism, sensible shoes, the scientific method, union organizing, upwardly mobile, Yom Kippur War

Each separate cultural group was playing its own ‘language game’, to use the phrase the postmodernists took from Wittgenstein, and only players in the game, whether feminists or Holocaust deniers, could determine whether what was being said was right or wrong. As epistemic relativism infected leftish intellectual life, all the old universal criteria, including human rights, the search for truth and the scientific method, became suspect instruments of elite oppression and Western cultural imperialism. Joseph de Maistre, an eighteenth-century reactionary philosopher, who hated the Enlightenment and its revolutions, dismissed the rights of man by saying: ‘There is no such thing in the world as man. In my life I have seen Frenchmen, Italians, Russians … But as for man, I declare I’ve never encountered him.’

Each wave of ultra-rightists asserted that the armies of the democracies will be no match for warriors ready to kill and be killed on the orders of a charismatic leader. Nationalist, fascist and Islamist alike believed that a ‘rootless, arrogant, greedy, decadent, frivolous cosmopolitanism’ drove the trading cities of the democracies. They all condemned Western thought for upholding the cold and specialized reasoning of the scientific method rather than the holistic mysteries of tribe and church. They all believed that the citizens of the democracies were bourgeois cowards; too selfishly fearful for their personal safety to risk a confrontation. The messianic worship of pure blood and the idolization of blood sacrifices are at the root of fascism, and it is an enormous mistake to ennoble the fascist critique of ‘corrupt’ and ‘hypocritical’ democracies by pretending it is just an extension of the ordinary arguments and confrontations of democratic debate.

How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston


affirmative action, carbon footprint, Columbine, dark matter, desegregation, drone strike, housing crisis, phenotype, Plutocrats, plutocrats, Rosa Parks, shareholder value, supply-chain management, the scientific method, transatlantic slave trade

Because my older sister had attended private or at least specialized schooling (Catholic school, magnet school, and an arts public school) my mother felt that I, too, should have the benefits of a non-public education. Thus began my tour of Washington-area private schools. The first was Georgetown Day School. All I remember from my visit is making some really shitty pottery in an art class. I’m sure they did other things at that school, like math and English and the scientific method, but I just remember that shitty piece of pottery. The second school I visited was called Green Acres, and it had three strikes against it. Strike One: the name. “Green Acres”??? That sounds like a rehab center for matrimonially challenged politicians. That name was just a bit too soft for a black kid from the city. Speaking of soft, my initial interest in the school was based entirely on the crush I had on a girl from my church, never a good reason to make a six-year commitment.

Trend Commandments: Trading for Exceptional Returns by Michael W. Covel


Albert Einstein, Bernie Madoff, Black Swan, commodity trading advisor, correlation coefficient, delayed gratification, diversified portfolio,, Eugene Fama: efficient market hypothesis, family office, full employment, Lao Tzu, Long Term Capital Management, market bubble, market microstructure, Mikhail Gorbachev, moral hazard, Myron Scholes, Nick Leeson, oil shock, Ponzi scheme, prediction markets, quantitative trading / quantitative finance, random walk, Sharpe ratio, systematic trading, the scientific method, transaction costs, tulip mania, upwardly mobile, Y2K, zero-sum game

As we draw out a ball it becomes part of the track record, and we put it back in the bag, but there is no guarantee that the balls will come out in the same order in the future.1 Science “Do you have a clear sense of probabilities and payoffs?” Did you answer “no?” If so, you need to figure it out, and fast. For example, trader Jim Simons (arguably a closeted trend trader—he does not identify as one), worth about $8.5 billion, has said that the advantage scientists brought to the trading table was not their computing or math skills, but their ability to think scientifically. That means the scientific method is in play: 1. Define the question/theory. 2. Gather information and resources (observe). 3. Form hypothesis. 4. Perform experiment and collect data. 5. Analyze data. 6. Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypothesis. 7. Publish results. 8. Retest (frequently done by other scientists). Understanding trend trading is like crime scene investigation (CSI).

pages: 240 words: 60,660

Models. Behaving. Badly.: Why Confusing Illusion With Reality Can Lead to Disaster, on Wall Street and in Life by Emanuel Derman


Albert Einstein, Asian financial crisis, Augustin-Louis Cauchy, Black-Scholes formula, British Empire, Brownian motion, capital asset pricing model, Cepheid variable, creative destruction, crony capitalism, diversified portfolio, Douglas Hofstadter, Emanuel Derman, Eugene Fama: efficient market hypothesis, fixed income, Henri Poincaré, I will remember that I didn’t make the world, and it doesn’t satisfy my equations, Isaac Newton, law of one price, Mikhail Gorbachev, Myron Scholes, quantitative trading / quantitative finance, random walk, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, riskless arbitrage, savings glut, Schrödinger's Cat, Sharpe ratio, stochastic volatility, the scientific method, washing machines reduced drudgery, yield curve

The most successful theories humans have created are concerned with Extension. There are few genuine theories in the realm of Thought, and none that is quantitatively accurate. There we rely mostly on metaphors and models. Financial value, situated more centrally within Thought than Extension, is therefore less inclined to yield to mathematics or science; there are no isolated social systems on which to carry out the repeated experiments the scientific method requires, and so it is hard to study the regularities that might reveal the putative laws that govern them. Given the success of mathematics in dealing with Extension, it has become tempting to treat Thought as though it were a kind of Extension too. Most models in the social sciences give in to what I like to call pragmamorphism,1 by which I mean the naive tendency to attribute the properties of things to human beings.

pages: 226 words: 59,080

Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science by Dani Rodrik


airline deregulation, Albert Einstein, bank run, barriers to entry, Bretton Woods, butterfly effect, capital controls, Carmen Reinhart, central bank independence, collective bargaining, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, distributed generation, Donald Davies, Edward Glaeser, endogenous growth, Eugene Fama: efficient market hypothesis, Everything should be made as simple as possible, Fellow of the Royal Society, financial deregulation, financial innovation, floating exchange rates, fudge factor, full employment, George Akerlof, Gini coefficient, Growth in a Time of Debt, income inequality, inflation targeting, informal economy, information asymmetry, invisible hand, Jean Tirole, Joseph Schumpeter, Kenneth Arrow, Kenneth Rogoff, labor-force participation, liquidity trap, loss aversion, low skilled workers, market design, market fundamentalism, minimum wage unemployment, oil shock, open economy, Pareto efficiency, Paul Samuelson, price stability, prisoner's dilemma, profit maximization, quantitative easing, randomized controlled trial, rent control, rent-seeking, Richard Thaler, risk/return, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, school vouchers, South Sea Bubble, spectrum auction, The Market for Lemons, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, trade liberalization, trade route, ultimatum game, University of East Anglia, unorthodox policies, Vilfredo Pareto, Washington Consensus, white flight

The paradox in these cases is that reducing one’s freedom of action can make one better off, defying the usual economic dictum that more choice is always better than less. But the paradox is only an illusion. What is a paradox for one class of models is often readily comprehensible within another class of models. Scientific Progress, One Model at a Time Ask an economist what makes economics a science, and the reply is likely to be, “It’s a science because we work with the scientific method: we build hypotheses and then test them. When a theory fails the test, we discard it and either replace it or come up with an improved version. Ultimately, economics advances by developing theories that better explain the world.” This is a nice story, but it bears little relationship to what economists do in practice and how the field really makes progress.# For one thing, much of economists’ work departs significantly from the hypothetico-deductive mold according to which hypotheses are first formulated and then confronted with real-world evidence.

pages: 204 words: 58,565

Keeping Up With the Quants: Your Guide to Understanding and Using Analytics by Thomas H. Davenport, Jinho Kim


Black-Scholes formula, business intelligence, business process, call centre, computer age, correlation coefficient, correlation does not imply causation, Credit Default Swap,, feminist movement, Florence Nightingale: pie chart, forensic accounting, global supply chain, Hans Rosling, hypertext link, invention of the telescope, inventory management, Jeff Bezos, margin call, Moneyball by Michael Lewis explains big data, Myron Scholes, Netflix Prize, p-value, performance metric, publish or perish, quantitative hedge fund, random walk, Renaissance Technologies, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, self-driving car, sentiment analysis, six sigma, Skype, statistical model, supply-chain management, text mining, the scientific method

The review of previous findings can suggest any of the following: What kind of story could we tell? Does it involve prediction, reporting, an experiment, a survey? What kind of data are we likely to want to look for? How have variables been defined before? What types of analyses are we likely to perform? How could we tell the story in an interesting way that is likely to get results, and different from past stories? One of the key attributes of quantitative analysis (and of the scientific method more broadly) is that it draws on previous research and findings. For example, searching thorough the problem-related knowledge appearing in books, reports, and articles is very important in getting to the bottom of the problem. It may help to identify relevant variables and any association among the identified variables. A complete review of any of the previous findings is a must in any given quantitative analysis.

Masters of Mankind by Noam Chomsky


affirmative action, American Legislative Exchange Council, Berlin Wall, failed state, God and Mammon, income inequality, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), land reform, Martin Wolf, means of production, nuremberg principles, offshore financial centre, oil shale / tar sands, Paul Samuelson, Plutocrats, plutocrats, profit maximization, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Silicon Valley, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, too big to fail, union organizing, urban renewal, War on Poverty, Washington Consensus, Westphalian system

History is interpreted by “selves rather than minds,” and “no scientific method can compel a self to cease from engaging in whatever rationalization of interest may seem plausible to it.” We must search for truth but anticipate error, and always retain a tolerance for other perceptions and conclusions. We must not “ever despair of an adequate scientific method mitigating ideological conflicts in history, but must, on the other hand, recognize the limits of its power” (“Ideology and the Scientific Method,” 1953; Nature and Destiny, II, 220ff.). The same holds of “the struggle for justice,” which is “as profound a revelation of the possibilities and limits of historical existence as the quest for truth.” Here too, the Christian faith teaches us that “History moves towards the realization of the Kingdom [of God] but yet the judgment of God is upon every new realization,” upon “the evil, which taints all (human) achievements” (Nature and Destiny, II, 244, 286).

Healing_Back_Pain__The_Mind.pdf by Unknown

placebo effect, the scientific method

Anything which is outside mainstream medicine may be accepted as holistic, but more accurately described, the predominant idea is that one must treat the “whole person,” a wise concept that is generally neglected by contemporary medicine. But that should not give license to identify anything as holistic that defies medical convention. Perhaps holistic should be defined as that which includes consideration of both the emotional and structural aspects of health and illness. In accepting this definition one does not reject the scientific method. On the contrary, it becomes increasingly important to require proof and replication of results when one adds the very difficult emotional dimension to the medical equation. Therefore, this is not holistic medicine as it is popularly conceived. I hope it is an example of good medicine—accurate diagnosis and effective treatment, and good science—conclusions based on observation, verified by experience.

pages: 229 words: 68,426

Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing by Adam Greenfield


augmented reality, business process, defense in depth, demand response, demographic transition, facts on the ground, game design, Howard Rheingold, Internet of things, James Dyson, knowledge worker, late capitalism, Marshall McLuhan, new economy, Norbert Wiener, packet switching, pattern recognition, profit motive, QR code, recommendation engine, RFID, Steve Jobs, technoutopianism, the built environment, the scientific method

If we want to consistently and reliably build ubiquitous systems that do share something of the nature of our finest tools, that do support the finest that is in us, we really will need some help. Thesis 72 Even acknowledging their contingency, some explicit set of principles would be highly useful to developers and users both. Almost all of the available literature on ubiquitous computing is academic. That is, it emerges from the methods and viewpoints of applied science as it is practiced in the collective institution of higher education. As part of their immersion in the scientific method, academics are trained to be descriptive. A proper academic paper in the sciences is neither proscriptive nor prescriptive; it expresses no opinion about what should or should not happen. Much of the discourse around ubiquitous computing has to date been of the descriptive variety: This is a system we contemplate engineering; this is how far we were able to get with it; this is where our assumptions broke down.

pages: 272 words: 83,378

Digital Barbarism: A Writer's Manifesto by Mark Helprin


Albert Einstein, anti-communist, Berlin Wall, carbon footprint, computer age, crowdsourcing, hive mind, invention of writing, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Plutocrats, plutocrats, race to the bottom, semantic web, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley ideology, the scientific method, Yogi Berra, zero-sum game

There is to be sure a diffuse, watered-down echo of Marxist and other utopian objections to the idea of property, which thrives among the privileged in their various and comfortable la-la lands and then for some enlarges fearsomely when they are graduated and meet the shock of an entry-level job, but this is not sufficient by itself to explain an obsession with copyright rather than a general reaction and a general assault. Nor can envy or nihilism completely explain the impulse. Many things are involved, among which, very importantly, is academic orthodoxy: not politics of any sort as they now thoroughly intrude upon a university both unwilling and unable to resist their commanding influence, but the academic modus operandi, which is in itself valuable, necessary, and good, assuming it does not, like the scientific method, overreach like Germans seeking Lebensraum and force itself into places where for various reasons it does not belong. Whence the collaborative impulse and worship of collective effort that has so completely saturated American education? Marxism and the like simply do not have the power to sustain it. Rather, it may come from a perversion of legitimate academic practices. One encounters in Arabic education something called the Isnad, or chain, in this case a chain of authorities.

pages: 236 words: 66,081

Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age by Clay Shirky


Andrew Keen, Brewster Kahle, Burning Man, citizen journalism, corporate social responsibility, Dean Kamen, experimental economics, experimental subject, fundamental attribution error, invention of movable type, invention of the telegraph, Kevin Kelly, means of production, meta analysis, meta-analysis, New Urbanism, Nicholas Carr, social software, Steve Ballmer, The Nature of the Firm, the scientific method, ultimatum game

It was a college because their relations were collegial—they operated with a sense of mutual interest in, and respect for, one another’s work. In their conversations, they would outline their research according to agreed-upon norms of clarity and transparency. Robert Boyle, one of the group’s members and sometimes called the father of modern chemistry, helped establish many of the norms underpinning the scientific method, especially how experiments were to be conducted. (The motto of the group was Nullis in Verba—“Believe nothing from mere words.”) When one of their number announced the result of an experiment, the others wanted to know not just what that result was but how the experiment had been conducted, so that the claims could be tested elsewhere. Philosophers of science call this condition falsifiability.

pages: 216 words: 69,480

Sweetness and Light: The Mysterious History of the Honeybee by Hattie Ellis


back-to-the-land, haute couture, New Urbanism, the scientific method, urban decay

It got to the point that the blind naturalist had total trust in Burnens: “I hesitated no longer to give him my entire confidence, feeling sure to see well when seeing through his eyes,” he wrote. Réaumur’s glass observation hives. By this stage, the relationship had evolved from master and servant to that of colleagues. Testing their theories with repeated experiments—the basis of the scientific method—the two men advanced together. Huber described their work in his book New Observations on Bees, printed in 1792. These two volumes are easy to understand today, even for the layperson, because the prose is the sum of two people talking to each other. Huber and Burnens made many discoveries, but the mystery that absorbed them most was the mating of the queen. Swammerdam had proved through his anatomical dissections that the queen was both female and the mother of the hive.

pages: 232 words: 67,934

The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death by John Gray


Alfred Russel Wallace, anthropic principle, anti-communist, dematerialisation, George Santayana, laissez-faire capitalism, Law of Accelerating Returns, life extension, Nikolai Kondratiev, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, the scientific method

And it appeared to us that there was an important body of evidence – tending prima facie to establish the independence of soul or spirit – which modern science had simply left on one side with ignorant contempt; and that in so leaving it she had been untrue to her professed method, and had arrived prematurely at her negative conclusions. Sidgwick distinguished between science as a fixed body of knowledge and science as a method of inquiry. As pictured by materialism the universe had no human meaning; but the solution was not to reject science. It was to apply the scientific method, which could show materialism to be false. Like so many others, then and later, Sidgwick looked to science for salvation from science. If science had brought about the disenchantment of the world, only science could re-enchant it. The result of scientific inquiry seemed to be that humankind was alone. Evolution would bring about the death of the species and eventually, as the sun cooled and the planet ceased to be habitable, life itself would die out.

pages: 208 words: 67,288

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True by Richard Dawkins


Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Buckminster Fuller, double helix, Ernest Rutherford, false memory syndrome, Fellow of the Royal Society, gravity well, if you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras, Isaac Newton, phenotype, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, the scientific method

A successful model is one whose predictions come out right, especially if they survive the test of experiment. And if the predictions come out right, we hope it means that the model probably represents the truth, or at least a part of the truth. Sometimes the predictions don’t come out right, and so scientists go back and adjust the model, or think up a new one, and then go on to test that. Either way, this process of proposing a model and then testing it – what we call the ‘scientific method’ – has a much better chance of getting at the way things really are than even the most imaginative and beautiful myth invented to explain what people didn’t – and often, at the time, couldn’t – understand. An early model of the atom was the so called ‘currant bun’ model proposed by the great English physicist J. J. Thomson at the end of the nineteenth century. I won’t describe it because it was replaced by the more successful Rutherford model, first proposed by the same Ernest Rutherford who split the atom, who came from New Zealand to England to work as Thomson’s pupil and who succeeded Thomson as Cambridge’s Professor of Physics.

pages: 285 words: 78,180

Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life by J. Craig Venter


Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Asilomar, Barry Marshall: ulcers, bioinformatics, borderless world, Brownian motion, clean water, discovery of DNA, double helix, epigenetics, experimental subject, Isaac Newton, Islamic Golden Age, John von Neumann, Louis Pasteur, Mars Rover, Mikhail Gorbachev, phenotype, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, stem cell, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Turing machine

“Scaling up digital circuit computation with DNA strand displacement cascades.” Science 332, no. 6034 (June 3, 2011): pp. 1196–201. 10. George M. Church, Yuan Gao, and Sriram Kosuri. “Next-generation digital information storage in DNA.” Science 337, no. 6102 (September 28, 2012): p. 1628. 11. Accessible at Chapter 2 1. Steven Benner. Life, the Universe . . . and the Scientific Method (Gainesville, FL: Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, 2009), p. 45. 2. Jacques Loeb. The Dynamics of Living Matter (New York: Columbia University Press, 1906). Accessible online at 3. Rebecca Lemov. World as Laboratory: Experiments with Mice, Mazes, and Men (New York: Hill and Wang, 2005). 4. The book was published in 1627, one year after Bacon died. 5.

Foundation by Isaac Asimov


new economy, the scientific method, trade route

“To get the information firsthand, of course.” “But wheah’s the necessity? It seems an uncommonly woundabout and hopelessly wigmawolish method of getting anywheahs. Look heah, now, I’ve got the wuhks of all the old mastahs—the gweat ahchaeologists of the past. I wigh them against each othah—balance the disagweements—analyze the conflicting statements—decide which is pwobably cowwect—and come to a conclusion. That is the scientific method. At least”—patronizingly—“as I see it. How insuffewably cwude it would be to go to Ahctuwus, oah to Sol, foah instance, and blundah about, when the old mastahs have covahed the gwound so much moah effectually than we could possibly hope to do.” Hardin murmured politely, “I see.” “Come, milord,” said Pirenne, “I think we had better be returning.” “Ah, yes. P’haps we had.” As they left the room, Hardin said suddenly, “Milord, may I ask a question?”

pages: 239 words: 70,206

Data-Ism: The Revolution Transforming Decision Making, Consumer Behavior, and Almost Everything Else by Steve Lohr


23andMe, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, Albert Einstein, big data - Walmart - Pop Tarts, bioinformatics, business intelligence, call centre, cloud computing, computer age, conceptual framework, Credit Default Swap, crowdsourcing, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, Danny Hillis, data is the new oil, David Brooks, East Village, Edward Snowden, Emanuel Derman, Erik Brynjolfsson, everywhere but in the productivity statistics, Frederick Winslow Taylor, Google Glasses, impulse control, income inequality, indoor plumbing, industrial robot, informal economy, Internet of things, invention of writing, John Markoff, John von Neumann, lifelogging, Mark Zuckerberg, market bubble, meta analysis, meta-analysis, money market fund, natural language processing, obamacare, pattern recognition, payday loans, personalized medicine, precision agriculture, pre–internet, Productivity paradox, RAND corporation, rising living standards, Robert Gordon, Second Machine Age, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, six sigma, skunkworks, speech recognition, statistical model, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, The Design of Experiments, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, unbanked and underbanked, underbanked, Von Neumann architecture, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!

The digital music player, he notes, was a stand-alone electronic device, not continuously connected to the Internet. So the feedback mechanism for information, he recalls, consisted of market surveys, customer support calls, and e-mail complaints. The smart-machine loop, Fadell explains, is dramatically more powerful, informed by immediate data on the product’s performance and users’ preferences. “It’s just like the scientific method, done in real time,” he says. Fadell talks of conducting A/B experiments, as Google and Facebook do, to test what customers like and don’t like. The only difference is that Nest is doing so with a product that bridges the physical and Internet realms. Not far from the Nest building, in his office at the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, Randy Komisar picked up on that same theme. Komisar, like Fadell, has a shaved head, and he has the physique of someone who spends serious time cycling on less traveled roads in Silicon Valley.

pages: 268 words: 75,850

The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems-And Create More by Luke Dormehl


3D printing, algorithmic trading, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, augmented reality, big data - Walmart - Pop Tarts, call centre, Cass Sunstein, Clayton Christensen, commoditize, computer age, death of newspapers, deferred acceptance, Edward Lorenz: Chaos theory, Erik Brynjolfsson, Filter Bubble, Flash crash, Florence Nightingale: pie chart, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane: The New Division of Labor, Google Earth, Google Glasses, High speed trading, Internet Archive, Isaac Newton, Jaron Lanier, Jeff Bezos, job automation, John Markoff, Kevin Kelly, Kodak vs Instagram, lifelogging, Marshall McLuhan, means of production, Nate Silver, natural language processing, Netflix Prize, pattern recognition, price discrimination, recommendation engine, Richard Thaler, Rosa Parks, self-driving car, sentiment analysis, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, Slavoj Žižek, social graph, speech recognition, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, the scientific method, The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, upwardly mobile, Wall-E, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Y Combinator

Pew Research Center and American Life Project, 18 Vaidhyanathan, Siva. The Googlization of Everything (and Why We Should Worry) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011). 19 MacCormick, John. Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future: The Ingenious Ideas That Drive Today’s Computers (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2012). 20 Anderson, Chris. “The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete.” Wired, June 23, 2008. 21 Doctorow, Cary. “How an Algorithm Came Up with Amazon’s ‘Keep Calm and Rape a Lot’ T-Shirt.” BoingBoing, March 2, 2013. 22 “Google Sued over Bettina Wulff Search Results.” BBC, September 10, 2012. 23 “Life Through Google’s Eyes: Do You Fit Your Search Engine Age Profile?”

pages: 258 words: 77,601

Everything Under the Sun: Toward a Brighter Future on a Small Blue Planet by Ian Hanington


agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, Bretton Woods, carbon footprint, clean water, Climategate, Climatic Research Unit, energy security, Enrique Peñalosa, Exxon Valdez, Google Earth, happiness index / gross national happiness, Hedy Lamarr / George Antheil, hydraulic fracturing, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), oil shale / tar sands, stem cell, sustainable-tourism, the scientific method, University of East Anglia, urban planning, urban sprawl

After all, we know that energy conservation and renewable energy will yield immediate effects of a cleaner environment. We don’t know what carbon capture and storage will cost, when it will be commercially viable, or what it will do, other than perhaps give us a way to keep relying on finite and polluting sources of energy. 4. Science Holds a Mirror to Existence AS A SCIENTIST, I find all science and the scientific method fascinating. But it isn’t perfect. Science has probably led to as many destructive and dangerous inventions as useful ones. It won’t save us on its own. After all, science is value neutral; it won’t help us with questions regarding morality or ethics. But science is still one of the best tools we have for analyzing our place in the world and our options for living well. Science is also evolving, with new fields like sustainability science and biomimicry.

pages: 243 words: 66,908

Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Meadows. Donella, Diana Wright


affirmative action, agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, Buckminster Fuller, clean water, Dissolution of the Soviet Union, game design, Gunnar Myrdal, illegal immigration, invisible hand, Just-in-time delivery, means of production, Mikhail Gorbachev, peak oil, race to the bottom, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ronald Reagan, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas L Friedman, Whole Earth Review

Consider all of them to be plausible until you find some evidence that causes you to rule one out. That way you will be emotionally able to see the evidence that rules out an assumption that may become entangled with your own identity. Getting models out into the light of day, making them as rigorous as possible, testing them against the evidence, and being willing to scuttle them if they are no longer supported is nothing more than practicing the scientific method—something that is done too seldom even in science, and is done hardly at all in social science or management or government or everyday life. Honor, Respect, and Distribute Information You’ve seen how information holds systems together and how delayed, biased, scattered, or missing information can make feedback loops malfunction. Decision makers can’t respond to information they don’t have, can’t respond accurately to information that is inaccurate, and can’t respond in a timely way to information that is late.

pages: 302 words: 74,878

A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life by Brian Grazer, Charles Fishman


4chan, Airbnb, Albert Einstein, Apple II, Asperger Syndrome, Bonfire of the Vanities,, game design, Google Chrome, Howard Zinn, Isaac Newton, Jeff Bezos, Kickstarter, Norman Mailer, out of africa, RAND corporation, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, stem cell, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, the scientific method, Tim Cook: Apple

My strongest sense of curiosity is what I call emotional curiosity: I want to understand what makes people tick; I want to see if I can connect a person’s attitude and personality with their work, with their challenges and accomplishments. I met with Jonas Salk, the scientist and physician who cured polio, a man who was a childhood hero of mine. It took me more than a year to get an audience with him. I wasn’t interested in the scientific method Salk used to figure out how to develop the polio vaccine. I wanted to know what it was like to help millions of people avoid a crippling disease that shadowed the childhoods of everyone when I was growing up. And he worked in a different era. He was renowned, admired, successful—but he received no financial windfall. He cured what was then the worst disease afflicting the world, and he never made a dime from that.

pages: 249 words: 66,383

House of Debt: How They (And You) Caused the Great Recession, and How We Can Prevent It From Happening Again by Atif Mian, Amir Sufi


Andrei Shleifer, asset-backed security, balance sheet recession, bank run, banking crisis, Ben Bernanke: helicopter money, break the buck, Carmen Reinhart, collapse of Lehman Brothers, creative destruction, debt deflation, Edward Glaeser,, financial innovation, full employment, high net worth, Home mortgage interest deduction, housing crisis, Joseph Schumpeter, Kenneth Rogoff, liquidity trap, Long Term Capital Management, market bubble, Martin Wolf, money market fund, moral hazard, mortgage debt, negative equity, paradox of thrift, quantitative easing, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, school choice, shareholder value, the payments system, the scientific method, tulip mania, young professional, zero-sum game

* * * The only way we can address—and perhaps even prevent—economic catastrophes is by understanding their causes. During the Great Recession, disagreement on causes overshadowed the facts that policy makers desperately needed to clean up the mess. We must distinguish whether there is something more to the link between household debt and severe recessions or if the alternatives above are true. The best way to test this is the scientific method: let’s take a close look at the data and see which theory is valid. That is the purpose of this book. To pin down exactly how household debt affects the economy, we zero in on the United States during the Great Recession. We have a major advantage over economists who lived through prior recessions thanks to the recent explosion in data availability and computing power. We now have microeconomic data on an abundance of outcomes, including borrowing, spending, house prices, and defaults.

pages: 284 words: 79,265

The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date by Samuel Arbesman


Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Andrew Wiles, bioinformatics, British Empire, Cesare Marchetti: Marchetti’s constant, Chelsea Manning, Clayton Christensen, cognitive bias, cognitive dissonance, conceptual framework, David Brooks, demographic transition, double entry bookkeeping, double helix, Galaxy Zoo, guest worker program, Gödel, Escher, Bach, Ignaz Semmelweis: hand washing, index fund, invention of movable type, Isaac Newton, John Harrison: Longitude, Kevin Kelly, life extension, Marc Andreessen, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Milgram experiment, Nicholas Carr, p-value, Paul Erdős, Pluto: dwarf planet, publication bias, randomized controlled trial, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, social graph, social web, text mining, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation

Shooting stars are sparks shaken from the air. While the ancient philosophers worked to order their world, they were more than a little hit-or-miss. The world was ready for new types of knowledge by the late Middle Ages. As the Middle Ages and its accounting systems gave way to the Renaissance, which in turn laid the foundations for the Scientific Revolution, facts were given a new sort of prominence. As the scientific method was being codified, and our surroundings were subjected to experimental rigor the likes of which the world had never seen, facts were generated and overturned at an ever-increasing pace. Finally, the testable scientific fact had arrived. This is the critical insight of the Scientific Revolution: Science requires an idea to be refutable. It is not good enough for a concept to seem compelling; it must have the potential for a new fact to come along and render it false.

pages: 193 words: 19,478

Memory Machines: The Evolution of Hypertext by Belinda Barnet


augmented reality, Benoit Mandelbrot, Bill Duvall, British Empire, Buckminster Fuller, Claude Shannon: information theory, collateralized debt obligation, computer age, conceptual framework, Douglas Engelbart, Douglas Engelbart, game design, hiring and firing, Howard Rheingold, HyperCard, hypertext link, information retrieval, Internet Archive, John Markoff, linked data, mandelbrot fractal, Marshall McLuhan, Menlo Park, nonsequential writing, Norbert Wiener, publish or perish, Robert Metcalfe, semantic web, Steve Jobs, Stewart Brand, technoutopianism, Ted Nelson, the scientific method, Vannevar Bush, wikimedia commons

There are silver and gold ones, polished and matte, large and small, modern and primitive. Ever the biologist, Eldredge has them arranged in taxonomic relationships of shape, style and date of manufacture. Much of the variety in cornet design is based on the way the pipe is wound. Late in 2002, Eldredge’s curiosity got the better of him. He decided to feed these specimens through the phylogenetic computer program he uses for his trilobites, to apply the ‘scientific method’ to technical evolution 4 Memory Machines for the first time. As usual, he asked the computer to come up with all the possible evolutionary trees and then make a ‘best guess’ based on the existing specimens. The results were astounding. Compared to the phylogenetic diagram for trilobites, the diagram for a technical artefact seemed much more ‘retroactive’: new designs could borrow ideas from the distant past.

pages: 218 words: 65,422

Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth by A. O. Scott


barriers to entry, citizen journalism, conceptual framework, death of newspapers, hive mind, Marshall McLuhan, Ralph Waldo Emerson, sexual politics, sharing economy, social web, the scientific method

I would suggest, rather, that the tiresome theater of contending certainties—of boasting and gotcha-calling and loud accusations of bad faith—is enabled by a relativism that refuses to distinguish between truth claims and assertions of opinion, or between skepticism and invention. We find it so easy to be wrong, and to recover from the shame of error, because we have trouble crediting the real difficulty of being right. The desire for a shortcut—whether in the form of an unshakable worldview or a set of nifty algorithms—feeds the suspicion that every assertion is a scam, and is therefore vulnerable to simple debunking. The essential modesty and rigor of the scientific method is widely and cheaply travestied and willfully misunderstood. The work of scientists consists to some degree of trying, over and over, to prove themselves wrong. A hypothesis is only valid if it has been exposed to repeated attempts at falsification, and once it has it wears the deceptively humble name of theory. The enemies of science take this humility as a warrant for strategically raised eyebrows.

The Intelligent Asset Allocator: How to Build Your Portfolio to Maximize Returns and Minimize Risk by William J. Bernstein


asset allocation, backtesting, capital asset pricing model, commoditize, computer age, correlation coefficient, diversification, diversified portfolio, Eugene Fama: efficient market hypothesis, fixed income, index arbitrage, index fund, intangible asset, Long Term Capital Management, p-value, passive investing, prediction markets, random walk, Richard Thaler, risk tolerance, risk-adjusted returns, risk/return, South Sea Bubble, survivorship bias, the rule of 72, the scientific method, time value of money, transaction costs, Vanguard fund, Yogi Berra, zero-coupon bond

Then again, there is actually a third type of investor—the investment professional, who indeed knows that he or she doesn’t know, but whose livelihood depends upon appearing to know. It seems intuitively obvious that stock selection should be a skill like any other. With enough intelligence, training, experience, and effort, one should be able to beat the market. However, the primary strength of Western culture is its reliance on the scientific method. The short version of which is that any rational belief should be falsifiable—that is to say, testable. Consider baseball hitters. You say that there is such a thing as “hitting skill”? A trivial thing to ask, of course, but still easy to test. The batting analogy is useful because it forces us to think about the statistical nature of skill. Probably the best way to define it is in terms of persistence of performance.

pages: 281 words: 78,317

But What if We're Wrong? Thinking About the Present as if It Were the Past by Chuck Klosterman


a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, British Empire, citizen journalism, cosmological constant, dark matter, Edward Snowden, Elon Musk, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, Frank Gehry, George Santayana, Gerolamo Cardano, ghettoisation, Howard Zinn, Isaac Newton, non-fiction novel, obamacare, pre–internet, Ralph Nader, Ray Kurzweil, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, Stephen Hawking, the medium is the message, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, too big to fail, Y2K

I suspect the human conception of infinity is akin to a dog’s conception of a clock. 34 Greene is not exaggerating: He said he’s had the same argument at least ten times with David Gross, the winner of the Nobel Prize for physics in 2004. “Because we can’t falsify the idea,” Gross writes of the multiverse, “it isn’t science.” In other words, because there’s no way for the multiverse theory to be proven untrue, it can’t be examined through the scientific method. 35 When I first met this guy (his name is Mike Mathog), the only thing I knew about him was how much he hated an absurdist joke I’d made in one of my early books, where I claimed the probability of everything was always 50-50 (“Either something will happen, or something will not”). Mike has since invested a lot of conversational effort into proving I am empirically wrong about this, which means he’s invested a lot of conversational effort into proving I was incorrect about something I never actually believed in the first place.

pages: 266 words: 76,299

Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould

Alfred Russel Wallace, British Empire, correlation coefficient, Drosophila, European colonialism, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, Monroe Doctrine, Paul Samuelson, Scientific racism, sexual politics, the scientific method

Today, just ten years later, my own students would dismiss with even more derision anyone who denied the evident truth of continental drift—a prophetic madman is at least amusing; a superannuated fuddy-duddy is merely pitiful. Why has such a profound change occurred in the short space of a decade? Most scientists maintain—or at least argue for public consumption—that their profession marches toward truth by accumulating more and more data, under the guidance of an infallible procedure called “the scientific method.” If this were true, my question would have an easy answer. The facts, as known ten years ago, spoke against continental drift; since then, we have learned more and revised our opinions accordingly. I will argue, however, that this scenario is both inapplicable in general and utterly inaccurate in this case. During the period of nearly universal rejection, direct evidence for continental drift—that is, the data gathered from rocks exposed on our continents—was every bit as good as it is today.

pages: 667 words: 186,968

The Great Influenza by John M. Barry


Albert Einstein, Brownian motion, centralized clearinghouse, Chance favours the prepared mind, conceptual framework, discovery of penicillin, double helix, Fellow of the Royal Society, germ theory of disease, index card, Louis Pasteur, Marshall McLuhan, Mason jar, means of production, statistical model, the medium is the message, the scientific method, traveling salesman, women in the workforce

It moves more like an amoeba, with soft and ill-defined edges. More importantly, method matters. Kuhn’s own theory recognizes that the propelling force behind the movement from one explanation to another comes from the methodology, from what we call the scientific method. But he takes as an axiom that those who ask questions constantly test existing hypotheses. In fact, with a methodology that probes and tests hypotheses—regardless of any paradigm—progress is inevitable. Without such a methodology, progress becomes merely coincendental. Yet the scientific method has not always been used by those who inquire into nature. Through most of known history, investigators trying to penetrate the natural world, penetrate what we call science, relied upon the mind alone, reason alone. These investigators believed that they could know a thing if their knowledge followed logically from what they considered a sound premise.

pages: 467 words: 503

The omnivore's dilemma: a natural history of four meals by Michael Pollan


additive manufacturing, back-to-the-land, clean water, cognitive dissonance, Community Supported Agriculture, double entry bookkeeping, Gary Taubes, Haber-Bosch Process, index card, informal economy, invention of agriculture, means of production, new economy, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, transaction costs, Upton Sinclair, Whole Earth Catalog

For a book that devotes so many of its pages to the proper making of compost, An Agricultural Testament turns out to be an important work of philosophy as well as of agricultural science. Indeed, Howard's drawing Î 4 6 *THE O M N I V O R E ' S DILEMMA of lines of connection between so many seemingly discrete realms— from soil fertility to "the national health"; from the supreme importance of animal urine to the limitations of the scientific method—is his signal contribution, his method as well as his message. Even though Howard never uses the term organic, it is possible to tease out all the many meanings of the word—as a program for not just agricultural but social renovation—from his writings. To measure the current définition of organic against his genuinely holistic conception is to appreciate just how much it has shrunk. Like many works of social and environmental criticism, An Agricultural Testament is in broad outline the story of a Fall.

Another critical symbiotic relationship links plants to the bacteria in a humus-rich soil that fix atmospheric nitrogen, putting it into a form the plants can use. But providing a buffet of nutrients to plants is not the only thing humus does: It also serves as the glue that binds the minute mineral particles in soil together into airy crumbs and holds water in suspension so that rainfall remains available to plant roots instead of instantly seeping away. To reduce such a vast biological complexity to NPK represented the scientific method at its reductionist worst. Complex qualities are reduced to simple quantities; biology gives way to chemistry. As Howard was not the first to point out, that method can only deal with one or two variables at a time. The problem is that once science has reduced a complex phenomenon to a couple of variables, however important they may be, the natural tendency is to overlook everything else, to as- • 14 7 148* THE O M N I VO R E ' S D I L E M M A sume that what you can measure is all there is, or at least all that really matters.

pages: 1,201 words: 233,519

Coders at Work by Peter Seibel


Ada Lovelace, bioinformatics, cloud computing, Conway's Game of Life, domain-specific language, don't repeat yourself, Donald Knuth, fault tolerance, Fermat's Last Theorem, Firefox, George Gilder, glass ceiling, Guido van Rossum, HyperCard, information retrieval, Larry Wall, loose coupling, Marc Andreessen, Menlo Park, Metcalfe's law, Perl 6, premature optimization, publish or perish, random walk, revision control, Richard Stallman, rolodex, Ruby on Rails, Saturday Night Live, side project, slashdot, speech recognition, the scientific method, Therac-25, Turing complete, Turing machine, Turing test, type inference, Valgrind, web application

What's ten times more productive when one person works ten times the hours and thinks about it nonstop and the other person just does it at his job? Seibel: You just mentioned taking a scientist's approach to debugging. Do you consider yourself a scientist, an engineer, an artist, or a craftsman? Fitzpatrick: Either scientist or engineer. Probably more engineer. I would say scientist was second, but only in the sense of the scientific method of changing one thing at a time and how you diagnose problems. Engineer for the design aspect of things. I definitely have friends who call themselves artists or craftsmen. I've never thought of myself as that. Seibel: On the other hand, there's a lot of engineering envy in software. You hear the jokes about, “If people built skyscrapers the way we build software, the first woodpecker would destroy civilization.”

It's the same kind of thing you use for looking at what all the ways are that something's being used in the system, how it could be affected. And it's a very physical feeling I have about stuff that's also really spatial—how things work together and how things that might be different could be the same and how that would make a better architecture. I remember one of the early talks I had to give about Smalltalk; I said, “What we do in this group is like the scientific method, which is you make an observation, you come up with a theory to explain it, and you perform an experiment to verify it.” And that's very much what we did in the successive generations of Smalltalk. We had a theory for how to make something work. We built a system that worked that way. We used it for a while and we found out, “Oh, it'd be good if we did this and this and this differently,” and we built a new one.

pages: 728 words: 182,850

Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter


3D printing, A Pattern Language, carbon footprint, centre right, Community Supported Agriculture, Computer Numeric Control, crowdsourcing, Donald Knuth, double helix,, European colonialism, fear of failure, food miles, functional fixedness, hacker house, haute cuisine, helicopter parent, Internet Archive, iterative process, Parkinson's law, placebo effect, random walk, Rubik’s Cube, slashdot, stochastic process, the scientific method

My family had always been in the cutlery business, my grandfather, and my father, and all I ever heard was knife talk. When I was a Baby Buck, my father would take me into the pocket-knife factory on Saturday mornings and hand me off to a foreman so he could get some work done, and I’d make knives with a foreman. Did the background in chemistry, combined with your family’s history in knife making, complement each other? To some degree...but it was more of the scientific method and analytical techniques that you learn in a hard science, applying them to manufacturing. I looked at it from a different standpoint than a history major MBA would, or an English major MBA would. Coming from a real science, you take a different approach, an engineering approach. Can you give me an example? Much of the heat treating, the grinding, and the choice of steels was done almost by folklore.

Most people assume that knowing how things should be done is the best way, so they keep struggling within a very small circle, whereas I have a tendency to just try a much wider variety of things that may work and may not work. So when you get stuck on one of these problems even though you’re working in a wider circle, how do you go about getting unstuck? That’s an interesting question. Let me deviate from that slightly and then I’ll come back. Most people are familiar with the scientific method, which is holding everything exactly the same and changing this one thing. This reminds me of people trying to do one side of the Rubik’s Cube. Most of the good methods don’t involve getting any side. That’s the last thing you do. So people get stuck because they don’t want to toss in the towel on the progress they think they’ve made so far. So if you want to make it past one level, you may have to scrap your whole methodology and just start over.

pages: 552 words: 168,518

MacroWikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World by Don Tapscott, Anthony D. Williams


accounting loophole / creative accounting, airport security, Andrew Keen, augmented reality, Ayatollah Khomeini, barriers to entry, bioinformatics, Bretton Woods, business climate, business process, car-free, carbon footprint, citizen journalism, Clayton Christensen, clean water, Climategate, Climatic Research Unit, cloud computing, collaborative editing, collapse of Lehman Brothers, collateralized debt obligation, colonial rule, commoditize, corporate governance, corporate social responsibility, creative destruction, crowdsourcing, death of newspapers, demographic transition, distributed generation, don't be evil,, energy security, energy transition, Exxon Valdez, failed state, fault tolerance, financial innovation, Galaxy Zoo, game design, global village, Google Earth, Hans Rosling, hive mind, Home mortgage interest deduction, interchangeable parts, Internet of things, invention of movable type, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, Jaron Lanier, jimmy wales, Joseph Schumpeter, Julian Assange, Kevin Kelly, knowledge economy, knowledge worker, Marc Andreessen, Marshall McLuhan, mass immigration, medical bankruptcy, megacity, mortgage tax deduction, Netflix Prize, new economy, Nicholas Carr, oil shock, old-boy network, online collectivism, open borders, open economy, pattern recognition, peer-to-peer lending, personalized medicine, Ray Kurzweil, RFID, ride hailing / ride sharing, Ronald Reagan, Rubik’s Cube, scientific mainstream, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Skype, smart grid, smart meter, social graph, social web, software patent, Steve Jobs, text mining, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, transaction costs, transfer pricing, University of East Anglia, urban sprawl, value at risk, WikiLeaks, X Prize, young professional, Zipcar

Quoted in Damian Carrington, Suzanne Goldenberg, Juliette Jowit, Jonathan Watts, Alok Jha, James Randerson, David Smith, David Adam, and Tom Hennigan, “Global deal on climate change in 2010 ‘all but impossible,’” The Guardian (February 2, 2010). 17. Chapter 2 1. Gutenberg was not the first to invent printing. Asian cultures had previously developed printing but it was not as sophisticated or flexible as Gutenberg’s wonder. 2. The ideas of Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton, which defined the scientific method, set the tone for much of what would follow in the century. Bacon and Newton believed that true science called for axiomatic proof to be fused with physical observation in a coherent system of verifiable predictions. For scientific theories and predictions to be verifiable, science needed to be open. 3. The long decline of collaborative scientific work and invention after the triumph of Christendom across the Old Continent broke down historical continuity with classical Greek, Egyptian, Persian, and even Roman science.

One could argue that citizen science has become a genuine social movement, complete with a shared sense of identity, shared goals and accomplishments, and a social fabric that binds them. On top of all that, broad participation in projects like Galaxy Zoo helps boost the public’s general understanding of science, a nice side effect at a time when some degree of scientific literacy is required just to understand, let alone solve, some of our biggest public policy issues. 3. The ideas of Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton, which defined the scientific method, set the tone for much of what would follow in the century. Bacon and Newton believed that true science called for axiomatic proof to be fused with physical observation in a coherent system of verifiable predictions. For scientific theories and predictions to be verifiable, science needed to be open. 4. The average number of authors per scientific paper is up too, increasing steadily over the past sixty years from an average of slightly over 1 to averages of 2.22 in computer science, 2.66 for condensed-matter physics, 3.35 for astrophysics, 3.75 for biomedicine, and 8.96 authors for high-energy physics.

pages: 740 words: 217,139

The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama


Admiral Zheng, agricultural Revolution, Andrei Shleifer, Asian financial crisis, Ayatollah Khomeini, barriers to entry, Berlin Wall, blood diamonds, California gold rush, cognitive dissonance, colonial rule, conceptual framework, correlation does not imply causation, currency manipulation / currency intervention, demographic transition, Deng Xiaoping, double entry bookkeeping, endogenous growth, equal pay for equal work, European colonialism, failed state, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, Francisco Pizarro, Hernando de Soto, hiring and firing, invention of agriculture, invention of the printing press, Khyber Pass, labour market flexibility, land reform, land tenure, means of production, offshore financial centre, out of africa, Peace of Westphalia, principal–agent problem, RAND corporation, rent-seeking, Right to Buy, Scramble for Africa, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), spice trade, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas L Friedman, Thomas Malthus, trade route, transaction costs, Washington Consensus, zero-sum game

MANY MODERNIZATIONS Why didn’t political modernization lead to modernization in the economy and society after the Qin unification? The emergence of a modern state is a necessary condition for intensive economic development, but it is not a sufficient one. Other institutions needed to be in place for capitalism to emerge. The capitalist revolution in the West was preceded by a cognitive revolution in early modern times that created the scientific method, modern universities, technological innovations that produced new wealth from scientific observations, and a system of property rights that incentivized people to innovate in the first place. Qin China was in many ways an intellectually fertile place, but its major scholarly traditions tended to be backward looking and incapable of the abstraction needed by modern natural science. In addition, no independent commercial bourgeoisie had developed in Warring States China.

Property was entailed by myriad rights and duties imposed by agnatic lineages, which up through the Chinese Republic in the twentieth century still recognized the rights of families to restrict the alienation of land.8 It is not clear, moreover, that even the best-specified modern property rights would be sufficient in themselves to raise productivity substantially, or to create the modern capitalist economic world out of a Malthusian society. Before the introduction of other institutions necessary to sustain continuous technological advance (such as the scientific method, universities, human capital, research laboratories, a cultural milieu that encouraged risk and experimentation, and so forth), there were limits to the kinds of productivity gains that good property rights on their own could induce, and thus no assumption that continuous technological advances would occur.9 Thus the economists’ emphasis on modern property rights and contract enforcement under a rule of law may be misplaced in two respects.

pages: 756 words: 228,797

Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller


affirmative action, Albert Einstein, anti-communist, Bolshevik threat, conceptual framework, greed is good, laissez-faire capitalism, Milgram experiment, money market fund, Mont Pelerin Society, New Journalism, open borders, price stability, profit motive, rent control, rolodex, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, the scientific method, theory of mind, Thorstein Veblen, transcontinental railway, upwardly mobile, wage slave, War on Poverty, Works Progress Administration, young professional

She clearly returned his love and admiration. “She spoke about him with more respect than I can recall her ever speaking about anybody,” said a friend who knew Rand in the 1950s. There was one area of conflict between the girl and her father: He opposed her chosen course of study at the university. Without asking her to give up writing, he wanted her to apply her math training and love of the scientific method to a more remunerative occupation, such as engineering. This would have been an unusual profession for an early-twentieth-century Jewish father to urge on any daughter other than Rand, who was to make it Kira’s frustrated calling in We the Living. Having grown up in the Russian Pale, he was more aware than Anna or the children of the crucial role that work and money played in protecting against the onslaughts of anti-Semitism.

But Jean-Paul Sartre and his band of “bad guys” had beaten them to it. They briefly considered “contextual absolutism” and “contextualism” but gave them up for lack of sex appeal. They settled on the only slightly spicier name “Objectivism,” which they intended as an homage to the immutability of objective reality and the competence of perception and reason to grasp and understand it. It also conveyed an urgent emphasis on the scientific method, Rand thought; she had become especially concerned with countering the influence of John Dewey and his followers’ subjectivist theories of education. She was probably unaware that such ideas partly derived from Oliver Wendell Holmes’s eloquent responses to the unintended consequences of the abolitionist movement and the Civil War. Yet she knew that it was Dewey who, in the 1950s, “showed us how to live without truth or any theory of reality [and] made us aware that what we think and believe has no foundation anywhere,” as Norman Podhoretz later put it.

pages: 636 words: 202,284

Piracy : The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates by Adrian Johns


active measures, banking crisis, Berlin Wall, British Empire, Buckminster Fuller, business intelligence, commoditize, Corn Laws, demand response, distributed generation, Douglas Engelbart, Douglas Engelbart, Edmond Halley, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, full employment, Hacker Ethic, Howard Rheingold, informal economy, invention of the printing press, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, Marshall McLuhan, Mont Pelerin Society, new economy, New Journalism, Norbert Wiener, pirate software, Republic of Letters, Richard Stallman, road to serfdom, Ronald Coase, software patent, South Sea Bubble, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, Ted Nelson, the scientific method, traveling salesman, Whole Earth Catalog

He struggled with a series of projects, the remains of which are to be found among his papers today. Each one incorporated sections from its predecessors. In the intellectual progress that they trace, the issue of patenting turns out to have been central. Briefly, he first projected a book to be called Science, directed squarely against the “planning of science” movement. This he pursued for three years, in 1940–43, only to abandon it and move on to another work provisionally called The Scientific Method in Society. This in turn gave way to The Autonomy of Science, which advanced a sweeping threestage view of the history of science extending back centuries. Elements of this then reappeared in what might seem a radically different text, on Economic Planning. Finally, Polanyi turned the book on planning into a volume named Full Employment in Theory and Practice. And this last did appear in print, as Full Employment and Free Trade, in 1945 – constituting the third part of a triptych with Hayek’s Road to Serfdom and Popper’s Open Society.

Like most of them, it affected the technoelitist libertarianism and the language of exploration that had been such a feature of phreaking. It even affected the same lexical tics, in particular the ubiquitous ph. Above all, Legion of Doom hackers and likeminded digerati appropriated wholesale the phreaks’ presumptuous claim – itself descended from interwar radio culture – that as practitioners of the scientific method they should be supported, not restrained. A muchreissued posting of 1986 variously titled “Conscience of a Hacker” or “The Hacker’s Manifesto” declared all this explicitly. It was the work of a Legion of Doom hacker named The Mentor. Hackers were firstly explorers of a telephone system, it claimed – a system that ought to be cheap for all, but had been hijacked by “profiteering gluttons.”

pages: 695 words: 194,693

Money Changes Everything: How Finance Made Civilization Possible by William N. Goetzmann


Albert Einstein, Andrei Shleifer, asset allocation, asset-backed security, banking crisis, Benoit Mandelbrot, Black Swan, Black-Scholes formula, Bretton Woods, Brownian motion, capital asset pricing model, Cass Sunstein, collective bargaining, colonial exploitation, compound rate of return, conceptual framework, corporate governance, Credit Default Swap, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, debt deflation, delayed gratification, Detroit bankruptcy, disintermediation, diversified portfolio, double entry bookkeeping, Edmond Halley,, equity premium, financial independence, financial innovation, financial intermediation, fixed income, frictionless, frictionless market, full employment, high net worth, income inequality, index fund, invention of the steam engine, invention of writing, invisible hand, James Watt: steam engine, joint-stock company, joint-stock limited liability company, laissez-faire capitalism, Louis Bachelier, mandelbrot fractal, market bubble, means of production, money market fund, money: store of value / unit of account / medium of exchange, moral hazard, Myron Scholes, new economy, passive investing, Paul Lévy, Ponzi scheme, price stability, principal–agent problem, profit maximization, profit motive, quantitative trading / quantitative finance, random walk, Richard Thaler, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, shareholder value, short selling, South Sea Bubble, sovereign wealth fund, spice trade, stochastic process, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, time value of money, too big to fail, trade liberalization, trade route, transatlantic slave trade, transatlantic slave trade, tulip mania, wage slave

Certainly, the density of Chinese cities in the Song would have led to creative knowledge spillover of the sort that would stimulate innovation. So Lin demonstrates that chance alone could not explain the difference. A number of brilliant scholars have taken a crack at solving what has become known as “the Needham Puzzle.” Lin explains it by introduction of the scientific method of experimentation in the West, which, in effect served to systematically speed up, organize, and make optimal use of random processes of discovery. In his view, it was the development of the scientific method that made the difference. Another is the sustained success of Chinese civilization itself. The financial solutions described in Part II of this book make it clear that China had successfully solved myriad complex problems involving planning, resource allocation, and risk mitigation. It took its own path to monetization and market developments.

pages: 551 words: 174,280

The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World by David Deutsch


agricultural Revolution, Albert Michelson, anthropic principle, artificial general intelligence, Bonfire of the Vanities, conceptual framework, cosmological principle, dark matter, David Attenborough, discovery of DNA, Douglas Hofstadter, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, first-past-the-post, Georg Cantor, Gödel, Escher, Bach, illegal immigration, invention of movable type, Isaac Newton, Islamic Golden Age, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, John Conway, John von Neumann, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Kenneth Arrow, Loebner Prize, Louis Pasteur, pattern recognition, Pierre-Simon Laplace, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Stephen Hawking, supervolcano, technological singularity, The Coming Technological Singularity, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, Thorstein Veblen, Turing test, Vernor Vinge, Whole Earth Review, William of Occam, zero-sum game

The Enlightenment was at root a philosophical change. The physicist Galileo Galilei was perhaps the first to understand the importance of experimental tests (which he called cimenti, meaning ‘trials by ordeal’) as distinct from other forms of experiment and observation, which can more easily be mistaken for ‘reading from the Book of Nature’. Testability is now generally accepted as the defining characteristic of the scientific method. Popper called it the ‘criterion of demarcation’ between science and non-science. Nevertheless, testability cannot have been the decisive factor in the scientific revolution either. Contrary to what is often said, testable predictions had always been quite common. Every traditional rule of thumb for making a flint blade or a camp fire is testable. Every would-be prophet who claims that the sun will go out next Tuesday has a testable theory.

Rules of thumb have explanations, and those explanations were about high-level regularities among emergent phenomena such as fire and rocks. Long before that, it was only genes that were encoding rules of thumb, and the knowledge in them, too, was about emergent phenomena. Thus emergence is another beginning of infinity: all knowledge-creation depends on, and physically consists of, emergent phenomena. Emergence is also responsible for the fact that discoveries can be made in successive steps, thus providing scope for the scientific method. The partial success of each theory in a sequence of improving theories is tantamount to the existence of a ‘layer’ of phenomena that each theory explains successfully – though, as it then turns out, partly mistakenly. Successive scientific explanations are occasionally dissimilar in the way they explain their predictions, even in the domain where the predictions themselves are similar or identical.

pages: 719 words: 181,090

Site Reliability Engineering by Betsy Beyer, Chris Jones, Jennifer Petoff, Niall Richard Murphy

Air France Flight 447, anti-pattern, barriers to entry, business intelligence, business process, Checklist Manifesto, cloud computing, combinatorial explosion, continuous integration, correlation does not imply causation, crowdsourcing, database schema, defense in depth, DevOps,, fault tolerance, Flash crash, George Santayana, Google Chrome, Google Earth, job automation, job satisfaction, linear programming, load shedding, loose coupling, meta analysis, meta-analysis, minimum viable product, MVC pattern, performance metric, platform as a service, revision control, risk tolerance, side project, six sigma, the scientific method, Toyota Production System, trickle-down economics, web application, zero day

Practical Alerting from Time-Series Data Written by Jamie Wilkinson Edited by Kavita Guliani May the queries flow, and the pager stay silent. Traditional SRE blessing Monitoring, the bottom layer of the Hierarchy of Production Needs, is fundamental to running a stable service. Monitoring enables service owners to make rational decisions about the impact of changes to the service, apply the scientific method to incident response, and of course ensure their reason for existence: to measure the service’s alignment with business goals (see Chapter 6). Regardless of whether or not a service enjoys SRE support, it should be run in a symbiotic relationship with its monitoring. But having been tasked with ultimate responsibility for Google Production, SREs develop a particularly intimate knowledge of the monitoring infrastructure that supports their service.

By having a baseline understanding of how systems work at your company, along with a willingness to dig deep into the debugging tools, RPC boundaries, and logs of your binaries to unearth their flows, SREs will become more efficient at homing in on unexpected problems in unexpected system architectures. Teach your SREs about the diagnostic and debugging surfaces of your applications and have them practice drawing inferences from the information these surfaces reveal, so that such behavior becomes reflexive when dealing with future outages. Statistical and Comparative Thinkers: Stewards of the Scientific Method Under Pressure You can think of an SRE’s approach to incident response for large-scale systems as navigating through a massive decision tree unfolding in front of them. In the limited time window afforded by the demands of incident response, the SRE can take a few actions out of hundreds with the goal of mitigating the outage, either in the short term or the long term. Because time is often of the utmost importance, the SRE has to effectively and efficiently prune this decision tree.

The Art of Scalability: Scalable Web Architecture, Processes, and Organizations for the Modern Enterprise by Martin L. Abbott, Michael T. Fisher

always be closing, anti-pattern, barriers to entry, Bernie Madoff, business climate, business continuity plan, business intelligence, business process, call centre, cloud computing, combinatorial explosion, commoditize, Computer Numeric Control, conceptual framework, database schema, discounted cash flows,, fault tolerance, finite state, friendly fire, hiring and firing, Infrastructure as a Service, inventory management, new economy, packet switching, performance metric, platform as a service, Ponzi scheme, RFC: Request For Comment, risk tolerance, Rubik’s Cube, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, SETI@home, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, six sigma, software as a service, the scientific method, transaction costs, Vilfredo Pareto, web application, Y2K

The approach to scaling must be crafted around the ecosystem created by the intersection of the current technology platform, the characteristics of the organization, and the maturity and appropriateness of the existing processes. Consistent with this use of art, our book focuses on providing skills and lessons regarding approaches rather than improperly teaching that a one-size-fits-all approach will solve any need. This is not to say that we don’t advocate the application of the scientific method in nearly any approach, because we absolutely do. Art here is a nod to the notion that you simply cannot take a cookie cutter approach for any potential system and expect to meet with success. Who Needs Scalability? Any company that continues to grow ultimately will need to figure out how to scale its systems, organizations, and processes. Although we focus on Web-centric systems 3 4 I NTRODUCTION through much of this book, we do so only because the greatest unprecedented growth has been experienced by Internet companies like Google, Yahoo, eBay, Amazon, Facebook, and the like.

. • Attempt to eliminate affinity and state in a multiple life site design. 499 This page intentionally left blank Chapter 33 Putting It All Together The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable. —Sun Tzu We started this book with a discussion of how scalability is a combination of art and science. The art aspect of scaling is seen in the interactions between platforms, organizations, and processes, which impact any structured approach in a company. The science of scalability is embodied within the method by which we measure our efforts and in the application of the scientific method. A particular company’s approach to scaling must be crafted around the ecosystem fashioned by the intersection of the technology platform, the uniqueness of the organization, and the maturity and capabilities of the existing processes. Because a one-size-fits-all implementation or answer does not exist, we have focused this book on providing skills and lessons regarding approaches. It all begins with people.

pages: 578 words: 168,350

Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies by Geoffrey West

Alfred Russel Wallace, Anton Chekhov, Benoit Mandelbrot, Black Swan, British Empire, butterfly effect, carbon footprint, Cesare Marchetti: Marchetti’s constant, clean water, complexity theory, computer age, conceptual framework, continuous integration, corporate social responsibility, correlation does not imply causation, creative destruction, dark matter, Deng Xiaoping, double helix, Edward Glaeser, endogenous growth, Ernest Rutherford, first square of the chessboard, first square of the chessboard / second half of the chessboard, Frank Gehry, Geoffrey West, Santa Fe Institute, Guggenheim Bilbao, housing crisis, Index librorum prohibitorum, invention of agriculture, invention of the telephone, Isaac Newton, Jane Jacobs, Jeff Bezos, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, John von Neumann, Kenneth Arrow, laissez-faire capitalism, life extension, Mahatma Gandhi, mandelbrot fractal, Marchetti’s constant, Masdar, megacity, Murano, Venice glass, Murray Gell-Mann, New Urbanism, Peter Thiel, profit motive, publish or perish, Ray Kurzweil, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Florida, Silicon Valley, smart cities, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Stewart Brand, technological singularity, The Coming Technological Singularity, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the scientific method, too big to fail, transaction costs, urban planning, urban renewal, Vernor Vinge, Vilfredo Pareto, Von Neumann architecture, Whole Earth Catalog, Whole Earth Review, wikimedia commons, working poor

Similarly, relativity together with quantum mechanics spawned atomic and nuclear bombs, which changed the entire dynamic of international politics and continue to hang over all of us as a constant, though often suppressed and sometimes unacknowledged, threat to our very existence. To varying degrees, all theories and models are incomplete. They need to be continually tested and challenged by increasingly accurate experiments and observational data over wider and wider domains and the theory modified or extended accordingly. This is an essential ingredient in the scientific method. Indeed, understanding the boundaries of their applicability, the limits to their predictive power, and the ongoing search for exceptions, violations, and failures has provoked even deeper questions and challenges, stimulating the continued progress of science and the unfolding of new ideas, techniques, and concepts. A major challenge in constructing theories and models is to identify the important quantities that capture the essential dynamics at each organizational level of a system.

The variables we choose to focus on and measure in order to obtain data are not arbitrary—they are guided by previous success and failure within the context of an evolving conceptual framework. Doing science is much more than a fishing expedition. With the advent of big data this classic view is being challenged. In a highly provocative article published in Wired magazine in 2008 titled “The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete,” its then editor, Chris Anderson, wrote: The new availability of huge amounts of data, along with the statistical tools to crunch these numbers, offers a whole new way of understanding the world. Correlation supersedes causation, and science can advance even without coherent models, unified theories, or really any mechanistic explanation at all . . . faced with massive data, this approach to science—hypothesize, model, test—is becoming obsolete. . . .

pages: 286 words: 90,530

Richard Dawkins: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think by Alan Grafen; Mark Ridley


Alfred Russel Wallace, Arthur Eddington, bioinformatics, cognitive bias, computer age, conceptual framework, Dava Sobel, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, epigenetics, Fellow of the Royal Society, Haight Ashbury, interchangeable parts, Isaac Newton, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, John von Neumann, loose coupling, Murray Gell-Mann, Necker cube, phenotype, profit maximization, Ronald Reagan, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, theory of mind, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Yogi Berra, zero-sum game

I have been very pleased to be associated with him in writing letters and articles opposing the reported teaching of creationism in at least one new school. Like him I believe that science has a proper integrity which needs to be fought for and preserved. This means that letting evidence decide, allowing evidence to modify or refute even one’s most cherished notion, is fundamental; as is the scientific method of rigorous testing of hypotheses by experiment. I also have other reasons for being antagonistic to creationism. It involves an unhistorical, uncritical approach to the biblical texts. It misunderstands what those texts set out to do and as a result they belittle God and bring Christianity into disrepute. Richard’s reputation as a gifted communicator of science is allied to that of a fierce polemicist against religion.

pages: 316 words: 105,384

Moneyball by Michael Lewis


Cass Sunstein, high batting average, Norman Mailer, old-boy network, placebo effect, RAND corporation, Richard Thaler, systematic trading, the new new thing, the scientific method, upwardly mobile

Many of the players drafted or acquired by the Oakland A’s had been the victims of an unthinking prejudice rooted in baseball’s traditions. The research and development department in the Oakland front office liberated them from this prejudice, and allowed them to demonstrate their true worth. A baseball team, of all things, was at the center of a story about the possibilities—and the limits—of reason in human affairs. Baseball—of all things—was an example of how an unscientific culture responds, or fails to respond, to the scientific method. As I say, I fell in love with a story. The story is about professional baseball and the people who play it. At its center is a man whose life was turned upside down by professional baseball, and who, miraculously, found a way to return the favor. In an effort to learn more about that man, and the revolution he was inspiring, I spent a few days with J. P. Ricciardi, the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays.

pages: 398 words: 107,788

Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking by E. Gabriella Coleman


Benjamin Mako Hill, commoditize, crowdsourcing, Debian, Donald Knuth, dumpster diving,, financial independence, ghettoisation, Hacker Ethic, informal economy, Jacob Appelbaum, Jaron Lanier, Jason Scott:, Jean Tirole, knowledge economy, laissez-faire capitalism, Larry Wall, Louis Pasteur, means of production, Paul Graham, peer-to-peer, pirate software, popular electronics, RFC: Request For Comment, Richard Stallman, rolodex, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, slashdot, software patent, software studies, Steve Ballmer, Steven Levy, Ted Nelson, the scientific method, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, web application, web of trust

Early in their relationship with this technology, most hackers developed a strong pragmatic and utilitarian commitment to free software. But the underlying philosophy underwent change as more developers started to attach and make their own meanings. Access to source code and the model of open development represented by Linux, they said, was a superior technical methodology. Many likened it to the scientific method as an ideal. They saw it as under assault, corrupted by abuse of intellectual property law by corporations and, worse, universities that had started to patent inventions liberally in the 1980s. Others emphasized the pedagogical freedom that F/OSS provided them. “I realized,” a developer named Wolfgang wrote me over email, “that I could delve through that code and learn things that I could never learn from a high school teacher.

pages: 372 words: 101,174

How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed by Ray Kurzweil


Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, anesthesia awareness, anthropic principle, brain emulation, cellular automata, Claude Shannon: information theory, cloud computing, computer age, Dean Kamen, discovery of DNA, double helix,, epigenetics, George Gilder, Google Earth, Isaac Newton, iterative process, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, John von Neumann, Law of Accelerating Returns, linear programming, Loebner Prize, mandelbrot fractal, Norbert Wiener, optical character recognition, pattern recognition, Peter Thiel, Ralph Waldo Emerson, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, reversible computing, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), self-driving car, speech recognition, Steven Pinker, strong AI, the scientific method, theory of mind, Turing complete, Turing machine, Turing test, Wall-E, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, X Prize

Because it contains a model of its own thinking, is Watson therefore conscious whereas the baby and the dog are not? Before we proceed to parse this question further, it is important to reflect on the most significant distinction relating to it: What is it that we can ascertain from science, versus what remains truly a matter of philosophy? One view is that philosophy is a kind of halfway house for questions that have not yet yielded to the scientific method. According to this perspective, once science advances sufficiently to resolve a particular set of questions, philosophers can then move on to other concerns, until such time that science resolves them also. This view is endemic where the issue of consciousness is concerned, and specifically the question “What and who is conscious?” Consider these statements by philosopher John Searle: “We know that brains cause consciousness with specific biological mechanisms….

pages: 377 words: 97,144

Singularity Rising: Surviving and Thriving in a Smarter, Richer, and More Dangerous World by James D. Miller


23andMe, affirmative action, Albert Einstein, artificial general intelligence, Asperger Syndrome, barriers to entry, brain emulation, cloud computing, cognitive bias, correlation does not imply causation, crowdsourcing, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, David Brooks, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, Deng Xiaoping,, feminist movement, Flynn Effect, friendly AI, hive mind, impulse control, indoor plumbing, invention of agriculture, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, knowledge worker, Long Term Capital Management, low skilled workers, Netflix Prize, neurotypical, pattern recognition, Peter Thiel, phenotype, placebo effect, prisoner's dilemma, profit maximization, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, reversible computing, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, Silicon Valley, Singularitarianism, Skype, statistical model, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, supervolcano, technological singularity, The Coming Technological Singularity, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, transaction costs, Turing test, Vernor Vinge, Von Neumann architecture

., if we didn’t end up with a billion people insisting that everyone be Christian and another billion insisting that we all be Muslim). But I think that much of our religious disagreement results from irrationalities and incomplete information. For example, while Christians in the seventeenth century disagreed over whether Earth was at the center of the universe, telescopes, better math, and an improved understanding of the scientific method eventually resolved the conflict. Dilbert creator Scott Adams insightfully wrote that most disagreements have four basic causes:104 1.People have different information. 2.People have different selfish interests. 3.People have different superstitions. 4.People have different skills for comparing. As the ultra-intelligence using extrapolation would shape society based on its extrapolation of what people’s preferences would be if they were rational, (1), (3), and (4) would go away.

pages: 315 words: 93,628

Is God a Mathematician? by Mario Livio


Albert Einstein, Antoine Gombaud: Chevalier de Méré, Brownian motion, cellular automata, correlation coefficient, correlation does not imply causation, cosmological constant, Dava Sobel, double helix, Edmond Halley, Eratosthenes, Georg Cantor, Gerolamo Cardano, Gödel, Escher, Bach, Henri Poincaré, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, music of the spheres, Myron Scholes, probability theory / Blaise Pascal / Pierre de Fermat, Russell's paradox, The Design of Experiments, the scientific method, traveling salesman

Remarkably, Hamming concluded his article with an admission that “all of the explanations I have given when added together simply are not enough to explain what I set out to account for” (namely, the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics). So, should we close by conceding that the effectiveness of mathematics remains as mysterious as it was when we started? Before giving up, let us try to distill the essence of Wigner’s puzzle by examining what is known as the scientific method. Scientists first learn facts about nature through a series of experiments and observations. Those facts are initially used to develop some sort of qualitative models of the phenomena (e.g., the Earth attracts apples; colliding subatomic particles can produce other particles; the universe is expanding; and so on). In many branches of science even the emerging theories may remain nonmathematical.

pages: 355 words: 106,952

Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World's Most Polluted Places by Andrew Blackwell


carbon footprint, clean water, Google Earth, gravity well, liberation theology, nuclear paranoia, oil rush, oil shale / tar sands, place-making, ride hailing / ride sharing, sensible shoes, Silicon Valley, special economic zone, the scientific method, young professional

Kelsey, who had done her Berkeley thesis on marine debris, piped up before I did, pointing out that it was consistency that mattered, not a higher number per se. Nikki made an impassioned counterargument, centered on what a rare opportunity it was to be here in the Gyre. Then Art and Henry joined in, and Kaniela, and in this way, aboard the brigantine Kaisei, near latitude 34°36′ North and longitude 143°21′ West, at approximately 1930 hours, the scientific method was reinvented from the waterline up. Had there only been a high school science class present, it would have been one of the purest, most spontaneous moments of experiential education ever to unfold. Empiric consistency won the day. The two-member debris watch was reratified, and the scientific community resumed its celebrations. By dark, we were sitting on the storage lockers on what Kaniela called the “poop deck,” where we debated the etymology of the term, and whether this actually was one, and whether a non-poop deck could be converted into a poop deck by way of pooping, and so on.

pages: 346 words: 102,625

Early Retirement Extreme by Jacob Lund Fisker


8-hour work day, active transport: walking or cycling, barriers to entry, clean water, Community Supported Agriculture, delayed gratification, discounted cash flows, diversification, don't be evil, dumpster diving, financial independence, game design, index fund, invention of the steam engine, inventory management, loose coupling, market bubble, McMansion, passive income, peak oil, place-making, Ponzi scheme, psychological pricing, the scientific method, time value of money, transaction costs, wage slave, working poor

Perhaps now more than ever there's a need for people who understand and are able to connect different interdisciplinary topics, lest we end up in a Tower of Babel situation where specialists and experts no longer understand each other. The ability to connect disparate fields or items in complex ways and reach new creative solutions creates paradigm shifts. It was the universal ideal that led to the discovery of the scientific method, the rediscovery of democracy, and the settling of a new continent, all of which created the world we see today (see Succession and the cycle of change). It's also the universal ideal that spurs the occasional renegade to discover something completely different like the general theory of relativity, string theory, or chaos theory. Conversely, the present methodical, milestone-governed specialist approach is largely a mopping-up operation which leads to increasing levels of detail but no new ways of understanding things.

pages: 362 words: 104,308

Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson


bioinformatics, business intelligence, double helix, experimental subject, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), phenotype, prisoner's dilemma, Ronald Reagan, stem cell, the scientific method, zero-sum game

The applicant seems to have been too busy with the broader impacts component to fully acquaint himself with the literature. Besides which, it won’t work.” People laughed shortly at this extra measure of disdain, which was palpable, and to those who didn’t know Thornton, a little surprising. But Frank had seen Stuart Thornton on panels before. He was the kind of scientist who habitually displayed an ultrapure devotion to the scientific method, in the form of a relentless skepticism about everything. No study was designed tightly enough, no data were clean enough. To Frank it seemed obvious that it was really a kind of insecurity, part of the gestural set of a beta male convincing the group he was tough enough to be an alpha male, and maybe already was. The problem with these gestures was that in science one’s intellectual power was like the muscle mass of an Australopithecus—there for all to see.

pages: 329 words: 103,159

People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil by M Scott Peck


Milgram experiment, profit motive, school choice, the scientific method

When human beings at an exorcism are speaking in the language of love, it does not comprehend what they are saying. And when they are behaving with love, Satan is completely ignorant of the ground rules Interestingly, particularly in view of the purpose of this book, Satan also does not understand science. Science is an anti-narcissistic phenomenon. It assumes a profound human tendency to self-deception, employs the scientific method to counteract it, and holds truth higher than any personal desire. Deceiver of itself as of others, Satan cannot understand why any beings would not want to deceive themselves. Enamored with its own will and hater of the light of truth, it basically finds human science incomprehensible. Satan’s weaknesses should not encourage us to overlook its strength. It propounds its lies with extraordinary power.

pages: 342 words: 94,762

Wait: The Art and Science of Delay by Frank Partnoy


algorithmic trading, Atul Gawande, Bernie Madoff, Black Swan, blood diamonds, Cass Sunstein, Checklist Manifesto, cognitive bias, collapse of Lehman Brothers, collateralized debt obligation, computerized trading, corporate governance, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, delayed gratification, Flash crash, Frederick Winslow Taylor, George Akerlof, Google Earth, Hernando de Soto, High speed trading, impulse control, income inequality, information asymmetry, Isaac Newton, Long Term Capital Management, Menlo Park, mental accounting, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Nick Leeson, paper trading, Paul Graham, payday loans, Ralph Nader, Richard Thaler, risk tolerance, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Ronald Reagan, Saturday Night Live, six sigma, Spread Networks laid a new fibre optics cable between New York and Chicago, statistical model, Steve Jobs, The Market for Lemons, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, upwardly mobile, Walter Mischel

Although John Gottman claims that his models for predicting which newlywed couples will remain married is 80 to 95 percent accurate, some commentators have disputed Gottman’s predictive power. According to journalist Laurie Abraham, “What Gottman did wasn’t really a prediction of the future but a formula built after the couples’ outcomes were already known. This isn’t to say that developing such formulas isn’t a valuable—indeed, a critical—first step in being able to make a prediction. The next step, however—one absolutely required by the scientific method—is to apply your equation to a fresh sample to see whether it actually works. That is especially necessary with small data slices (such as 57 couples), because patterns that appear important are more likely to be mere flukes. But Gottman never did that.” Laurie Abraham, “Can You Really Predict the Success of a Marriage in 15 Minutes?” Slate, March 8, 2010. The Gottmans dispute this claim and say that their model is predictive.

pages: 370 words: 105,085

Joel on Software by Joel Spolsky


barriers to entry,, commoditize, George Gilder, index card, Jeff Bezos, knowledge worker, Metcalfe's law, Network effects, new economy, PageRank, Paul Graham, profit motive, Robert X Cringely, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, six sigma, slashdot, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, the scientific method, thinkpad, VA Linux, web application

I looked at everything he said through rose-colored glasses. I wound up saying Hire even though he was a crappy candidate. You know what? Everybody else who interviewed him said No Hire. So, don't listen to recruiters, don't ask around about the person before you interview them, and never, ever talk to the other interviewers about the candidate until you've both made your decisions independently. That's the scientific method. 1. Introduction The introduction phase of the interview is intended to put the candidates at ease. I ask them if they had a nice flight. I spend about 30 seconds telling them who I am and how the interview will work. I always reassure candidates that we are interested in how they go about solving problems, not the actual answer. 2. Recent Project Question Next I ask a question about some recent project the candidate worked on.

pages: 318 words: 92,257

Floating City: A Rogue Sociologist Lost and Found in New York's Underground Economy by Sudhir Venkatesh


creative destruction, East Village, illegal immigration, side project, Silicon Valley, the scientific method, urban renewal, working poor

I spent as much time with White and Bearman as I could, learning as much as I could about their approach. At the same time, I knew I was hired because my research spoke to social issues like race, inequality, and the fate of our cities, subjects that fell squarely into Columbia’s legacy of encouraging the public intellectual tradition. In this regard, I had already been schooled by working with Professor William Julius Wilson in Chicago. As my graduate adviser, Wilson always insisted that the scientific method alone was incapable of swaying the opinion of policy makers or the public. You also had to write well. You had to tell a story. Wilson would do it with epochal books like The Declining Significance of Race and The Truly Disadvantaged, in which his vivid and passionate writing reached beyond the academic community and changed the way his generation looked at poverty. I wanted to reach out to a larger audience too, to touch hearts and minds of people who were riding the train to work as well as those sitting in offices making public policy.

pages: 335 words: 107,779

Some Remarks by Neal Stephenson


airport security, augmented reality, barriers to entry, British Empire, cable laying ship, call centre, cellular automata, edge city, Eratosthenes, Fellow of the Royal Society, Hacker Ethic, impulse control, Iridium satellite, Isaac Newton, Jaron Lanier, John von Neumann, Just-in-time delivery, Kevin Kelly, music of the spheres, Norbert Wiener, offshore financial centre, oil shock, packet switching, pirate software, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Saturday Night Live, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Skype, slashdot, social web, Socratic dialogue, South China Sea, special economic zone, Stephen Hawking, the scientific method, trade route, Turing machine, uranium enrichment, Vernor Vinge, X Prize

After a certain amount of time had passed, he retrieved the irradiated seeds and brought them to the next meeting of our Scout troop and distributed them to the boys. I distinctly remember looking at the kernels in the palm of my hand and noting that they had been washed with paint or ink of two or three different colors, and, though the color code was not explained to us (not, at least, before the expiration of my attention span), I caught the spoor of the Scientific Method, and guessed that different batches had been exposed to greater or lesser amounts of radiation. In any case, we were directed to take these seeds home and plant them and water them. In a few weeks’ time, we would bring the results to a meeting where two prizes would be handed out: one for the tallest, healthiest corn plant, the other for the weirdest mutation. And indeed we ended up with both: proud stalks that would do any Iowa farmer proud, and plants, in many cases quite beautiful, that were scarcely recognizable as belonging to the relevant taxonomic phylum.

pages: 361 words: 105,938

The Map That Changed the World by Simon Winchester


British Empire, Isaac Newton, James Hargreaves, James Watt: steam engine, mortgage debt, spinning jenny, the market place, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, trade route, traveling salesman

To no small degree it was to be William Smith’s geological findings, along with a raft of other discoveries, that were to change things. His findings were to prove vitally important in triggering the collision that was eventually to take place between the religious beliefs that were in the ascendant at the time and the scientific reasoning that would provide the spur for the intellectual activities of a century later. Science was the key—along with the scientific method, with all its underpinnings of observation, deduction, and rational thought. The consequence, once the theories of Charles Darwin in particular had begun to sink in, was a profound modification of the way in which people thought of nature, of society, and of themselves. Which makes it all the more appropriate, given the impact his ideas would have, that it was into a time of suddenly accelerating scientific achievement and technological application that William Smith was born.

pages: 353 words: 91,520

Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era by Tony Wagner, Ted Dintersmith


affirmative action, Airbnb, Albert Einstein, Bernie Sanders, Clayton Christensen, creative destruction, David Brooks,, Frederick Winslow Taylor, future of work, immigration reform, income inequality, index card, Jeff Bezos, jimmy wales, Khan Academy, Kickstarter, knowledge economy, knowledge worker, low skilled workers, Lyft, Mark Zuckerberg, means of production, new economy, pattern recognition, Paul Graham, Peter Thiel, Ponzi scheme, pre–internet, school choice, Silicon Valley, Skype, Steven Pinker, TaskRabbit, the scientific method, unpaid internship, Y Combinator

They study what’s tested by the College Board’s AP exams and what’s valued in the college admissions process. But looks can be deceiving. Students learn very little, if anything, about important recent discoveries, or even neglect entire sciences, such as ecology, which have more importance for our future survival as a species than any of the required sciences. Secondly, students aren’t learning what should be at the heart of science classes: how to think like a scientist and apply the scientific method. * * * William Wallace has a PhD in Biochemistry and ran his own lab in neuroscience research for twelve years. When he came to teach at Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC, he had taught AP biology for fourteen years, but he was very disappointed by how little real science students were learning. So he was encouraged by the school to create his own course, which requires students to develop a hypothesis, conduct an experiment, and analyze the results.

pages: 274 words: 93,758

Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception by George A. Akerlof, Robert J. Shiller, Stanley B Resor Professor Of Economics Robert J Shiller


Andrei Shleifer, asset-backed security, Bernie Madoff, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, collapse of Lehman Brothers, corporate raider, Credit Default Swap, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, dark matter, David Brooks,, endowment effect, equity premium, financial intermediation, financial thriller, fixed income, full employment, George Akerlof, greed is good, income per capita, invisible hand, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, Kenneth Arrow, Kenneth Rogoff, late fees, loss aversion, Menlo Park, mental accounting, Milgram experiment, money market fund, moral hazard, new economy, Pareto efficiency, Paul Samuelson, payday loans, Ponzi scheme, profit motive, publication bias, Ralph Nader, randomized controlled trial, Richard Thaler, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, the new new thing, The Predators' Ball, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, theory of mind, Thorstein Veblen, too big to fail, transaction costs, Unsafe at Any Speed, Upton Sinclair, Vanguard fund, Vilfredo Pareto, wage slave

Now we turn to phishing in Pharma for getting drugs prescribed: first, in obtaining FDA approval; and, afterward, in marketing them. We will 90 Akerlof.indb 90 CHAPTER SIX 6/19/15 10:24 AM comment on both of these, reflecting on the lessons from Vioxx. An appendix to this chapter will describe how Big Pharma also phishes for the prices they receive. Obtaining FDA Approval The public and the doctors, and possibly also the FDA, were taken by surprise largely because of their overconfidence in the “scientific method” of randomized trials. Just as Radam sold Microbe Killer on the basis of the science of the late nineteenth century, Vioxx was sold with the confidence that it represented the best from modern science, with checks on its validity by trials such as VIGOR. But an important concept in statistics shows why randomized controlled testing will often fail, and especially why it failed with VIGOR.

pages: 317 words: 100,414

Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction by Philip Tetlock, Dan Gardner


Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, availability heuristic, Black Swan, butterfly effect, cloud computing, cuban missile crisis, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, desegregation, drone strike, Edward Lorenz: Chaos theory, forward guidance, Freestyle chess, fundamental attribution error, germ theory of disease, hindsight bias, index fund, Jane Jacobs, Jeff Bezos, Kenneth Arrow, Mikhail Gorbachev, Mohammed Bouazizi, Nash equilibrium, Nate Silver, obamacare, pattern recognition, performance metric, Pierre-Simon Laplace, place-making, placebo effect, prediction markets, quantitative easing, random walk, randomized controlled trial, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Thaler, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Ronald Reagan, Saturday Night Live, Silicon Valley, Skype, statistical model, stem cell, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, the scientific method, The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Bayes, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!

In 1976 I was a clueless twenty-two-year-old Canadian who, like countless others, was about to make choices that would shape the rest of my life. I had just graduated from the University of British Columbia. I thought I might accept a Commonwealth scholarship to study the humanities at Oxford. My adviser, Peter Suedfeld, thought that was a terrible idea. Go to the United States and commit to the scientific method, he said. I took his advice, but only hesitantly. My decision could have gone the other way. And if I had left for Oxford and a career in the humanities, I can easily guess what I would have said about the research outlined in this book, and the next steps it will take. Numbers are fine and useful things, I would say in that alternate universe, but we must be careful not to be smitten with them.

pages: 345 words: 105,722

The Hacker Crackdown by Bruce Sterling


Apple II, back-to-the-land, game design, ghettoisation, Haight Ashbury, Howard Rheingold, HyperCard, index card, informal economy, Jaron Lanier, pirate software, Plutocrats, plutocrats, Silicon Valley, Steve Wozniak, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, the scientific method, Whole Earth Catalog, Whole Earth Review

Especially when he's publishing, in the very same issue, detailed schematic diagrams for creating various switching-network signalling tones unavailable to the public. "See what happens when you drop a 'silver box' tone or two down your local exchange or through different long distance service carriers," advises 2600 contributor "Mr. Upsetter" in "How To Build a Signal Box." "If you experiment systematically and keep good records, you will surely discover something interesting." This is, of course, the scientific method, generally regarded as a praiseworthy activity and one of the flowers of modern civilization. One can indeed learn a great deal with this sort of structured intellectual activity. Telco employees regard this mode of "exploration" as akin to flinging sticks of dynamite into their pond to see what lives on the bottom. 2600 has been published consistently since 1984. It has also run a bulletin board computer system, printed 2600 T-shirts, taken fax calls....

pages: 377 words: 110,427

The Boy Who Could Change the World: The Writings of Aaron Swartz by Aaron Swartz, Lawrence Lessig


affirmative action, Alfred Russel Wallace, American Legislative Exchange Council, Benjamin Mako Hill, bitcoin, Bonfire of the Vanities, Brewster Kahle, Cass Sunstein, deliberate practice, Donald Knuth, Donald Trump, failed state, fear of failure, Firefox, full employment, Howard Zinn, index card, invisible hand, John Gruber, Lean Startup, More Guns, Less Crime, peer-to-peer, post scarcity, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Richard Stallman, Ronald Reagan, school vouchers, semantic web, single-payer health, SpamAssassin, SPARQL, telemarketer, The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, the scientific method, Toyota Production System, unbiased observer, wage slave, Washington Consensus, web application, WikiLeaks, working poor, zero-sum game

Instead, math is really about the study of patterns and the development of theories. Math is a whole world of abstract beauty, full of puzzles to test your mind. Science is not the memorization of uninteresting facts, as 12 years of science classes may lead you to believe. Science is merely a process of asking questions and searching answers, along with the combined knowledge accumulated from this search. The process is called the scientific method, and the best science teacher I ever had simply explained it to us and let us explore the world. Her room was filled with toys and puzzles to solve, and things to experiment with. She would often warn us of teachers she once had who had few hands-on activities and simply asked us to read through a textbook. Little did I know that these would be the science teachers I would have for the rest of my time at school.

pages: 422 words: 89,770

Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges


1960s counterculture, Albert Einstein, Berlin Wall, call centre, clean water, collective bargaining, Columbine, corporate governance, deindustrialization, desegregation, Donald Trump, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Henry Ford's grandson gave labor union leader Walter Reuther a tour of the company’s new, automated factory…, hive mind, housing crisis, Howard Zinn, illegal immigration, Jane Jacobs, Jaron Lanier, Lao Tzu, Pearl River Delta, post scarcity, profit motive, Ralph Nader, Ronald Reagan, strikebreaker, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, Tobin tax, union organizing, Unsafe at Any Speed, Upton Sinclair, WikiLeaks, working poor, Works Progress Administration

But when we construct a sentence that begins with the words Science says, we have created a humanoid fiction, named it Science, and begun to trust it in the way we once trusted God. Once capitalized, both words are linguistic idols. Preachers and lay people may say, “In a church, through rituals and traditions, black-robed priests proclaim the revelations of God, helping us learn the beliefs and wisdom that can lead to our salvation.” Scientists and many lay people say, “In a laboratory, under controlled conditions, following the rituals of the scientific method, white-robed scientists proclaim the new theories and discoveries of Science, helping us to gain the understanding and the knowledge that can lead us both toward a good life, and Progress.” During the twentieth century, the churches lost even more of their fundamental contributions. Psychologists took over the role of hearing confessions and forgiving sins—for both the laity and the ministers.

pages: 379 words: 108,129

An Optimist's Tour of the Future by Mark Stevenson


23andMe, Albert Einstein, Andy Kessler, augmented reality, bank run, carbon footprint, carbon-based life, clean water, computer age, decarbonisation, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, Elon Musk, flex fuel, Gödel, Escher, Bach, Hans Rosling, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Internet of things, invention of agriculture, Isaac Newton, Jeff Bezos, Kevin Kelly, Law of Accelerating Returns, Leonard Kleinrock, life extension, Louis Pasteur, mutually assured destruction, Naomi Klein, off grid, packet switching, peak oil, pre–internet, Ray Kurzweil, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Rodney Brooks, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, smart cities, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, strong AI, the scientific method, Wall-E, X Prize

Despite the opportunity to escape his fate, the philosopher placidly took the poison hemlock, prepared by the authorities. Francis Bacon, many believe, died as a result of trying to freeze a chicken. It might seem odd, therefore, that both are seen as key figures in the history of reason. But both Socrates and Bacon were very good at asking useful questions. In fact, Socrates is largely credited with coming up with a way of asking questions, ‘the Socratic method,’ which itself is at the core of the ‘scientific method,’ popularised by Bacon during the Enlightenment – a period of European history when ‘evidence’ and ‘faith’ had an almighty bun fight and the balance of power between church, state and citizen was questioned as philosophers and scientists challenged the prevailing orthodoxy of religious authority. The Socratic method disproves arguments by finding exceptions to them, and can therefore lead your opponent to a point where they admit something that contradicts their original position.

pages: 351 words: 100,791

The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction by Matthew B. Crawford


airport security, Cass Sunstein, choice architecture, collateralized debt obligation, creative destruction, David Brooks, delayed gratification, dematerialisation, deskilling, digital Maoism, Google Glasses, hive mind, index card, informal economy, Jaron Lanier, large denomination, new economy, new new economy, Norman Mailer, online collectivism, Plutocrats, plutocrats, Richard Thaler, Rodney Brooks, self-driving car, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley ideology, the built environment, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, Walter Mischel, winner-take-all economy

He draws a parallel between science and craft that I take to be stronger than a mere analogy—rather, they are two expressions of the same mode of apprehending the world: by grappling with real things. Writing after the war, he pointed out: While the articulate contents of science are successfully taught all over the world in hundreds of new universities, the unspecifiable art of scientific research has not yet penetrated to many of these. The regions of Europe in which the scientific method first originated 400 years ago are scientifically still more fruitful today [1958], in spite of their impoverishment, than several overseas areas where much more money is available for scientific research. Without the opportunity offered to young scientists to serve an apprenticeship in Europe, and without the migration of European scientists to the new countries, research centres overseas could hardly ever have made much headway.9 LIBERAL EDUCATION AS APPRENTICESHIP It would be a gross misreading to take this as an expression of “Eurocentrism.”

pages: 295 words: 89,280

The Narcissist Next Door by Jeffrey Kluger


Albert Einstein, always be closing, Apple's 1984 Super Bowl advert, Bernie Madoff, Columbine, delayed gratification, Donald Trump, Elon Musk, impulse control, Jony Ive, meta analysis, meta-analysis, Plutocrats, plutocrats, Ponzi scheme, QWERTY keyboard, Ralph Nader, Ronald Reagan, Schrödinger's Cat, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, the scientific method, theory of mind, Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Walter Mischel, zero-sum game

Even the slightest blow would have to hurt a lot more on a completely hairless scalp, right? The idea intrigued me, and the only way to test it was to run the experiment. I had an available subject, and looking around, I realized that I had the necessary equipment: the toy boat lying on the floor within easy reach. The whole thing was really nothing more than a rudimentary exercise of the scientific method—not a bad concept for someone so young to stumble across, even if I was about to execute it in a decidedly criminal way. I picked up the boat, hefted it once and found it suitable, then raised it above my head and advanced wordlessly on the unsuspecting man. He had been looking away, but finally he turned his attention toward me and realized what I was up to. “Uh, uh, uh,” he scolded.

Comedy Writing Secrets by Mel Helitzer, Mark Shatz


Albert Einstein, Donald Trump, elephant in my pajamas, fear of failure, index card, Ronald Reagan, Saturday Night Live, the scientific method, Yogi Berra

Other group activities with a humorous spin include: • developing a class Web page with students' jokes, tongue twisters, riddles, funny anecdotes, and nonsense poems and songs • drawing an event or theory as a comic strip, comic book, or group mural • holding mock trials for notorious historical figures • acting out the functions of different body parts • creating a POW bulletin board or scrapbook with homonyms, euphemisms, double entendres, and Tom Swifties Even junk food can lend itself to the educational process: The T.WI.N.K.I.E.S. Project ( teaches the scientific method via experiments with Twinkies. The experiments consist mostly of abusing Twinkies in extreme situations (dropping them from a skyscraper, bombarding them with radiation). Written in F u n Creative writing exercises allow for more opportunities to introduce humor into the classroom and can make a mundane assignment fresh and fun. For example, students who are asked to create humorous—yet factually accurate—news headlines for past scientific discoveries will not only learn to appreciate a subject in a new way but also hone their critical-thinking (and headline-writing) skills.

pages: 324 words: 92,805

The Impulse Society: America in the Age of Instant Gratification by Paul Roberts


2013 Report for America's Infrastructure - American Society of Civil Engineers - 19 March 2013, 3D printing, accounting loophole / creative accounting, activist fund / activist shareholder / activist investor, Affordable Care Act / Obamacare, American Society of Civil Engineers: Report Card, asset allocation, business process, Cass Sunstein, centre right, choice architecture, collateralized debt obligation, collective bargaining, computerized trading, corporate governance, corporate raider, corporate social responsibility, creative destruction, crony capitalism, David Brooks, delayed gratification, double helix, factory automation, financial deregulation, financial innovation, fixed income, full employment, game design, greed is good, If something cannot go on forever, it will stop - Herbert Stein's Law, impulse control, income inequality, inflation targeting, invisible hand, job automation, John Markoff, Joseph Schumpeter, knowledge worker, late fees, Long Term Capital Management, loss aversion, low skilled workers, mass immigration, new economy, Nicholas Carr, obamacare, Occupy movement, oil shale / tar sands, performance metric, postindustrial economy, profit maximization, Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, reshoring, Richard Thaler, rising living standards, Robert Shiller, Robert Shiller, Rodney Brooks, Ronald Reagan, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, speech recognition, Steve Jobs, technoutopianism, the built environment, The Predators' Ball, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thorstein Veblen, too big to fail, total factor productivity, Tyler Cowen: Great Stagnation, Walter Mischel, winner-take-all economy

Because it’s uncomfortable, it’s upsetting.”10 A case in point: in the 1960s, the fraction of Americans who cared whether their children married someone from the “other” political party was less than one in twenty. Today, one in three Democrats and one in two Republicans regard “interparty marriage” as taboo.11 The rift in our political culture now runs so deep that we can no longer agree even on such basic notions as the legitimacy of the scientific method or the immorality of false campaign ads. Even the idea that there is one universal truth is now in dispute. “Disagreements in our culture are now not just over values and not just over the facts, they’re over how we even conceive of facts, how we come to consider what knowledge is a fact,” says Michael Lynch, the University of Connecticut professor of philosophy we met in chapter 5. And once we’ve reached such a state, Lynch argues, democracy is threatened, “because if there is no common standard of knowledge, then there is no common standard of anything.

pages: 321 words: 97,661

How to Read a Paper: The Basics of Evidence-Based Medicine by Trisha Greenhalgh


call centre, complexity theory, conceptual framework, correlation coefficient, correlation does not imply causation, deskilling, knowledge worker, meta analysis, meta-analysis, microbiome, New Journalism, p-value, personalized medicine, placebo effect, publication bias, randomized controlled trial, selection bias, the scientific method

The authors of a study rarely actually believe their null hypothesis when they embark on their research. Being human, they have usually set out to demonstrate a difference between the two arms of their study. But the way scientists do this is to say ‘let’s assume there's no difference; now let's try to disprove that theory'. If you adhere to the teachings of Popper, this hypotheticodeductive approach (setting up falsifiable hypotheses that you then proceed to test) is the very essence of the scientific method [4]. If you have not discovered what the authors' research question was by the time you are halfway through the methods section, you may find it in the first paragraph of the discussion. Remember, however, that not all research studies (even good ones) are set up to test a single definitive hypothesis. Qualitative research studies, which (so long as they are well-designed and well-conducted) are as valid and as necessary as the more conventional quantitative studies, aim to look at particular issues in a broad, open-ended way in order to illuminate issues; generate or modify hypotheses and prioritise areas to investigate.

pages: 326 words: 97,089

Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars by Lee Billings


Albert Einstein, Arthur Eddington, California gold rush, Colonization of Mars, cosmological principle, cuban missile crisis, dark matter, Dava Sobel, double helix, Edmond Halley, full employment, hydraulic fracturing, index card, Isaac Newton, Kuiper Belt, Magellanic Cloud, music of the spheres, out of africa, Peter H. Diamandis: Planetary Resources, planetary scale, profit motive, quantitative trading / quantitative finance, Ralph Waldo Emerson, RAND corporation, random walk, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Searching for Interstellar Communications, selection bias, Silicon Valley, Solar eclipse in 1919, technological singularity, the scientific method, transcontinental railway

In the sixth-century-B.C city of Miletus, in what is now southwestern Turkey, there lived an Ionian philosopher named Thales. Thales was the scion of a noble Phoenician family, and in his youth spent time in Egypt, where he learned geometry and studied ancient astronomical records. He was known throughout the ancient world for predicting a total solar eclipse that occurred over Central Anatolia on May 28, 585 B.C., but his greatest legacy is what we now call the “scientific method.” Thales rejected the supernatural, teaching instead that rational thought and experimentation were the proper approach to making sense of the world. Thales believed everything in existence to be composed of one or more primeval substances and controlled by interacting forces—a belief that, in its essence, would be shared by any of today’s particle physicists. It was Thales’s Miletian associate, Anaximander, who used these ideas to form a mechanistic explanation of the heavens.

pages: 322 words: 88,197

Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson


Ada Lovelace, Alfred Russel Wallace, Antoine Gombaud: Chevalier de Méré, Berlin Wall, bitcoin, Book of Ingenious Devices, Buckminster Fuller, Claude Shannon: information theory, Clayton Christensen, colonial exploitation, computer age, conceptual framework, crowdsourcing, cuban missile crisis, Drosophila, Edward Thorp, Fellow of the Royal Society, game design, global village, Hedy Lamarr / George Antheil, HyperCard, invention of air conditioning, invention of the printing press, invention of the telegraph, Islamic Golden Age, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Jacques de Vaucanson, James Watt: steam engine, Jane Jacobs, John von Neumann, joint-stock company, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, land value tax, Landlord’s Game, lone genius, mass immigration, megacity, Minecraft, moral panic, Murano, Venice glass, music of the spheres, Necker cube, New Urbanism, Oculus Rift, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, pattern recognition, peer-to-peer,, placebo effect, probability theory / Blaise Pascal / Pierre de Fermat, profit motive, QWERTY keyboard, Ray Oldenburg, spice trade, spinning jenny, statistical model, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, supply-chain management, talking drums, the built environment, The Great Good Place, the scientific method, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, trade route, Turing machine, Turing test, Upton Sinclair, urban planning, Victor Gruen, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, white flight, white picket fence, Whole Earth Catalog, working poor, Wunderkammern

We invented a whole host of institutions and conventions that would ultimately turn out to be extremely useful in improving our health: diets and cookbooks shaped by a complex understanding of bodily systems, chemical compounds designed to treat illness and prescribed using standardized systems of measurement, printing presses and pharmacists that could disseminate those prescriptions. These were all significant innovations, not easily established. But as it happened, they arrived before the invention of the scientific method, randomized double-blind control drug trials, and other regulatory mechanisms that separated the genuine healers from the charlatans. On some basic level, the medical properties of the spices were pure fantasy. But that fantasy, for all its absurdities, established a regimen of health and improvement that has carried on into modern life with better success. The spicers were a kind of trial run for the modern pharmacist and drug company, offering imaginary cures.