I am not saying science done well isn't worthwhile, just as politics
done well is beautiful, but the real world practice of both leaves
much to be desired - unless one accepts that that's just how things

There is a virtue signalling with regards to science in some kinds of
political debate that I think is unmerited. All human endeavours can
be done well or badly depending on the humans doing it. Any large set
of humans will assume a normal curve of capability, morality, honesty,
which the scientific community is no exception to.

If we can question the methods and motives of politicians, then we
ought to also question the methods and motives of scientists.

On Thu, Feb 22, 2018 at 9:08 PM, Keith Adam <ke...@ksadam.net> wrote:

> I think you misunderstand the scientific process.  Scientists may do research 
> and publish a paper detailing their hypothesis, method, results, study 
> numbers etc. and draw their conclusions.  But it is not 'established 
> scientific consensus' until it is reproduced by many different groups, many 
> times with outliers in the data accounted for.  One scientific paper does not 
> science make.  And moreover, the person you quote above makes it clear that 
> most scientists understand that that is how science works. It is the 
> mainstream media and press that latch on to a single research paper and claim 
> it is 'science' that do not understand how science works.

It occurred to me as I read that interviewee's argument that I'd never
climb into a taxi if there was no guarantee the driver knew the way,
on the mere chance that I might end up nearer to the destination than
I am currently. Yet I appreciate that scientific endeavours are more
complex, and therefore some error margin is inevitable. Politicians
then have it even harder, since humans are even more unpredictable
than scientific experiments. Their error margins should then be

So, that was my point about politics - this is just how politics works
- there are a lot of compromises to be made and mad things get said
and done to obtain votes. No politician can guarantee that their
approach is going to be honest or even beneficial, and that they
aren't going to fall prey to their human weaknesses, just like

Let's not take everything literally, because if we do, then my point
is, even science won't fare any better, which you confirm.

The scientific method alone does not guarantee good science, just as
an election alone does not make a democracy. We can't work around
human flaws with better systems - sometimes yes, not always.

Scientific consensus can be inexact, and bad policy outcomes are
certainly possible, which is what I think some politicians inexpertly
articulate when they criticise science.

> A single paper may draw an incomplete or incorrect conclusion due to; study 
> groups being too small, errors in statistical methods, errors in equipment or 
> apparatus, human bias or indeed by outright deceit.  But to claim that half 
> of science is false due to human failings is somewhat of a stretch.

What number would you put it at? Anyway, I never made the claim
anywhere that half of science is false.

I decided against a PhD when I was a grad student, some 17-18 years
ago because in a rather short period of time I had run into most of
the problems and perverse motivations that these gentlemen in high
places write about. I knew I wanted to pursue knowledge, and it was
clear I'd be better off doing it outside of academia. In academia I'd
spend much of my life in the pursuit of funding and peer approval, and
ultimately very likely producing derivative research in order to
secure funding and approval.

That the guardians of science are so slow to fix an existential crisis
is what should be ringing the alarm bells.

Science has a rather large and stinky problem that contaminates its
reputation, made worse by the social charade of superiority and
infallibility. Politicians often talk about cleaning up politics, a
sentiment I rarely hear scientists express.

I think it's irrelevant to the purposes of the thread exactly how much
it stinks, that it stinks to unacceptable levels has been established,

> Of the problem of the mainstream media reporting a single study as 'science' 
> reminds me of what Professor Spiegelhalter [1] said on More or Less this 
> week, that if something is being reported as it is usually contrary to the 
> established view and is therefore extraordinary.  And that extraordinary 
> claims require extraordinary proof. Which is never usually the case of a 
> single research paper.

This is so with anything. Though politicians say stupid things, and
engage in corruption and populism, the world by and large manages.
Consensus is how humans error correct for well, being human.

> <snip>

> The utility of the result in the framework to which it applies matters.  An 
> accuracy of an atomic clock that is greater than the age of the universe is 
> probably fine for the uses to which it would be put.

You are underscoring my point about objective reality only being
possible when there are limits placed on precision.

Also what was that famous quote from Bill Gates,  '640K of memory
should be enough for anybody.' ?

We have no way of knowing if it will be enough. Sooner or later either
in atomic clocks or in other fields we will run into the ever changing
nature of reality. Currently we have limited the problem by looking at
only the rate of atomic decay without going into the details of how it
interacts with the  impermanence inherent in reality. This won't be
true forever.

The more data we have the more confusing the picture will get as long
as we assume deterministic outcomes are always going to be a fact.

> Also, consider the radioactive decay of phosphorous-32.  It has a half-life 
> of 14.29 days.  This is well established and repeatable.
> We know what will happen to 10kg of the stuff in a period of time.  However, 
> the decay of individual atoms is indeed a matter of statistical probability.  
> We are unable to determine which atoms will decay and which ones won't.  But 
> in the objective framework of real-world utility, we care not about 
> individual atoms in this case but of the 10kg as a whole.  I don't think that 
> it is fair that you use an effect like quantum probability to make an 
> assertion that experiments are not repeatable.

Can you supply a million decimal places after 14.29? Would it still be
repeatable then? Again, limits on precision is what enables
repeatability. There is no such thing as objective reality unless
there is a limit on the amount of reality taken into consideration. We
abridge reality in order to construct the imagination of objective
reality. We don't even do this intentionally, it starts right from our
sense organs that only take in a small amount of the total sensate

I made the point about it being debated in philosophy departments, and
not physics departments for a reason. This is metaphysics - not
something we will ever reach the bottom of using human language. The
best approach is to meditate on this in silence a la Thoreau or Bodhi

Identical inputs on humans or any living thing produces wildly
different results because of this quantum unpredictability. A problem
pharmaceutical scientists, agri scientists, psychologists, economists
and philosophers all grapple with.

> <snip>
>> For most things it doesn't matter, but in sufficiently complex
>> problems like cancer research where 80% of research is not repeatable,
>> it matters. Scientists could only brush it aside as placebo effect for
>> so long.
> What is your source that 80% of cancer research is not repeatable?

Cancer research is closely guarded for obvious IP / Profit / patient
confidentiality reasons but there was one paper by Amgen in 2012 that
showed only 6 out of 53 of landmark cancer research papers were
reproducible. So, ~88.7% actually.

Further replication efforts confirm the trend,


In 2012, Amgen researchers made headlines when they declared that they
had been unable to reproduce the findings  in 47 of 53 'landmark'
cancer papers. Those papers were never identified — partly because of
confidentiality concerns — and there are no plans to release details
now either, says Kamb, who was not involved with that publication. He
says that he prefers to focus on more-recent publications.

The three studies that Amgen has posted deliberately do not make a
detailed comparison of their results to previous papers, says Kamb.
“We don’t want to make strong conclusions that someone else’s work is
wrong with a capital W,” he says.


Another open science effort following the Amgen paper has also had poor results.


>> Science is built on the closed world assumption, which isn't the case
>> with the human body at the cellular level, where an open world
>> assumption makes more sense.
> I don't understand what you refer to regards open world and closed world 
> assumptions.  Can you please elaborate?

It's rather complicated and I think  discussing the details of why
think it's time for an OWA for science on a mailing list would be less
than ideal - too little bandwidth. Besides, I have limited time and
energy. Again - meditation in solitude will provide the answers that a
million volumes of the written word can't.

I assume you found the basics off Google

"The open-world assumption (OWA) codifies the informal notion that in
general no single agent or observer has complete knowledge, and
therefore cannot make the closed-world assumption."


In my experience to truly understand reality one needs to appreciate
that truth can have many versions simultaneously.

Any further metaphysical debate will grow tiring on the writer and the reader.

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