Tuesday, April 11, 2006

How Deep Is Our Ignorance?

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I hang around with some financial quant types that love to talk about, what I regard as silly, mathematical formulas they are using to project markets. Most of the models assume so much that they are in fact dangerous - providing comfort where a reasonable fear of loss would be more appropriate.

If you talk with real scientists (rather than science professors) they are always seeking to narrow the error of their projections, but are very aware of the limitations of their efforts:

  • They may know what will happen with a fair degree of certainty and be able to explain the interaction - but the why and the how frequently escape them. The Nobel prize winner Dick Feynman even stated something to the effect that - why may not matter.
  • Real science is often a matter of educated trial and error - scientific method involves taking a guess, and then guessing how to disprove it.
  • If an experiment's results are outside the borders of expectation - there is a tendency for new tests to slowly converge results toward an acceptable solution.
  • Seldom is a proof sufficient to sway the established order, proof and counter proof are more the functional norm.
"An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents: What does happen is that the opponents gradually die out." - Max Planck, pioneer of quantum theory

This brings us to an interesting article on climate sensitivity. Check out James Empty Blog to read a current issue honestly and scientifically discussed.

Now to the why of my post, if it matters. I keep seeing references to scientific proof displayed with almost religious fervor. The user ignoring the methods employed in the test - the results are seized upon to confirm the hearer's bias.

I admit to the same fault - but more tongue in cheek. I collect studies that confirm my life preferences, studies in favor of meat, coffee, and an occasional glass of wine. I choose to ignore the equally scientific studies that expose the other view.

Science is still in its infancy
- we at best try to isolate and measure one or two parts of extremely complex systems - our results should be nice building blocks for real research in the distant future.

We may still be in the dark ages.

When someone quotes science or a scientific study to prove their point -- remember the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA requires multi-billion dollar studies to prove the efficacy and safety of new drugs - and after a year or two has to recall some of those drugs as neither safe or effective.

"If people let government decide what foods they eat and what medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny." - Thomas Jefferson


If the study cost billions and has had years of research applied - it may be useful.


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