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What is science for: dangerous thoughts.

The quote below was from a piece in the Lancet by Richard Horton.

Reading [Bertrand]Russell today is a resonant experience. Existential fears surround us. Yet today seems a long way from the dream of Enlightenment. Modern science is a brutally competitive affair. It is driven by incentives to acquire money (research funding), priority (journal publication), and glory (prizes and honours). Science’s metrics of success embed these motivations deep in transnational scientific cultures. At The Lancet, while we resist the idea that Impact Factors measure our achievements, we are not naive enough to believe that authors do not judge us by those same numbers. It is hard not to capitulate to a narrow range of indicators that has come to define success and failure. Science, once a powerful force to overturn orthodoxy, has created its own orthodoxies that diminish the possibility of creative thought and experiment. At this moment of planetary jeopardy, perhaps it is time to rethink and restate the purpose of science.

Offline: What is science for? – The Lancet

I am just musing on this. We like to think that ‘freedom’ was necessary for a modern wealthy state. We are not so certain, now. We used to think that certain freedoms of expression underpinned the scientific revolution. We are having doubts about this, too. Maybe it is possible to have atom bombs and live in a cesspool of immorality. Oops…

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Living in Scot itchland

Genital scabies was, to the English, “Scotch itch,” and Scotland was “Itch-land.” The pox was the Spanish or Neapolitan Disease to the French; the French Disease to the Spanish, English, and Germans; the Polish Disease to the Russians; the Portuguese Disease to the Japanese. Captain Cook was chagrined to learn that it was called the British Disease in Tahiti as, in so many words, it was in Ireland: in Ulysses the Citizen, a rabid Irish nationalist, mocks Leopold Bloom’s reference to British civilization: “Their syphilisation you mean.”

Vile Bodies | by Fintan O’Toole | The New York Review of Books

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Sunday in Lisbon

“Catholicism imbued a spirit of rebellion and the ghost of faith.”

Well, I get that, too. In a review of Bruce Springsteen’s biography in the Economist.

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Chadgrind lives on

I have had of all people a historian tell me that science is a collection of facts, and his voice had not even the ironic rasp of one filing-cabinet reproving another.

Jacob Bronowski | Science and Human Values

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The pleasures of tenure

Mr Sammallahti is not a recluse, nor lacking in ambition. He travels the world taking photographs; a book, “Here Far Away”, was published in 2012; another, of bird pictures, comes out later this year. But he shuns the art scene, believing that commercial pressures undermine quality. He does not lecture and rarely gives interviews. In 1991 he received an unprecedented 20-year grant from the Finnish government. Its sole condition was that he should concentrate on photography, so he gave up teaching. “I want to work in peace,” he explains, “to be free to fail.”

Economist

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TEF or REF?

Smith was supported by earnings from his professorship at Glasgow, where a university teacher’s earnings depended on fees collected directly from students in the class. This contrasted with Oxford, where Smith had spent six unhappy years, and where, he observed, the dons had mostly given up even the pretence of teaching.

But Smith relinquished his professorship in 1763, and the writing of ‘Wealth…’ and the remainder of his career was financed by the Duke of Buccleuch, who as a young man employed Smith as a tutor.

Is there more to Adam Smith than free markets? | Financial Times

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On statistics

Statistics — to paraphrase Homer Simpson’s thoughts on alcohol — is the cause of, and solution to, all of science’s problems.

Andrew Gelman

Of chaos, storms and forking paths: the principles of uncertainty

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Use it for lose it

The following was from a “Lunch with the FT” article with Armen Sarkissian, the President of Armenia, a former physicist. Both quotes respect their fact that expertise is time limited. One big downside of certification at a fixed time point is that it pretends otherwise.

On the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Sarkissian was asked to become independent Armenia’s first ambassador to London, a post he filled again on two later occasions — a record, he believes, at the Court of St James’s. For good measure, he also opened embassies and missions in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, the EU, Nato and the Vatican. “I dreamt that I could do both science and diplomacy. But being a research physicist is like being a concert pianist. Unless you practise every day, it is gone. It becomes a hobby,” he says, regretfully.

Those people who know how to listen are also people who learn,” he says. “The moment you stop learning, you die. Age is not the number of years that you have been living. Age is the condition of your soul.”

Armen Sarkissian: ‘The moment you stop learning, you die’ | Financial Times

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On Expertise

‘The Socratic slogan- “If you understand it, you can explain it’, should be reversed.  Anyone who thinks he can fully explain his skill, does not have expert understanding’.

Hubert Dreyfus.

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Changing your mind — and how to avoid

The economist J.K. Galbraith once suggested that when people are “faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof”

The market is dead: long live the market | Wonkhe | Comment

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Too old, too fat, too lazy and too rich

by reestheskin on 31/05/2019

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Quite a motto to live by, but David Hume saw things more clearly than the rest of us.

Hume’s ironic wit and humour make him a biographer’s dream. After his History of England proved to be a tremendous critical and popular success, his publisher entreated him for another volume, only to receive the memorable rebuff:

 

“I have four reasons for not writing: I am too old, too fat, too lazy and too rich.”

 

When at a last dinner before Hume’s death in 1776, Smith complained of the cruelty of the world in taking him from them, Hume said: “No, no. Here am I, who have written on all sorts of subjects calculated to excite hostility, moral, political, and religious, and yet I have no enemies; except, indeed, all the Whigs, all the Tories, and all the Christians.” There are many other such stories.

 

How Adam Smith would fix capitalism | Financial Times

“It appears to me, the doing what little one can to encrease [sic] the general stock of knowledge is as respectable an object of life as one can in any likelihood pursue.”

Darwin. Letter to his sisters from the Beagle. Quoted in the London Review of Books 23-May-2019, Rosemary Hill.

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You need a wallet biopsy

“However, if a wallet biopsy – one of the procedures in which American hospitals specialise – discloses that the victims are uninsured, it transfers them to public institutions.”

In Paul Starr, ‘The Social Transformation of American Medicine’.

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It’s not all physics

This is why I have doubts about mechanical theories such as disruptive innovation. Too often, they’re presented as a type of physical law: You drop a glass of wine, it always falls to the ground with an acceleration of 32.17405 ft/s2. This truth is indisputable…but it ignores the drunken clumsiness of the oaf who knocked the glass over, and discounts the quick reflexes and imaginative solutions you only get when there’s a human nearby.

Jean-Louis Gassée. A nice summary of why human agency matters, and also why companies fail.

First Winning Wars, Only To Lose Them Later – Monday Note

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“There’s a classic medical aphorism,” he recalls. “‘Listen to the patient, they’re telling you the diagnosis.’ Actually, a lot of patients are just telling you a lot of rubbish, and you have to stop them and ask the pertinent questions.”

Jed Mercurio: ‘Facts used to have power. Now stupidity is a virtue’ | The Guardian

The question is when?

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The real world doesn’t care what you are bad at, it only cares what you are good at.

CP Grey.

Noting that 1,500 people had travelled to Davos by private jet to hear David Attenborough talk about climate change, he said he was bewildered that no one was talking about raising taxes on the rich.

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Scale matters

by reestheskin on 12/02/2019

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No, not that sort of (dermatological scale). Adam Tooze quoted in FT Alphachat (or another link).

In three years China used more cement that the USA in the whole of the 20th century.

Imagine.. well I am not the only one

by reestheskin on 31/01/2019

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And when they say you are a dreamer, a fool, and deluded, I will use a nice inversion by Lincoln Allison:

Of course, you’re assuming that none of this will ever happen. But you assumed that Brexit and Trump would never happen, didn’t you? 

(Smashing things is however easier than building things).

 

Getting too deeply into statistics is like trying to quench a thirst with salty water. The angst of facing mortality has no remedy in probability. Paul Kalanithi, ‘When Breath Becomes Air’

“as long as they keep asking the wrong questions, the answers really don’t matter”.

Thomas Pynchon

A well argued and evidence based article like this will get you nowhere. This is Britain. Better to put some bollox on a bus.

A comment from theSwedish Chef’ on the FT.

As one Oxford university scholar and administrator courted by the Gulf, who is against satellite campuses, puts it: “We have open doors, but they are our doors.”

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On relaxing and distressing

by reestheskin on 28/12/2018

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Yep, that time of year. This is how Irvine Welsh puts it. Remember: art is not a mirror; art is a hammer.

I’m generally pretty relaxed and very rarely suffer from stress. I see my role as more of a “stress enabler” in others. The last thing I would do if I was stressed would be to read a book. I’d rather write one.

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Ed-tech is a confidence game. That’s why it’s so full of marketers and grifters and thugs. (The same goes for “tech” at large.)

Audrey Watters

In climate science, you can check out of the lab anytime you like, but you can never leave.

How I stave off despair as a climate scientist.

Dave Reay, University of Edinburgh, quoted in Nature this week.

 “criticism and optimism are the same thing. When you criticize things, it’s because you think they can be improved. It’s the complacent person or the fanatic who’s the true pessimist, because they feel they already have the answer. It’s the people who think that things are open-ended, that things can still be changed through thought, through creativity—those are the true optimists. So I worry, sure, but it’s optimistic worry.” Jaron Lanier. We Need to Have an Honest Talk About Our Data

“Bad strategy flourishes because it floats above analysis, logic, and choice, held aloft by the hot hope that one can avoid dealing with these tricky fundamentals and the difficulties of mastering them.”

Richard Rumelt “Good strategy/Bad strategy”. A moral for our time

“The real world doesn’t care what you are bad at, it only cares what you are good at.” (It is not like school). CP Grey. On the podcast  ‘Cortex’.

The Long Now

by reestheskin on 21/11/2018

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John Kennedy told the story of Marshal Hubert Lyautey (1854–1934), a French army general and colonial administrator in Morocco. Lyautey asked his gardener to plant a certain tree. The gardener objected that the tree would grow slowly and wouldn’t reach maturity for a century. “In that case,” the marshal replied, “there is no time to lose. Plant it this afternoon.”

From Larry Lessig in America, Compromised.