People often think reporting the finances of a business is a scientific process; I can't say I've noticed.
Monday, April 24, 2017
Saturday, April 22, 2017
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 4:03 pm
After almost 20 years in space, the Cassini space probe begins it's grand finale this month. Fuel reserves are dwindling and so NASA have decided that rather than allowing the craft to potentially crash into one of the moons of Saturn (i.e. random decay) and "contaminate" what could be potentially life harbouring environments; a more fitting end to this stunning mission is a controlled dive thru ever diminishing orbits around the master planet. Bisecting the cloudy upper atmosphere and the rings until a final, fatal, descent into Saturn itself, gathering and sending data all the while. A truly spectacular end to what has been one of the most productive and illuminating space missions in recent times. The picture above is Cassini's final picture of our home planet, in true Sagan'esc style the pale blue dot is quite simply "us" from a billion miles distance, goosebumps..
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 12:30 pm
Friday, April 21, 2017
Bias is the scourge of Human-kind; whether it's confirmation bias, survivorship bias, the bandwagon effect, ingroup bias or even the gamblers fallacy, bias invariably leads us into making bad decisions. From people who believe they were cured by sugar pills (confirmation bias) through to people who voted for Trump (bandwagon) we are all influenced by bias from some perspective or other. The challenge is to recognise that fact and to be able to step (intellectually) outside of our personal bubbles for a bit so that we can look at a situation objectively, in my experience, far more enlightenment tends to come that way.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 8:21 am
Thursday, April 20, 2017
I came across this old piece the other day, it's a "Baloney Detection Checklist" written ages ago by none other than Carl Sagan - still perfectly serviceable and very useful in this day and age.
- Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the “facts.”
- Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
- Arguments from authority carry little weight—“authorities” have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.
- Spin more than one hypothesis. If there’s something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this selection among “multiple working hypotheses,” has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.
- Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours. It’s only a way-station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don’t, others will.
- Quantify. If whatever it is you’re explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you’ll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.
- If there’s a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise)—not just most of them.
- Occam’s Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
- Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified. Propositions that are un-testable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle—an electron, say—in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 9:09 pm
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
I like this little truism. I was having a related conversation with my teenage son recently, we were discussing career choices and what makes the difference between happy/successful people and those that end up in jobs that are just that, i.e. "a job". I found it really enlightening to talk about this subject with him, clearly many kids struggle to grasp the complexities and nuances of the workplace (why wouldn't they!) and how people make a crust; it's unfortunate that they have to pretty much make the most critical decisions that affect their choices at a point when they invariably know so little. I feel like there should be a subject in the curriculum on this, something that covered the choices and the ramifications of those choices, almost like an A-Level selection O-Level. I suppose this is what careers advice is supposed to be about but in my experience that didn't help much for those of us without a crystal clear view of our futures or even what subjects we might enjoy.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 2:24 pm
An excellent J&M today; I always found it amazingly coincidental how the parochial wishes of religious leaders (usually men) are almost always catered for generously by the God or Gods they believe in, and when they're not, can be "interpreted" in somehow.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 1:10 pm
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
So, a general election in June it is then! I suppose this kind of strategic manipulation and exploitation of the weakness of your opponents is what we should expect from politicians these days, but I still feel slightly uncomfortable with the overwhelmingly cynical feel to it all. I'm wondering if this might be another SDP moment, where centre-leaning members of the Labour party and left leaning members of the Liberal Democrats join forces to try to prevent the Tories winning a total landslide, but then again, judging from the lacklustre response to the ongoing Brexit disaster (see above), I can't see the current crop of Labour or Liberal politicians being organised enough to get their act together in time.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 12:21 pm
Interesting chart based on research done by OurWorldInData.org; we see how key Human factors have changed over the last 200 years. Child mortality is the most striking chart for me, going from 43 deaths per 100 in 1820 down to 4 deaths in 100 in 2015, the effect of medical science becoming pervasive. All of these charts are moving in the "right" direction for those of us interested in maximising Human well-being; although worryingly democracy is perhaps the shakiest looking chart of all, it's certainly the most spiky, I do hope we're not entering another huge trough like we did in the 1940's.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 10:41 am
I've been following the news in Turkey with interest lately. They had a referendum on Sunday that was narrowly won by the existing regime, the result gives the incumbent president sweeping new powers and is seen by many as a retrograde step in terms of democracy and secularism in that country. Like many things that happen in Turkey (and elsewhere in that part of the world) these days it is difficult for outsiders to sift fact from fiction, was this a rigged vote? And, much like the recent coup attempt I am left with a niggling feeling that it was somehow staged by the Government in order to fulfil a broader strategy, a longer-term play.
What does seem clear is that Erdogan has Islamist leanings, he has done much over the last 10 years to roll-back the secularist advances made in Turkey over a century ago, critics and journalists have been thrown in jail and religion has taken a much bigger role in Government and he now has complete control over the judiciary and pretty much every other wing of state that has, until now, avoided his grasp.
So, is this the end of democracy in Turkey? Has it's Prime Minister now made the final transition from Politician to Sultan? I suppose you could argue that at least the border between Europe and the rest is clearer now, but with Turkey still within NATO and seemingly with it's hand on the Syrian immigration tap I fear that we'll be grappling with these thorny questions for many years to come.
Posted by Steve Borthwick at 9:25 am