Experiments

Most people I meet are ostensibly pro-science. Pro-empirical methods.

However, most are also absolutely terrified of making a mistake. Terrified of having certain types of discussions which could “undermine their reality”.

Experimentation and science is above all about trying, failing and the freedom to assert something, even though you are biased. Correct for the bias and run the experiment.

It’s the only way towards an objective reality.

Truth and confusion – reblog

Seth Godin’s latest blog post (link) is a great post about truth and confusion:

Selling confusion

Over the last few decades, there’s been a consistent campaign to sow confusion around evolution, vaccines and climate change.

In all three areas, we all have access to far more data, far more certainty and endless amounts of proof that the original theories have held up. The data is more accurate than it’s ever been. Evolution is the best way to explain and predict the origin and change of species. Vaccines are not the cause of autism and save millions of kids’ (and parents’) lives. And the world is, in fact, getting dangerously warmer.

And yet…

Poll after poll in many parts of the world show that people are equivocating or outright denying all three. Unlike the increasingly asymptotic consistency in scientific explanations, the deniers have an endless list of reasons for their confusion, many of which contradict each other. Confusion doesn’t need to be right to be confusing.

Worth noting that this response doesn’t happen around things that are far more complicated or scientifically controversial (like gravity and dark matter). It’s the combination of visceral impact and tribal cohesion that drives the desire to deny.

Cigarette companies were among the original denialists (they claimed that cigarettes were unrelated to lung cancer, but that didn’t work out very well for them), and much of their confusion playbook is being used on these new topics..

To what end? Confusion might help some industries or causes in the short run, but where does it lead? Working to turn facts into political issues doesn’t make them any less true.

If this growing cohort ‘wins’, what do they get? In a post-science world, where physics and testable facts are always open to the layman’s opinion in the moment, how are things better? How does one develop a new antibiotic without an understanding of speciation and disease resistance?

I know what the science p.o.v. gets us if it prevails, if evolution is taught in schools, if vaccines become ever safer and widespread, if governments and corporations begin to ameliorate and prepare for worldwide weather change.

What’s a mystery is what the anti-science confusors get if they prevail. What happens when we don’t raise the next generation of scientists, when vaccines become politically and economically untenable, when we close our eyes and simply rebuild houses on the floodplain again? Gravity doesn’t care if you believe in it, neither does lung cancer.

Ask a confusor that the next time he offers a short term smoke screen. If this is a race to be the most uninformed, and the most passive, what if we win?

Will the world ever fill up?

A common refrain on many of humanity’s problems is that there are simply too many people. Flora and Fauna will never be prioritized over humans, and with an ever growing pool of humans the pressure on the environment will lead to widespread catastrophe. 

In many respects of course this is true and obvious. Forests are shrinking and animal species are going extinct. However, Humans don’t just extract from a fixed set of resources. We can also create new resources through invention. Check this awesome article for more info.

I think the future of wildlife is not so doomed but also not so wild. Unfortunately more like a zoo than a Serengeti, I think we are headed for a strong culture of managing land, technology and investment for flora and fauna to flourish. 

Like it or not, We as a species are not going to stop taking over wild lands, but we are also not going to stop innovating. 

Ability versus skill

I am learning how to swim again. I used to swim in teams at school until the age of 13, and then I just stopped. Last year I entered a triathlon and felt like I was nearly drowning on the swim leg so I resorted to breaststroke. Not exactly “captain speedy”. I decided to enlist some help.

My point is that I have to believe I can improve through practice and learning. It was so tempting after that triathlon to say I was just “not a swimmer” and that those who swim fast have the right genes for it. However, from that point of view, it’s a short step to copping out of anything and also to something altogether more sinister such as racism and eugenics.

Ability is inherent, but not so important. Skills are learned, and largely dependent on culture and attitude. I will be a better swimmer if I train.