Real Science

Fascinating observations from watching real science in action.  Half of data conflicts with theoretical expectations:

Although the researchers were mostly using established techniques, more than 50 percent of their data was unexpected. (In some labs, the figure exceeded 75 percent.) … “The results kept contradicting their theories. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to spend a month on a project and then just discard all their data because the data didn’t make sense.” …

There were models that didn’t work and data that couldn’t be replicated and simple studies riddled with anomalies. “These weren’t sloppy people,” Dunbar says. “They were working in some of the finest labs in the world. But experiments rarely tell us what we think they’re going to tell us. That’s the dirty secret of science.” …

Most such anomalies are just ignored:

The vast majority of people in the lab followed the same basic strategy. First, they would blame the method. The surprising finding was classified as a mere mistake; perhaps a machine malfunctioned or an enzyme had gone stale. … The experiment would then be carefully repeated. Sometimes, the weird blip would disappear, in which case the problem was solved. But the weirdness usually remained, an anomaly that wouldn’t go away.  …

Even after scientists had generated their “error” multiple times — it was a consistent inconsistency — they might fail to follow it up. “Given the amount of unexpected data in science, it’s just not feasible to pursue everything.” …

Marginalized folks contribute more to innovation:

Thorstein Veblen was commissioned … to write an essay on how Jewish “intellectual productivity” would be changed if Jews were given a homeland. … [he] argued instead that the scientific achievements of Jews — at the time, Albert Einstein was about to win the Nobel Prize and Sigmund Freud was a best-selling author — were due largely to their marginal status.  … They were able to question everything, even the most cherished of assumptions. …

Diversity induces far view talk, which finds creative answers:

The diverse lab, in contrast, mulled the problem at a group meeting. None of the scientists were protein experts, so they began a wide-ranging discussion of possible solutions. …. “After another 10 minutes of talking, the protein problem was solved.” .. The intellectual mix generated a distinct type of interaction in which the scientists were forced to rely on metaphors and analogies to express themselves. … These abstractions proved essential for problem-solving, as they encouraged the scientists to reconsider their assumptions. Having to explain the problem to someone else forced them to think, if only for a moment, like an intellectual on the margins, filled with self-skepticism.

Thorstein Veblen is under-appreciated, as is how weak are our theories.  How much innovation do we lose because Jews are no longer on the margin?  Hat tip to R0bert Koslover.

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  • Chris

    If science is humanity’s standard of rationality, how is it that we have made any progress at all? Is it just a handful of contrarians blocking us from veering of a cliff on the mountain of human progress?

    • TranshumanReflector

      …If science is humanity’s standard of rationality, how is it that we have made any progress at all?…

      Seems like a paradox, doesn’t it?

      Dunbar says that group sessions, a chance for the experimenter to hear conflicting interpretations and brainstorms, makes a difference. It also sounds like a lot of luck is involved.

      Sometimes, it’s almost as if nature herself searches around for receptive experimenters to acknowledge her secrets, and in the meantime continues to annoy stubborn scientists with anomalous data.

      But yeah, it is almost beyond credibility that we’ve gotten this far.

  • Halvorson

    Thorstein’s hypothesis is false: before 1950 there were eight Jewish Nobel Prize winners in physics; in the next 50 years there were 33. Being oppressed wasn’t a big help in getting science done. I’m not sure why this idea was even entertained, there are many marginalized groups in Western societies (Blacks, Hispanics, Gypsies) and they all consistently under perform in science and business.

    • Halvorson

      Sorry, that should have read Veblen’s hypothesis, double last names are confusing

    • Vlad

      No Israelis got the Nobel in physics. 3 got it in Chemistry, 2 in Economics. Israel has considerably more Jews than the United States, and Jews are a minority in the US but a (ruling) majority in Israel, so this does fit the minority=>productivity theory (but not in the persecution=>productivity theory – not that “marginalization” is somewhat vague in this regard).

      We could theorize about mitigating factors – Israel isn’t as rich as the US, and was pretty poor in the recent past. Still…

      You are right, however, that plenty of groups are marginalized but not extra productive.

      • michael vassar

        Israel and the US have similar numbers of Jews, though Jews are a small minority in the US and a majority in Israel.

        The US has far more Ashkenazim than Israel.

      • Vlad

        Michael, just checked the status at Wikipedia, and you are right. There are twice as many American Ashkenazim as there are Israeli Ashkenazim. However, the per-capita gap in Nobel laureates is still there. On the other hand, Veblen’s hypothesis still fails to account for the lack of Sephardic Jews in these accomplishment contests.

      • Hopefully Anonymous

        Another possible mitigating theory would be that American ashkenazim are more intelligent than Israeli ashkenazim.

        I don’t think it’s completely unreasonable to conjecture that a smarter variant of ashkenazim might prefer the Bay Area to the Middle East.

        ps cultue vs. iq discussions here might be more usefully framed as organizational vs. individual intelligence. For example, organizations may encourage more risk-taking and less sexual promiscuity or polygamy than may be optimal for individuals, when the two have persistence maximizing (for the individual these might be genetic or conscious qualia based, for the organization they may be network algorithmic based) interests that conflict.

  • Matthew C.

    Yep. Great link, Robin.

    This is precisely why people who prefer theory to empirics are so utterly far from truth. And sadly almost all the “sex” and sizzle in our culture of knowledge is in grand theoretics and polemics based on theory, with careful students of what actually happens, looked down upon or even scorned as being “wrong” when fact contradicts theory.

    • Jayson Virissimo

      Are you saying you can turn data into information without theory?

      • DWCRMCM

        Interesting juxtaposition.
        The brain turns data into information.
        Technology turns data into information.
        Black Smiths turn data into information.
        Persistence (conception for example) does this all the time.
        Theory generation is an ideological practice.
        Are confusing having a theory with having a reason?

  • Matt

    Isn’t this the basis for our constitution? Isn’t America supposed to be the marginal man’s paradise?

    I have been taught over and over about the scientific process, and I have been told over and over that it is process dependent on uninhibited skepticism. I had one teacher tell me that science was like a mountain that is being sculpted, and that a sculptor can only chip away one pebble at a time, two on a good day. Later in the semester, the same teacher went on a short tirade about how stupid Bush was for not completely accepting the tenants of “man-made global warming disaster.”

    Maybe I’m wrong but it sure seems like there is an abundant amount of scientists and academics who are far too comfortable with being a hypocrite.

  • Sohaib

    Maybe Jews have been so productive because they have been marginalized for so long.

    So, what group is marginalized these days?

    • billswift

      Being intelligent is not a felony. But most societies evaluate it as at least a misdemeanor.

      — Lazarus Long

      Being much smarter than the herd is always marginal. Of course, that makes some sense since the smarter, the fewer in number. And as any good democrat knows might (numbers) makes right.

  • HBD

    Don’t let the PC thought police cloud your reasoning. Jew IQ is one SD above White IQ. Empirical evidence for their superior cognitive abilities.

    • Jayson Virissimo

      Could you point me to a data set that could back up that claim? Something that I could open in Excel or Stata would be highly appreciated.

      • drewster

        You won’t find any reliable data that supports that because there is none. The best study was done in 1972 and measured six intelligence metrics. The mean of the six metrics was roughly 101. No large studies have been done since.

      • drewster

        cite: Backman, M.E. (1972) Patterns of mental abilities: ethnic, socioeconomic and sex differences.

      • drewster
      • Tim Tyler

        Perhaps start here:

        “We summarize the evidence of high intelligence test scores in this population, approximately one standard deviation higher than the northwestern European average, and then the relevant social history.”

      • drewster

        Tim, that is a summary article. If you go look at all the primary sources, you’ll find that the Backman (1972) study is the most recent significant research on the jewish IQ. If you can cite a primary source more recent than Backman that does rigorous psychometric analysis, I’d be happy to read it.

      • Tim Tyler

        Perhaps check out its references:

        “Ashkenazi Jews have the highest average IQ of any ethnic group for which there are reliable data. They score 0.75 to 1.0 standard deviations above the general European average, corresponding to an IQ 112-115. This has been seen in many studies (Backman, 1972; Levinson, 1959; Romanoff, 1976), although a recent review concludes that the advantage is slightly less, only half a standard deviation Lynn (2004).”

      • drewster

        Yes Tim. I’ve read those. The Backman (1972) study is the most recent in depth psychometric study of Jewish intelligence. The other cites generally use very small sample sizes, or use proxy tests instead of psychometric tests.

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  • Hopefully Anonymous

    1. I don’t think it’s been a dirty secret that science is messy for a long time, longer than we’ve been alive, but it’s good and overdue to see the process studied and documented in a rigorous way.
    2. I’m skeptical that marginality even contributed to jewish intellectual achievement. An alternative possibility is just that a subset of ashkenazi jews, wasps, and some other populations are way smarter than the rest of us. Also, it’s possible that eliteness rather than marginalization amplifies their intellectual success in a feedback loop. Something like this needs to be studied empirically -I hope you’re not jumping on this theory on the basis of one smart guy’s contrarian sounding speculations.

  • mjgeddes

    I think I should emphasize one bit in bold-face:

    “the scientists were forced to rely on metaphors and analogies to express themselves. … These abstractions proved essential for problem-solving, as they encouraged the scientists to reconsider their assumptions”

    Yes: even if it’s true that after scientists have got the hard math and settled theory they can delete all the analogies and creative brain-storming, without formulating the analogies they would never have understood the hard math in the first place

    When communicating science, you can’t just try to ‘ram’ hard established truths fully formed down people’s throats (ahem… I thinking of certain un-named folks on ‘Less Wrong’ here) – final results are simply incomprehensible until the neccessery scaffolding of creative analogies and metaphor has been built up to support it.

    This reminds me the web-app ‘Eureqa’ that can perform regression on any data-set. Trouble is, no one can understand what the variables mean, because because without analogical inference (categorization) there are no concepts to understand what’s going on.

    It’s a great Bayesian reasoner (does general purpose regression), yet Bayes apparently didn’t have the power the creators were expecting:

    “We’ve seen this in the lab. Eureqa finds a new relationship. It’s predictive, it’s elegant, it has to be true. But we have no idea what it means.”

    Wired article on Eureqa

    The end result of science can’t be separated from the process of getting there, and that process requires creative analogical inference to develop new concepts. Seems to me that near-mode thinking is more about working out in the detail the consequences of accepted ideas, whereas as far mode is on the fringes and for pushing science in new directions.

    There’s no escaping the need for contrarian anarchist-berserkers like me 😀

  • Tim Tyler

    It seems as though Wired could improve the credibility of its articles by citing sources, references, and studies a bit more. As it stands, this seems like philosophy of science Mills and Boon style.

  • billswift

    Maybe that’s why it takes a while for new discoveries to occur; most scientists are busy trying to ignore unexpected data rather than examining it. As Asimov wrote, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but rather, ‘hmm… that’s funny…'”

  • Eric Johnson

    Vlad, Israel didnt really have the dough to play the science game properly, til maybe 20 years ago. Even today there could still be major lagging effects of its now-smaller “poverty” as compared to the US.

    I dont know if thats in constant dollars the way it should be. And Im pretty sure it isnt at PPP. But still.

  • Matt

    Questioning things is a mainly a matter of competition, not of being marginal and thus unattached to things.

    We can all imagine insular and marginalized people clinging to their own dogmas and truths and this is what the Ashkenazi Jews were prior to the Emancipation of the Jews and Jewish Enlightenment – not people who questioned their own civilization and their own ideas in any substantiative way other than near ritualized pedantry, but who were unable to because they were marginal and ghettoized.

    It’s freedom and wealth and competition and openness that reliably create innovation, not being in a place where you’re so marginal that you fear to take risks.

    • Matt

      Replying again, in case I have been too strident, marginalization means lots of things.

      The things that result from it that might help innovation might be a desire for success (though if you are marginal perhaps you don’t desire it, not being familiar with it, maybe you only want a mediocre life) and a lack of commitment to the existing status quo (though perhaps at the margins you try to be more ostensibly commited, in order to minimize your marginal status).

      However, as I’ve hinted above, I think these plausible advantages are strongly outweighed by a lack of access to information (created by social distance and possibly by a “ghetto mentality” insularity at the margins of society), a lack of access to publishing and financing ideas and fear of risk at the margins (people do not take risks if they are in a situation where the consequences of those risks are severe, no?).

  • Ray Gardner

    Well it is a demonstrable fact that Jews the world over our vastly over-represented in terms of success; scientific, financial and otherwise.

    So the Jews do in fact possess something within their culture that encourages the kind of thinking that leads to innovation.

    That Israelis have lagged says more about Israel and what kind of state it is that seems to have suppressed the otherwise natural inclination of the Jewish people to innovation.

    And as already stated the hypothesis that marginalized people are somehow more inclined to innovative thinking is dead on arrival. The cases are too numerous to count here where that is proven incorrect.

  • jonathan

    Excuse me but I have to rip into you for quoting those words about Jewish contributions coming from them being on the margin. That is a ridiculous, Christian-oriented leap of “faith” unjustified by reality.

    Let’s take that apart. First, the Jewish contributions cited were by people not on the margin. Jews had emerged from the ghetto a century earlier and the German Jews in particular were highly assimilated into German culture.

    Second, consider the implications of the statement that Jews were on the margin. This means there is nothing about Judaism that might contribute to Jewish creativity but that it was merely an artifact of their social position. That reflects Christian bias. Or as a book I have says, the Jews were considered as being “clever” but lacking the real genius that Christians could reach. This was the standard line just before Einstein. So in essence you’re repeating the line that Jews are clever and they are clever because they were placed on the margin. Think about the anti-semitic imagery buried in that idea.

    Third, why is it that Jews in the US and in Israel are so creative? Why are Israeli companies the 2nd most listings on NASDAQ after the US itself? Why have Jews won about 1/3 of all scientific Nobel Prizes? Could it be something about Judaism itself?

    I’m going to assume that you are largely ignorant, like most Christians, about Judaism, that you’ve only been exposed to the Christian version of what Jewish texts mean and how Judaism works. (Almost all of that is completely wrong, which to me says a lot about the failings of Christianity.)

    Do you know that over 2000 years ago the Jews invented the concept of Oral Law. This is not the same as “oral sayings” or hadith in Islam. The idea invented was that God gave man a Written Law and an Oral Law at the same time and that it is man’s job to uncover the Oral Law. What does this mean? To be blunt, it means that for as long as our history can reliably indicate the primary means by which a Jewish man became known in his community and advanced in status was through intellectual creativity. Any scholar worth his salt was challenged to come up with new stories, with new twists, different interpretations. That was how you made your bones.

    This creativity was institutionalized before the time of Jesus. There are written records of Jewish methods of exegesis – and they bear a striking influence from the high age of classical Greece. These methods showed how one built an argument and what was necessary to “prove” your case. The entire Talmud – remember, built well before Jesus – was constructed using such rules and all the great scholars of ancient Rabbinic Judaism knew and used these methods.

    So the Christians want to believe lots of stuff about Jews, almost none of it remotely correct, and one of those is that Jewish methods aren’t different. Christians could never admit that Jewish methods – not belief but methods – are actually better.

    The only thing that’s limited Jewish creative achievement is that Christians keep killing off Jews. We have less than half the number of Jews in the world who should be alive just from 1940 on. If we go back in time, the countless numbers killed by Christians over the centuries most certainly eliminated many lines of great creative minds that could have at least helped our idiotic world today. (They wouldn’t have mattered much then because Jews weren’t allowed to do much in Christian society until Napoleon.)

    I noted above that Oral Law is not like what’s found in Islam. The difference is simply this: the Quran proclaims itself to be unambiguous and holy in its actual self. Islam has a tremendous problem adapting to modernity because the urge is always to return to the literal wording of the text itself. They admit sayings of the Prophet and of course they admit ideas to determine legal cases – where there is the most similarity to Jewish tradition – but they are not allowed to challenge the Quran. Sunni Islam is more adamant about this than Shia.

    Jews, by contrast, can challenge the existence of God and any part or thing in the text. They can argue that the text means the opposite of the words. They can freely invent stories and then connect these only metaphorically to the text.

  • Eric Johnson

    Christ, a little easier on the ethno-religious polemic sauce, couldja? I think that very few here apply *anything* from the judeochristian tradition to normative statements they write here. In fairness, you may not be aware of that.

    Your theory of ahkenazi overachievement is probably false. Did you know that ashkenazim have quite a higher mean IQ than european gentiles? That sephardim and mizrahim do not have the ashkenazim’s ~15-fold overrepresentation at the top of every field, and have a mean IQ lower than that of european gentiles?

    If some level of marginality does help, marginality surely hurts when it is too intense. As you say, ahkenazim did not start making their intense contributions to Western life until ~1800, very likely due to antisemitism. But more likely, theres simply no truth in the marginality thing at all.

    At least not directly, and not in the near-term. On the other hand, the taking-up by jews of marginal “sinful” professions like “usury” may have helped ashkenazim evolve elevated intelligence over the last two millennia. And so might have the jewish love of learning found even among the poorest.

    • Hopefully Anonymous

      “If some level of marginality does help, marginality surely hurts when it is too intense.”

      Reminds me delightfully (in terms of my appreciation for natural ironic humor) of this Lindbergh quote via wikipedia:

      “Lindbergh’s reaction to Kristallnacht was entrusted to his diary: “I do not understand these riots on the part of the Germans”, he wrote. “It seems so contrary to their sense of order and intelligence. They have undoubtedly had a difficult ‘Jewish problem,’ but why is it necessary to handle it so unreasonably?”[70]

      In his diaries, he wrote: “We must limit to a reasonable amount the Jewish influence…Whenever the Jewish percentage of total population becomes too high, a reaction seems to invariably occur. It is too bad because a few Jews of the right type are, I believe, an asset to any country.”

  • Eric Johnson

    I cant believe you think jewish “methods” are better. Surely you realize that gentile europeans like Copernicus, Newton, and Bacon invented science, not ashkenazim. Why? The major determinants were luck, and probably antisemitism. Do you know that Newton came to heretical viewpoints by uncovering interpolations in the bible? He wasnt too far behind anyone on flexibility, daring, or creativity.

    If science were to be invented today, or in any time of easy communications and non-antisemitism, its pretty obvious that ashkenazim would be present and indeed very much overrepresented in the task of bringing it to life.

    Also, the inventors of science built largely on greek traditions which were quite rationalist. Hows that for a potent cultural tradition?

    • drewster

      Just to clarify, the invention of science is usually attributed to Greeks like Democritus and Eratosthenes.

      • Eric Johnson

        Did the Greeks and Egyptians do anything unique in science? That wasnt done by the Mayans? Im not closely familiar with the Greek guys you mentioned. There is a complication there: most of the mayan codices were burned by chauvinists, so some of their achievements might be lost.

        La Wik has some interesting stuff I didnt know about:

        I never heard of the guy from Basra (now in Iraq), Alhazen, who might have been the first experimentalist — particularly, I didnt know that he or really anyone to speak of, influenced Newton on Opticks.

        It seems hard to decide who did that which was “really key”. What was really key, anyway, in causing the scientific revolution (as opposed, perhaps, to science)? Why did only it catch fire and rapidly uncover 99% of what we now know? Perhaps it was having a rather mature scientific method, as Alhazen mightve had (its hard for me to tell whether he is being exaggerated), plus some accomplishments that really blew peoples’ minds, so that many others would enthusiastically adopt that method. Heliocentrism was a cause celebre and one hell of a mind-blower. Predicting eclipses must certainly have been impressive, but not as impressive.

      • drewster

        Did the Greeks and Egyptians do anything unique in science? … Im not closely familiar with the Greek guys you mentioned.

        Yes. Their wiki pages are reasonably informative. With respect to Democritus, his highlights include contributions atomic theory and epistemology. Eratosthenes calculated the size of the earth and it’s distance from the sun and moon.

        Why did only it catch fire and rapidly uncover 99% of what we now know?

        It’s hard to say why, but I suspect that some of it had to do with competition with religion in the domain of explaining the natural world.

      • Eric Johnson

        > his highlights include contributions atomic theory

        That much is philosophia to me, because he didnt prove that. Wik, for what its worth, has him under “philosophical atomism” and lists the “first empirical evidence” under “modern atomic theory”.

      • Constant

        Why did only it catch fire and rapidly uncover 99% of what we now know?

        It would surely be hard to over-stress the importance of it not being deadly-dangerous to be a contrarian thinker. Imprisonment, being burned alive, poisoned with hemlock – stuff like that tends to have a chilling effect.

  • Doru

    I believe that all scientific knowledge is conjectural.
    And what that means is that knowledge is not derived from observation, as I always thought, but is only tested by observation.
    And in the scientific world, the Jewish did a lot of the testing. They spent more time doing that, than other nations and cultures.

  • Rob

    I wonder what Freud, near the end of his life, around the time of his exile to Britain and the publication of Moses and Monotheism, would have made of Veblen’s thesis.

  • Nick

    I don’t see why “half” is emphasized in the beginning of this post. To my sensibilities, half of all data agreeing with theory is immensely encouraging; if you’d have asked me (before reading this) what percentage of data agreed with the average scientist’s theories, I’d have bet good money on under one percent.

    I admit this is nitpicking.

  • Eric Johnson

    Constant, maybe absolutism helped science go relative un-persecuted during the Revolution. Wik has absolutism starting in 1610 — after “De Revolutionibus”, but before “Principia”. And I’m sure states began strengthening prior to 1610.

    After all, when the state is physically strong, not quite as much cohesion, tradition, religion, mores, and other soft power is needed. You could ask Ni Chi (Nietzsche that is; little joke) or Mencius Moldbug. The last and most essential soft power is that over the army/militia and police.

  • Robin Hanson

    Seems I shouldn’t even mention Jews in a post unless I want the whole discussion to be about them.

  • Valkyrie Ice

    to be honest, this is post covers exactly why it is the height of hubris for any scientist to declare what is or is not possible. They can delineate the state of knowledge, they can even make probability statements, but to ever say anything is categorically “impossible” is to conversely be saying “We know all there is to know, and no new knowledge is possible.”

    Because anomalies exist, we know that the state of our knowledge is incomplete. In theoretical sciences, dismissing these anomalies is especially unforgivable, because the anomalies indicate that there are flaws in the theory that must be investigated. By favoring the math over the experiment, modern physics and astrophysics has ceased to generate knowledge and has instead begun to complicate their theory to continually force reality to match their math. Like the epicycle model of solar mechanics, their results produce enough correct answers to make some of the information useable, or else we would not have developed many of our current technologies, but the evidence continues to build that the underlying model is flawed with every single discovery that is “unexpected” or “anomalous”

    Take for example the current discovery by Voyager that our solar system is passing through a cloud of gases held together by a magnetic field. What causes magnetic fields? A flow of current. Electricity and magnetism are two aspects of the same force. It is impossible to have one without the other. So why hasn’t that been acknowledged? Because Astrophysics refuses to accept that electrical potentials could exist across interstellar distances. Physics has done much the same by tossing out the scalar and potential aspects of Maxwell’s original equations to leave solely the vector analysis version. I have often wondered how much “quantum weirdness” could be explained if the original 20 equations were used with their more complete descriptions instead of the four Oliver Heaviside mangled and condensed because he felt the fourth dimensional calculations needed to be “murdered” from the math. What might Einstein have done if the fourth dimension had still existed in Maxwell’s work by the time he began working on Relativity?

    I can only hope that as it becomes easier and easier to keep 100% accurate records, we will stop allowing scientists to toss out “anomalous data” and instead use it to do what it should be doing, telling us we need to dig deeper and find the REAL truth, rather than simply seek that which supports our beliefs. If it does nothing else, maybe reports like this and the Climategate fiasco will force better record keeping and experiment recording.

    • Robert Koslover

      I have often wondered how much “quantum weirdness” could be explained if the original 20 equations were used with their more complete descriptions instead of the four Oliver Heaviside mangled and condensed because he felt the fourth dimensional calculations needed to be “murdered” from the math

      Let’s clear this up right now: the answer is “none.” People pompously promoting this would-be re-interpretation of classical EM are evidently (and sometimes, it appears, deliberately) unaware of the enormous progress in theoretical physics since the time of Maxwell and Heaviside. Classical electromagnetism has gently given way to Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), now widely regarded as the most successful physical theory every devised by humankind, and which explains vastly more phenomena, with absolutely stunning accuracy, and which was not envisioned at all by Maxwell and Heaviside. Yes, those gentleman were brilliant geniuses and ahead of their time, but please don’t kid yourself; they were not ahead of our time! The world’s greatest minds (no exaggeration) since their time have exhaustively examined attempts to unify classical electromagnetism and gravity more or less along the lines you are mentioning, and along countless other paths as well. Einstein worked on such unification theories for a long time and many others have too. There is simply no coverup, no conspiracy, no mental block, and no deep dark secret that you know while the rest of the physics community doesn’t. Mr. or Ms. Valkyrie Ice, you are naive to think there is such a secret. There is no “there” there. But there are many good books on theoretical physics. If you really want to understand modern physics, you should start studying and learning from the modern textbooks. Even if you spent your life on it, it could be a life well spent. Good luck in your studies.

      • Valkyrie Ice

        Let’s clear THIS up right now.

        QED is a hodgepodge Rubegoldburg of tangled and intertwined mathematical tomfoolery which, once you get done going around the world nine times to get to your own elbow, finally results in something approximating a right answer. It is neither elegant, easy to use, or insightful, and even Feynman on his deathbed proclaimed it a hierarchal mathematical structure without a theory.

        You did read my statement about how we get good enough approximations, yes?

        But QED is very little different than the old Epicycle theory of planetary motion. You can GET correct enough answers from it to work with without ever coming close to the reality.

        Simply put, if you had bothered to actually read the article I posted in response to, you would see how clearly obvious it is that science DOESN’T KNOW WHAT THE REAL TRUTH IS. They have some good ideas, they have some very useful tools, but when 75% of all experiments result in findings that are unpredicted, unexpected, and cannot be reconciled with theory, then it’s a pretty good indicator that the THEORY is wrong, not reality.

        The problem with most theoretical sciences is that they stopped being about reality the day they allowed mathematics to become more important than reality. Physics is about REALITY, not mathematical fictions. By divorcing theory from that very real physical limitation, we have created a vast horde of mathematicians who are constantly complaining about how the real world fails to met their mathematical expectations, a entire generation of scientists who spend all their time doing their best to make science as obscure and impenetrable as possible to anyone who is not part of their inner circle, and who’s sole concern has ceased to be truth, but has become an endless quest for funding.

        Science is about understanding the world. This post makes it quite clear that there is a vast difference between what they CLAIM to understand, and what the REALLY DO.

        And you are quite naive to believe I haven’t done my research. I grew up cutting my teeth on this stuff. It’s simply as I have grown older and considerably LESS naive that I have started to see the cracks and rotting foundations of a science system I once loved. I believe and always shall, that EVIDENCE trumps THEORY every day. I have simply made an effort to study ALL the evidence, both for and against, which it is quite apparent, you have not.

        Would our scientific understanding of reality be different if Maxwell’s full original equations had remained unchanged? We’ll never know will we? But the fact that everything, including QED, were developed and influenced by the altered versions instead of the complete versions means it would have been different, and as such, perhaps a study should be done to see HOW different it might be, rather than the simple dismissal you chose to cope with any possible request to look outside the little box you’ve chosen as your comfort zone.

        And you illustrate precisely why this article, and this study, will be ignored in the long run. Scientists are humans. And like you, they would rather dismiss without examination anything which does not fit into their world view. Enormous progress may have been made, but when you build a palace on a patch of sand, sooner or later the entire thing is going to come crashing down.

        Which world view is correct? In the end I suspect that none of them will be. But by denying any need to continually re-examine and re-evaluate all evidence, instead advocating picking and choosing which evidence to study and which to toss out, you are as guilty as the researchers mentioned above for failure to actually OVERCOME BIAS and let reality be the final truth sayer.

  • jonathan

    My point, if the commenters would actually read it over, is that Robin quoted an excerpt about how Jewish creativity comes from being marginalized and that this excerpt directly reflects Christian biases about Jews, biases that the commenters make clear are so deeply ingrained they can’t even discuss them clearly. The title of the blog is “Overcoming Bias,” is it not? If you – or Robin or whomever – takes on bias because he or she has grown up in a Christian milieu with a Christian understanding, then that necessarily inculcates biases.

    Then if you actually read my post, you certainly can’t see that I said the Jews invented science or that they’ve done all the great science of the last millennium. That would be idiotic. When someone throws out Copernicus, they clearly haven’t read that I noted Jews weren’t released from the ghettoes until Napoleon – and a simple timeline shows that Copernicus, Newton, Humphrey Davy, etc. all lived before that. Making such an elemental misreading indicates the kind of knee jerk reaction I expected. (I hope I don’t need to mention that in any case the idea that I – or anyone – would claim that only Jews would be smart enough to figure things out is both racist and senseless.)

    My point is that Judaism institutionalized creative thinking and that tradition is deeply ingrained in Jewish society. Even the most devout come up with the wildest creative ideas – including some that are unfortunate, such as work a few years ago from the son of the Chief Rabbi in Italy that speculated whether blood libel stories might have a root in truth. That is abhorrent but it comes from the same source as Mel Brooks’ Springtime for Hitler.

  • q

    well if his theory is that people ignore data over because they are trying to support a theory, i suppose he wouldn’t have much to say if there were exceptions.

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