I mean, there’s some of this that’s good and there’s some of it that’s bad. In math and computer science, for example, the very fact that you’re publishing your work on a problem in a journal is supposed to MEAN that you didn’t just have a conversation with your friends about the problem that ended up at the usual inconclusive places, but rather that you used the (often highly demanding and unnatural) methods of formal proof to make definite progress on the problem that everyone else can then rely on. And it’s understandable why we’ve set things up that way. On the other hand, certainly for other fields (philosophy? social sciences?) where the stuff that’s in journals is inherently more speculative or open-ended or can’t be conclusively relied upon *anyway*, I would STRONGLY support encouraging more of the sorts of arguments that the academics in question would make around the dinner table, to appear in the journals as well.

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Speaking as a self-described physics crackpot - I personally believe you are broadly correct, and the gradual shrinking of the domains of science to the strictly conventional has strangled everything.

I'd describe the trend as the conversation in the sciences dying, and being replaced with a soulless exchange of results few people besides the person publishing really care about. I think maybe a lot of the problem is that people don't realize that there had been a conversation, that a conversation is possible; they see the point of journals as to convey truth. The idea that they used to publish thought experiments, I would assume, would read as "They used to have low standards for truthiness", evaluated in modern terms. And to those people I would say: It doesn't need to be results! It doesn't need to be true! The point is the conversation that the journals permitted, allowing exchanges of half-formed ideas, so other people might improve upon them, tell them where they were wrong - and maybe take inspiration and see how the idea might be completed. The point wasn't to have a repository of "known good" knowledge, which is how we got known-good knowledge; Goodhearting that process has not improved it, it has broken it.

Think about the replication crisis. Now look at the idea of "journals as a repository of known-good knowledge". Known-good knowledge was an outcome of the -conversation-, not simply the medium by which the conversation occurred; it was the final argument made in favor of a conclusion, and it was tested by virtue of the fact that somebody was arguing -against- it. It wasn't known-good until the argument was concluded; mere inclusion in a journal didn't turn it into known-good knowledge, it was the entire process - the conversation, the debate, the argument.

As somebody with a half-formed idea, if I end up being correct - granted I fully expect I am correct, self-aware crackpot that I am - I intend to insist that the physics my crackpottery gives rise to be titled "Crackpot Physics", in part because I think the institutions need a reminder: The conversation matters, too.

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Two points:

1) At least within mathematics and computer science, academics are definitely willing to accept arguments coming from strange angles - as long as they are valid. However, we have evidence (within mathematics at least) that those arguments are extremely rarely correct, or even in any way insightful. On the other hand, within CS, people outside academia - usually programmers - sometimes do resesearch that then ends up being discovered and "rewritten" in the language that academics understand. One example on top of my head - automatic differentiation libraries have recently proliferated, and only after have theoretical computer scientists understood what are the different ingenious tricks that programmers invented in the implementation. Your hypothesis about the entranched interest of the elite academics does not track my experience in those fields.

2) I would claim that the further a field is removed from "reality check", that is some external process of verifying its claims, and the more it is reliant on the proxy measures of correctness, the less willing it would (and should?) be to accept heterodox science. For example, natural sciences have the advantage of doing controlled experiments, so any method that makes correct predictions would eventually win out.

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“To justify the further habit of academic articles almost never citing ordinary conversation, we’d need to make the further assumption that the very large practice of ordinary conversation almost never makes substantial contributions to topics of academic interest.”

Is this a very hard assumption for you to make? It seems trivially true to me.

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Your argument is entirely abstract. No examples were given.

I have been active on a discussion site where ordinary people discuss politics, history (and lots of popular culture stuff) from a generational framework. Over 23 years there I have gleaned maybe 6 or 7 useful ideas. That is pretty lean pickings.

Most serious discussion in casual conversation is going to be superficial and not rigorous precisely because it is casual. Rigor takes the fun out of it.

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The opening sentence: Yes, true, but why pregnant with implications? The reason is obvious. Academic journal articles aspire to establish new knowledge which is considered sufficiently important to be part of the human knowledge archive. Dinner table conversations, like social media exchanges, do not have that goal. Conversations concern known information, or transient, mostly quotidian situations, such as a personal experience.

Regarding "the entire world of ordinary conversation has no substantial influence on the entire world of academic research." Why would it? Establishing new knowledge is a niche endeavor. In contrast, conversation concerns one's daily social goals of informing, sharing, persuading.

Elsewhere Hanson laments: "They might bond with each other, impress each other, and have fun, but they couldn’t possibly be learning much." People are learning massively during social interaction. they're learning things they didn't already know, but they are not usually creating novel information that no human has previously established.

Hanson's objective appears to be to complain that journal articles specialize; "typical academic disciplines (really sub-disciple) are organized around a very limited set of acceptable concepts and methods." Experts are gatekeepers, using their journals and academic positions to exclude new ideas and maintain their own status. Yawn. This may be true. Plenty of academics have experienced this. We try to move our field in a new direction, and resistance is fierce.

But is this the solution: "Some academic reviewers could specialize in evaluating the concepts and methods of ordinary conversation, to make those available to paper authors." The concepts of ordinary conversation? do you mean like, what one could elicit from a thoughtfully conducted focus group? That's already an established method that academics use to gain new information. But ordinary conversation is about the weather, sports, TV shows, and what are the best restaurants in town. It isn't new knowledge.

Another method that draws on ordinary conversation is qualitative and quantitative analysis of online discussion forums. I've done this; but this is natural human conversation as study object.

We already have arenas where human conversation is content: journalism. Journalists talk with people and report what people said. It is a feature, not a bug, that academia requires new knowledge to be estalished following rules of evidence, not just someone sharing their thoughts.

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Ordinary talk is typically not about seeking truth. As you often write, most ordinary human interaction is a form of status game, attempting to gain or associate with prestige.

Isn't the primary innovation of the scientific method, the recognition that human minds are very easy to fool, and in fact to fool themselves? That it takes tremendous discipline to avoid just believing what you want to believe, as opposed to what is true? In ordinary talk, we have anecdotes; in science we require statistical evidence. In ordinary talk we promote hearsay as gossip; in courts we demand first-person testimony. In ordinary talk, we are convinced by confirmation bias; in medicine we require not just blinded studies, but double blinded studies.

Journals restrict academic talk to prohibit anecdotes, hearsay, and unblinded studies -- all of which are a common part of ordinary talk. Isn't that appropriate, because we have learned through painful experience that ordinary talk is not a reliable guide to objective truth?

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In certain fields, such as philosophy and perhaps social science, I think you have a point. The basic problem is that these fields rely too much on mimicking prestigious style and content, not enough on making specific arguments for or against a position, and not enough on actual empirical testing. The social dynamics might be described as "incestuous," because there is not enough validation/falsification from objective sources.

However, I think your argument would be improved if you could provide more examples of statements that come up in "ordinary conversation" that would be valuable to a research paper, but that are not currently permitted in one. I'm having trouble imagining such statements.

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Reproducibility, via control or statistical inference, is the primary limitation that drives this divide. Observation is insufficient to reproduce and test a hypothesis. Even registered predictions fail the test.

"The sun will come up tomorrow" has 99.999999% predictive accuracy. We have theories that suggest _one day the sun will not rise_ that have sufficient explanatory power that we believe them despite never having any direct evidence from the sun not rising in the past.

"The vast majority of statements that appear in natural human conversation" are not replicable.

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"authors are supposed to cite any sources that substantially influenced their article..." No, that's what school chidren are taught. For scholarly articles, a citation informs the reader as to where a statement was established as valid; the citations backs up the statement.

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Let me add an example. Academic journals (most? all?) assume a purely materialist worldview, with no God and no soul. Yet in reality pure materialism is the worldview of only a tiny minority. Even among professors, atheists are a minority. Presumably, there are a lot of important concepts that are left out of academic journals for this reason. Academic articles can talk about religiosity but theological assumptions can’t really form the basis of an argument. As a religious guy myself, I think it would be a lot of fun to relax this constraint and see what happens. It could cause some chaos, at least at first, so should be done in a controlled way. I imagine a heterodox journal would be wild at first, but over time it would develop its own orthodoxy, and a new heterodox cycle would be needed. Fun idea.

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I don't know if this is what you have in mind, but I think there could be a lot of value in capturing the informal thoughts of highly trained practitioners.

For every theorem that a mathematician has proved and published, there are probably five more things they have strong hunches about. These are not publishable today; at best they propagate haphazardly over tea at conferences.

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Indeed, I think the demand for fairly rigid clear methodological rules is one of the key technologies that allows academic progress. As humans we are highly inclined to be tribal, evaluate claims and criticism primarily based on whether they help or hurt our allies etc...

The fact that one can point to specific methodological rules as having been violated helps us police what gets into journals and critique publications that have been made with less risk of it all being sucked into tribalism.

The philosophy literature is more like what you suggest and I think the unique problems that are created in that literature illustrate the problems such inclusion might create. Consider this paper (linked at bottom) by Sokal critisizing a ridiculously badly argued paper using technical sounding terms to suggest string theory failed bc of too many white men.

This didn't happen because most philosophers are idiots or ideologically blinded. I'm sure most philosophers who read the piece weren't persuaded by the bad arguments. The issue is in this part of philosophy there aren't the same methodological requirements (eg forming up args into semi-math style, clearly defining terms, only speaking literally etc) and as such there is huge interpretational wiggle room.

I'm sure the supporters of the piece will insist that the appeal to Einstein covariance was just analogical, that the author is really just raising possibilities not really claiming to have demonstrated them etc etc.

The methodological demands help prevent this kind of motte-bailey trick -- a particularly dangerous one because we know the same excuses wouldn't be accepted with a different conclusion.

If this piece had been submitted to a more analytic style journal it could have been rejected/critisized for methodological failure reasons that are less likely to be seen as obviously motivated by support for the other tribe.


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I don't think many people believe that content unsuitable for academic journals doesn't have substantial value rather the idea is that academic journals should provide an unbiased source of ground truth that can then be used to support and evaluate arguments. I certainly agree there should be some other alternative that isn't an academic journal but some arena where only clearly defined methods and standards are allowed is important.

Obviously, lots of academic works reach the wrong conclusions but the idea is that if we know this study used a random sample of this size and reached this result then the paper is clearly reporting a specific degree of evidence.

Casual conversation is usually vague, uncertain with no hard standards. If I see one of your blog posts in a journal, I have no good way of evaluating what degree of evidence that cite provides and there is a high danger of that academic journals become no better than our newspapers with ideology driving far more than it does now what papers are accepted and which aren't.


However, I'd note that works which clearly claim to only be spelling out the considerations/logical form are often accepted in philosophy.

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Pretty sure you must already be aware of his stuff (and may even know him(!)—Adam Mastroianni makes some different, but adjacent arguments about research done inside vs outside of academia. e.g.: https://www.experimental-history.com/p/an-invitation-to-a-secret-society

I reckon you guys would have fun exchanging in a conversation!

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You can cite ordinary talk, rewrite it using ChatGpi AI software. Hey presto. Sounds all clever and worthy of inclusion. All you need is it to be published just once. And your away. Free to use AI software is revolutionary.

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