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The Truth is Always Simple (APPLIED EPISTEMOLOGY)
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Ishmael


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When Theories Are Abandoned

In practice, a prevailing theory will not be abandoned before the development of a viable alternate idea. The standard of viability requires much more of a new, competing theory than it did of the consensus model when initially proposed. Information has accumulated in the meantime and the accepted model has, with much time and great assistance, found a means to accommodate most of it. The same will be expected of any pretender, absent time and amidst universal opposition.

Carl Sagan popularized the phrase, 'Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.' Yet, despite academia's fondness for it, the axiom has no legitimate place in science; for extraordinary claims require proof of no different quality than that demanded of every hypothesis. An extraordinary claim is only made all the more powerful if supported merely by ordinary proof, and extraordinarily simple claims possess virtues that favour them in at least some respects absent any proof at all.

The 'extraordinary' is merely that which is beyond the ordinary: What might also be called 'novel', or 'new and unexpected'. The more naive among us must be forgiven for thinking new and unexpected ideas an essential aspect of the academic enterprise. Yet as academics repeatedly inform us, if you have a new and unexpected notion, the standard to which it will be held is much higher than that used to measure the merits of the prevailing wisdom.

It is of no use for a new proposal merely to account more elegantly for the original observations from which the standard model was derived. The challenger must also prove a better fit for subsequent observations, including all those accommodated by the standard model and many of those yet to be rationalized.

Even then, assuming all these hurdles are passed, the alternate idea is not truly viable until it has won widespread social acceptance among the gatekeepers of institutional academia. The status-quo, no matter how cumbersome, must linger on until such a perfect alternate is available.

And thus the scientific 'Catch-22' stands revealed.

Occam's Razor will tell us only which of two or more theories is to prevail in a contest. Once the winner is decided, Occam will never find fault with the victor. No fault found in the prevailing theory; no need to develop another; so no alternate theory is available to challenge the accepted science when inconsistencies arise. The anomalies merely accumulate: Ignored where possible; rationalized where necessary. The ruling model, immune from falsification, is now virtually immortal.

What becomes established truth only grows more resilient with age. 'Ifs', 'ands', 'buts' and other exceptions accumulate over time and in such number that there's generally a compatible slot available somewhere in which to shoehorn any observation that fails to fit the original mould. Still worse: The demand that this be done when required grows ever greater; for research in a multitude of fields may be predicated on the utility of the model.

An overthrow of the paradigm would, of necessity, negate decades of work in dozens of disciplines and absolutely nobody wants that. So dire would be the consequences that all of academia can be relied upon to unite in opposition to any theory that might threaten convention. Indeed; the greater the challenge posed by the new idea, the stronger, broader and more vociferous the opposition is sure to be.

Each dependency only appears to strengthen the underlying model. If an idea has proved productive, it is only rational to regard with scepticism any claim it might be in error. Successful application proves a theory's veracity. Proof accumulates and, eventually, experts lose their capacity to call their theory to question.

Once that happy state arrives, where all concerned know the foundational model to be true, anomalies are greeted with enthusiasm. Observations that cannot be reconciled with the model only afford specialist contributors decades of study material, or form fodder for inconsequential battles between academic factions, debating how best to account for the new data without disturbance to the governing paradigm.

Hence all the famous anecdotes of technological breakthroughs following from laboratory accidents. Someone tips over a jar and, 'Oh my god! Penicillin!' Accidents are almost the only way to break free of the closed loop.

Science, it is said, is conservative. What works is reluctantly cast aside. It's time we asked whether it ought to be so conservative. Whose interests does that conservatism serve?

Shouldn't science be more.... progressive?

Occam's Razor empowers us with the means to resolve conflict in the marketplace of ideas. But we need other tools to generate that conflict and to challenge the status-quo.

It is Applied Epistemology that gives us those tools.
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Mick Harper
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Another American airline's computers crash. Always a different airline. Always a few hours of chaos. Always things get quickly back to normal. It's obvious to an AE-ist that this is a pattern, the only question is whether it is Chinese government hackers flexing their muscles (my assumption) or something structural. One expert was wheeled on who said ridiculously, "Many of these airlines have late nineties software so we can expect a spate of these mishaps."

I know the absolute numbers are small but I was first introduced to this kind of problem because it happened to my then football club, Charlton Athletic. The floodlights went out at halftime, with the score at 0-0, so the match was abandoned. Since bookies pay out for the final result as per halftime scores in an abandoned match, as soon as it happened again somewhere else I knew it was deliberate. Twice was enough because of the rarity of the event. Just examine airline computer meltdowns before two years ago. Bet there aren't any.
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Mick Harper
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More US airline passengers delayed for several hours. This time it was ... wait for it .... a malfunction in Homeland Security's computerised Terrorist Watch List.
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Hatty
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In: Berkshire
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On the return flight with Virgin Atlantic my son found his one year-old daughter wasn't on the passenger list. It's so weird that it must have been a non-human error, surely.

Airlines routinely overbook for commercial reasons, it's a wonder they know who is actually flying. Seems they don't always.
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Mick Harper
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It may not be relevant in this case but men often 'leave' young children on foreign holidays to evade paternity duties. Possibly the mother was doing a bit of bobbing-and-weaving here which would account for the child suddenly showing up at the boarding gate.
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Hatty
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The one year-old has her own passport, as per the law, but her mugshot, taken when she was 6 months old, is well out of date (children's passports have to be renewed every five years as they change so quickly...).

The reason must be to stop abductions of very young children. It means in practice that under-16s can travel to places like Syria more freely. She's a bit young yet but developing promisingly aggressive tendencies.
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Ishmael


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The two corollary rules of discussed above, Every effect has but one cause, and Like effects, same cause, can be found embedded within Koch's Postulates
Four criteria that were established by Robert Koch to identify the causative agent of a particular disease, these include:
  1. The microorganism must be found in abundance in all organisms suffering from the disease, but should not be found in healthy organisms.
  2. The microorganism must be isolated from a diseased organism and grown in pure culture.
  3. The cultured microorganism should cause disease when introduced into a healthy organism.
  4. The microorganism must be re-isolated from the inoculated, diseased experimental host and identified as being identical to the original specific causative agent.

The first and third postulates can be broadened to apply to the scientific method in general. Here they are in reverse order, the least controversial presented first.
  • Everywhere the cause is present, the effect must be observed.
    You can't have your causative circumstances occur somewhere and not see the effect.
  • Everywhere the effect is observed, the cause must be present.
    You can't have the same effect caused by one set of circumstances in one case and by an entirely different set of circumstances in another. At any rate, such a solution is inherently unsatisfying and casts doubt upon the alleged causal connection.
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Mick Harper
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I hope you spotted my Great Unrecognised Conspiracy Theory has struck again. Just at the very moment the Trump Muslim Immigrant Imbroglio reaches its height, there is another airport glitch and hundreds of flights are grounded. It's as if the computer had a conscience.
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Ishmael


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I was reading your posts about that the other day. VERY interesting thesis!
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Ishmael


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I am writing to ask if any Applied Epistemologists are aware that our "six-year-olds rule" is actually attributed to Albert Einstein.
    It was Albert Einstein who said; “If you can’t explain it, you don’t understand it well enough.” Though it is often mis-reported as being; “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it well enough.” What Einstein was driving at was a particular application of “keep it simple, stupid”.
    -- KISS
Of course, we modify this (and rightly so) to critique the theory, rather than the theoretician. Saying; If you can’t explain it to a six year old, it's probably wrong.
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Mick Harper
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When I was starting out in this business -- aah, Jim lad -- I formulated the theory All Paradigm Theories Are Wrong By Definition. There were some technical reasons but the clincher was that they had all turned out to be wrong sooner or later but, while every human society knows this, they believe this time they've cracked it and their paradigms are true.

It followed that I could select any paradigm and bust it. This was indeed the case but because of my limited schooling -- I went to school -- I was only able to labour among the foothills. The Biggies were out of reach. I needed some technique that didn't require me to learn the subject. Thus when I turned to the Periodic Table, the current paradigm theory of chemistry, I was able to point out the salient facts that a) it is too good not to be perfect but b) it is not perfect and therefore c) the Periodic Table is wrong.

That's as far as I got. And have got. But I was reminded of those far off days by this (mercifully brief) article from today's medium.com selection. https://organiclive.medium.com/the-space-below-aluminum-7e91a112c4b0
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Mick Harper
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Science Just Confirmed Elon Musk’s Favorite Interview Question Is Brilliant
Porter’s method is based on a simple observation about liars — they don’t like to get into specifics because they know they are more likely to get caught out if they do. True tellers, on the other hand, are happy to get into the nitty gritty with you. You can leverage this truth to your advantage with the new technique, which goes by the fancy name of asymmetric information management (AIM).
https://entrylevelrebel.medium.com/science-just-confirmed-elon-musks-favorite-interview-question-is-brilliant-2a1e328592f5

The people we have to deal with are not liars, they just don't happen to have the truth to hand. Our form of AIM therefore has to go two ways

1) The first step is to check on the specifics. If we get, "That's what all the experts say" or "Why don't you read the literature yourself?" or (when dealing with paradigms) "The evidence, I'm afraid, is overwhelming" then we know that person is useless for our purposes.

(2) Unless we do get the specifics. And how! Example after example after example. Only then do we switch into AE proper and say things like, "Why does your profession seem obsessed with discovering the same thing over and over again?" to which the answer is normally, "When operating from a false paradigm there's not really much else to do."
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