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Principles of Applied Epistemology (APPLIED EPISTEMOLOGY)
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Mick Harper
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Most pyramidal organisations have some sort of external validation for what qualifies as success. A commercial PLC for example has profit. A voluntary society has membership rolls. A government has re-election. All these things are grossly inefficient markers but, in the long term, it can be assumed that quality will drive out non-quality. What works, works. The people in the pyramid know what is expected and expect to move up if they do it conscientiously. The organisation itself prospers or does not prosper accordingly.

And there is another external corrective as well, competition between organisations. The PLC will get taken over; the voluntary society will lose out to others in the same line; the country gets occupied by another country with a more efficient government etc etc. Again, not very efficiently but long term effective enough.

In almost all areas of life there is something greater enjoining efficiency. How much of this is true of universities?
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Mick Harper
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At the strictly organisational level, quite a lot. At the important level, the advancement of knowledge level, not at all. Because...
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Mick Harper
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I am struggling with all this for inclusion in (the new version of) the new book. So give me any help you can. It starts off like this (in a section dealing with academese)
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No academic paper will be accepted by a peer-reviewed journal unless it is written in academese, but why exactly? Every single reader of that journal would be more comfortable reading it in plain English, so what is behind this captious requirement?

It is not, as suspicious minds might suppose, the modern equivalent of requiring everything to be in Latin. That is certainly useful to ensure only fully paid-up members of the guild are involved in the process, but the more useful attribute of academese is saying nothing of any worth without anyone unduly noticing. Truisms, chat, redundancies, assertions as fact, saying the same thing in different ways, all these things are difficult to hide in plain English. Ask any sub-editor on any newspaper. But even this is not the most important function of academese.

The suppression of truth is.
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Mick Harper
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To teach the fundamentals of any subject, the teacher must know what they are. He or she must be taught them. How is that possible when a teacher will be taught in one place, at one time, by one set of teachers, but will end up teaching at other places at a later time? Obviously there must be some higher authority ensuring what is taught is the same everywhere and that is not possible when, as is the case with academia, there is no higher authority. Every university is its own highest authority, they pride themselves on it.

How then is it that every university in the world teaches the same basics? They do not teach morphic resonance so there must be some other, more prosaic, mechanism at work. It does not have a name – these things are not much studied – but ‘peer review’ would probably be the term most academics would reach for. There are lots of ways to attain uniformity using this but, oddly, the peer review of ‘peer reviewed journals’ is not one of them.
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Hatty
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But even this is not the most important function of academese.

The suppression of truth is.

You make this very provocative statement and then ignore it, going on to talk about uniformity. So perhaps what you meant was academese is the means by which uniformity is achieved? Though, if so, it doesn't seem to be much use as a tool.
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Mick Harper
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Well, you are nearly correct. I go on to develop the argument

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Editors of such journals cannot know what the individuals they send papers to for evaluation will believe about any given subject. The system only works because those individuals have already been screened for orthodoxy i.e. every academic has. It requires going at least one step back, to the appointment of academics.

Now, true, they will be appointed by other academics but this still does not solve the problem. No interviewing panel is going to check the candidate for soundness on the fundamentals. It will be assumed. So it goes back another level: every candidate will arrive holding uniform fundamental beliefs and we are back where we started, individuals being taught by other individuals, in individual places, at individual times – and all ending up with identical fundamental beliefs, beliefs which are not themselves subject to any authority!

It is tempting to draw parallels with religions but this is very wide of the mark. Not only do religions have mechanisms for enjoining uniformity, not only do they have a very narrow range of fundamental beliefs, they actually prize the unvarying nature of those beliefs.

Universities are supposed to be the opposite of this. They are meant to be the instrument of change in the sense of throwing out old stuff and bringing in the new. They are supposed to be supermarkets competing by innovation in the market place of ideas not football clubs competing by playing from the same rule book in front of their own captive audience.
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Mick Harper
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before completing it with
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There is only one way to square all these circles. To be dogmatic about fundamentals and allow free rein for disputation about anything not fundamental. In theory such a system could work if there were frequent ‘paradigm crashes’ as one set of fundamentals are overthrown in favour of a newer, better set but alas and alack this just does not happen. It cannot happen.

If you employ professionals on the basis of their orthodoxy, if they are required to teach that orthodoxy on a daily basis, if they are promoted on the basis of publishing in peer-reviewed journals, you will not be employing people who are temperamentally likely to create, or much favour, paradigm crashes.

After the early heroic days of discovery, academic subjects always end up as religions, complete with hierophants and dogma. Academese then does not quite suppress the truth so much as suppress change. It appears to be a matter of pot luck whether they have already stumbled on the truth. But that is where revisionists come in. ‘Oh look, you’ve got that wrong, time to stumble out again.’ They may not listen but it is our duty to present it to them all the same. You never know, if they’ve got enough things wrong it may be time for a paradigm crash.
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then I resume the matter in hand (which in this case happens to be manuscripts being held by the National Library of Wales and the way academese is used to present them as ancient when they are actually 17th century -- and conceded to be so by the NLW!
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Mick Harper
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Applied Epistemology eBook | Free Online
While applied epistemology has been neglected for much of the twentieth century, it has seen emerging interest in recent years, with key thinkers in the field helping to put it on the philosophical map. Although it is an old tradition, current technological and social developments have dramatically changed both the questions it faces and the methodology required to answer those questions ...

Now that I didn't know. Or at least I've never seen any signs that they know.
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Mick Harper
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AE is always railing against sins of proportion. A good example cropped up today on medium.com

5 Greatest Science Books Of All Time
The literature masterpieces that you must study

Sunny Labh

Aside from none of them being masterpieces of literature, the list contains a couple of turkeys. Which are they, why are they, and how would an AE-ist know they were (probably) without further ado?

Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica Isaac Newton
On The Origin Of Species Charles Darwin
A Brief History Of Time Stephen Hawking
Cosmos Carl Sagan
Physica Aristotle
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Grant



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The Hawking and Sagan books were examples of famous scientists cashing in on their popular fame. Unlikely to be classics, although nice to read on a train
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Mick Harper
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Nobody had heard of Hawking before the book. Ditto, Darwin. Trains had not been invented in Aristotle's time (not sure about Newton) so your other test is N/A.
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Wile E. Coyote


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The bestist science book ever has to be The Journals of Lewis and Clark by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, as in it they wrote about discovering Coyote. Of course the trouble with you lot is then you used that knowledge to try to exterminate me. It's in your nature.
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Mick Harper
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My pet algorithm sent me something of mine from twenty years ago. It was an article commissioned by the official Graham Hancock website where I had been selected as Author of the Month (for THOBR). Reading it again -- I'm like Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest -- I was amazed at how many nascent principles of AE were to be found in it. Whether for this reason or not, I am going to post it up here in parts

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Dear Graham Hancock Fans, Since I’ve been chosen as author-of-the-month and have been asked to say a few words to you, I’d better start by saying what I think about Mr Hancock’s books. On the whole, I agree with my Aunt Vera who, when asked where her family was from said, 'Mostly Barking.' On the other hand, if only one per cent of what Graham says is true, he’s entitled to a Nobel Prize. No, my main gripe with this whole Alternative History lark is that you all suffer from two chronic failings:

You are far too respectful of academia
You are just not ambitious enough

Since this may surprise you and it will certainly astonish the academics I’ll give you an illustration of what I mean. Let’s take the only one of your current enthusiasms I am really familiar with: this business about the three Giza pyramids being laid out like the stars of Orion’s Belt with the Nile acting as the Milky Way alongside. Now, frankly, I’m not much impressed by the three pyramids duplicating Orion’s Belt. After all, it can’t be that difficult to arrange ("Left a bit, Khufru "). No, the tricky part is arranging for a very large river to flow past when you’re stuck in the middle of a howling desert.

You thought the Nile was already there, did you? OK, well I’m going to demonstrate this ain’t necessarily so and, as they say on Time Team, I’ve got just ten minutes to do it.
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Mick Harper
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So where do we start? Well, obviously where the Nile starts, at its source in the Orongaronga Hills or wherever. (Look it up, Cynthia, these people are sticklers for detail.) Let’s imagine we’re a little drop of rain falling on the Orongaronga Hills and then hence into this tiny rivulet that will eventually become the mighty Nile. The first question that arises is where do we go? Do we go

south to the Cape?
east to the Indian Ocean?
west to the Atlantic?
north to Lake Victoria?

We go north to Lake Victoria. Anything strange about that? Nothing whatsoever. A perfectly natural thing to do. Now while we are wending our way through Lake Victoria, we’ve got just enough time to ask a vital question: what’s the one thing you know about Lake Victoria? Go on, have a good think. It’s the fact that it’s sort of square-shaped. Not exactly the kind of shape we ordinarily expect from our lakes; looks more like a reservoir on a giant scale. Is that significant? Not particularly; after all, a lake’s got be something-shaped and being squarish is as good a shape as anything else.

Or is it? No, I don’t care what you say, there’s something not-quite-right about square-shaped lakes. I don’t know what it is but I’m going to file it away as an oddity because you never know. Well actually there is a way of knowing and it’s called The Golden Rule

Whenever anything odd hoves into view, look round for something similarly odd, because:
two odd things side-by-side make a coincidence, and we don’t like coincidences, do we?

One of the longer rules of our profession but one of the best.
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Mick Harper
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And, yes, as luck would have it, right next door, there is another slightly odd-shaped lake, Lake Tanganyika. Now this is odd in quite a different way: it’s sort of long and zig-zaggy. Again, I’m not quite sure why but this is not a shape I associate with lakes. The nearest thing that springs to mind is when they build a dam in a gorge, form a long snaking reservoir and thousands of protesting villagers have to be moved.

That word reservoir has popped up again. Interesting. Nevertheless, not much to show for our efforts so far; a couple of lakes that might or might not be oddly shaped. The ten minutes will soon be up; we need something big to happen, and quickly. OK, try this for size: having got through Lake Victoria, where does our little molecule of water head for? It can’t really go back south again, so does it

Take the short hop east down to the Indian Ocean?
No, for some reason, it decides against that course of action.
Does it take the slightly longer but still eminently reasonable direction west across to the Atlantic?
No, for some reason it doesn’t like that way either.

What it does decide to do is to go north, crossing the world’s biggest swamp without draining away, then it crosses the world’s biggest desert without evaporating away, all the time steadfastly ignoring the siren calls of any and every nearby bit of sea in order to disgorge itself into the furthest bit of ocean the African continent can offer.
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