Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2014 Edge Q, what scientific concept to retire?

Edge's question for 2014 is What scientific idea is ready for retirement?
176 contributors allegedly offered 174 responses.

We skim them so you don't have to, unless of course you'd like to (update: see this Long Now blogpost for some one-line synopses.).   Here's a Readers Digest smorgasbord of interesting ones, though with no friendly indexing this year.
Formatting criticisms are at the bottom of this page.

Julia Clarke: Retire Urvogel, as in, persistently asked unhelpful questions, trying to shoehorn a scientific discovery into one of an ill-fitting set of pigeonholes.

Brian Christian: Retire the view that Scientific Knowledge Should Be Structured as Literature, since it has dependencies and if, say, a paper gets retracted, one that depends upon it should automatically be flagged somehow to reflect this.

Eduardo Salcedo-Albaran: Retire the notion that Crime is Only About The Actions Of Individuals.

Eldar Shafir: Retire "that blasted dichotomous thinking"...  (not his quotation, but apropos.)

Bart Kosko: Retire the notion of statistical independence.
 "White noise is what statistical independence should sound like. ...[But] Real noise samples are not independent. .. Real noise is not and cannot be white. ... one of the most widespread instances of groupthink in all of science."

Jay Rosen: Retire "information overload," it's actually filter failure.
"Filter failure occurs not from too much information but from too much incoming "stuff" that neither reduces existing uncertainty nor raises questions that count for us."

Buddhini Samarasinghe: Retire the idea that scientists should stick to science.
"Perhaps we need to extend the scientific method to include a requirement for communication….The scientific evidence for the efficacy of vaccines, the process of evolution, the existence of anthropogenic climate change is accepted in the scientific community. Yet, within the public sphere … these settled facts are made to appear tentative. Science is based on evidence, and if that evidence tells us something new we need to incorporate that into our policies. We cannot ignore it simply because it is unpopular or inconvenient."

Todd C. Sacktor:  Retire the assumption that Long-Term Memory Is Immutable.

Gavin Schmidt:  Retire the concept of Simple answers.
"By demanding simple answers to complex questions we rob the questions of the qualities that make them interesting … need to embrace the complexity"
(But for the citizen, is "interesting" the most relevant criterion? )

David M. Buss: Retire the concept that Beauty is in the Eyes of the Beholder.

Laurence C. Smith: Retire the concept  of Stationarity—the assumption that natural-world phenomena fluctuate with a fixed envelope of statistical uncertainty that doesn't change over time.

Giulio Boccaletti wanted to retire Stationarity too.
"Petra was the center of a powerful trading empire and home to more than 30,000 people. ... Stationarity provides a convenient simplifying gambit: that plans for future water management can be based on an appropriately long historical time series of hydrology past, because the past is simply a representative sequence of realizations of a (roughly) fixed probability distribution.  … If stationarity is indeed a thing of the past, water management is no longer a "white coats" business, something that can be taken care of in the background. We must consider choices, have contingency plans for events that we might not have experienced, and accept that we might get it wrong. In other words, we must go from managing water to managing risk."

Daniel Goleman: Retire (or at least de-emphasize) carbon footprints.  Focus on the carbon handprint instead.
"The handprint calculation applies the same methodology as for footprints, but reframes the total as a positive value: Keep growing your handprint and you are steadily reducing your negative impacts on the planet"

Marcelo Gleiser:  Retire the concept of Unification.
"what's going on? Why do so many insist in finding the One in Nature while Nature keeps telling us that it's really about the many?
For one thing, the scientific impulse to unify is crypto religious. …"

Donald D. Hoffman: Retire the concept that Truer Perceptions Are Fitter Perceptions. 
"we must not take our perceptions literally. They are not the truth; they are simply a species-specific guide to behavior.   … Fitness and truth are distinct concepts in evolutionary theory…"

Nicholas G. Carr:  Retire Anti-anecdotalism.
"The danger in scorning the anecdotal is that science gets too far removed from the actual experience of life, that it loses sight of the fact that mathematical averages and other such measures are always abstractions. "

Thomas Metzinger:  Retire the concept of Cognitive Agency.
"Thinking is not something you do. Most of the time it is something that happens to you. Cutting-edge research on the phenomenon of Mind Wandering now clearly shows how almost all of us, for more than two thirds of their conscious lifetime, are not in control of their conscious thought processes."

Alex Holcombe: Retire the concept that  Science Is Self-Correcting.
Alex (Sandy) Pentland: Retire the concept of The Rational Individual.
"we are now coming to realize that human behavior is determined as much by social context as by rational thinking or individual desires"

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Retire the employment of standard deviation, since mean average deviation is a more intuitive metric.

Abigail Marsh: Retire The Distinction Between Antisociality And Mental Illness
"Mental health-focused approaches may reduce recidivism"

Andrew Li: Retire the use of calculus " …[as] a hazing ritual for those interested in going into one of the most needed fields today: computer science."

Steve Fuller: Retire the equation of Human Being with Homo Sapiens.
"Turing Test 2.0 tests of 'human citizenship' that attempt to capture the full complexity of the sorts of beings that we would have live among us as equals."

Samuel Barondes: Retire Planck's concept that Science Advances By Funerals.
"The development of new scientific truths does not depend on the passing of stubborn conservative opponents. It is, instead, mainly dependent on the continuous enrollment of talented newcomers who are eager to make their mark by changing the existing order."
Hugo Mercier wanted to retire this too:
"people who disagree with us are never going to change their mind, then why even talk to them? If we do not engage people who disagree with us in discussion, we will never learn of the—often perfectly good—reasons why they disagree with us. If we cannot address these reasons, then our arguments are likely to prove unconvincing. Our failures to convince will only reinforce the belief that we face pigheadedness rather than rational disagreement. A belief in the inefficiency of argumentation can be a destructive self-fulfilling prophecy"

Jared Diamond:  "[actually] the development of science follows much more diverse courses than only or predominantly the course of abandoning old ideas."

Jonathan Haidt: "Let's retire the pursuit of parsimony from the social sciences."

Victoria Stodden: Retire the concept of Reproducibility (scientific facts?)
"A problem with any one of these three types of reproducibility, empirical, computational, and statistical, can be enough to derail the process of establishing scientific facts."

Michael Shermer: Retire the assumption that hard-wired means permanent. 
"superstitious rituals and supernatural beliefs once held by the most learned scholars and scientists of Europe five centuries ago... the prevailing theory to explain crop failures, weather anomalies, diseases, and various other maladies and misfortunes was witchcraft, and the solution was to strap women to pyres and torch them to death. Today, no one in their right mind believes this. With the advent of a scientific understanding of agriculture, climate, disease, and other causal vectors—including the role of chance—the witch theory of causality fell into disuse.
… We may be hard-wired for violence, but we can attenuate it considerably through scientifically tested methods. "

Beatrice Golomb: Retire the concept of Psychogenic Illness. 
"The psychogenic designation is logically vacuous, not meaningfully defined so not falsifiable, grounded in petitio principii (circular reasoning)—and functions as an assault. It impedes a search, when warranted, for legitimate conditions, breaches patient-doctor trust, effectively abandons the patient, and blames him for his affliction while also casting the pall of mental infirmity. It adds to (rather than mitigating) the patient's travails, antithetical to the dictum primum non nocere—first do no harm—that had ought to guide medical care."

George Dyson: Retire the conjunction of Science *and* Technology.
"The phrase "science and technology" presumes an inseparability that may not be as secure as we think. There can be science without technology, and there can be technology without science. "

Two formatting criticisms: 

1. If I read the "responses" page HTML accurately, you can't link to any one response , not from a tweet, from the contributor bio, or from anywhere else.  But since this year too the responses are  longwinded, it's not as serious a shortcoming as it would otherwise be.
2. The "response" formatting is misleading: the concept to be retired is in bold, although "The often-seen technique of headlining your debunking with the myth in big, bold letters is the last thing you want to do. Instead, communicate your core fact in the headline." (From the  Skeptical Science Debunking Handbook (pdf), emphases added.)