Risk-modeling is culpable to the errors Taleb talks about, and virtually all application of scientific investigation relies on risk-modelling, so to say that science can somehow wipe its hands clean of any misuse is absurd. Of course there is admirable work in science, but the division between it and pseudo-science is blurred, not nearly as clear-cut as we like to think. And besides, whatever you think of ‘social sciences’ they are accepted by the our socio-political systems as credible sources for governance, for health, for predictions. They are treated as if they are science. And that, to me, is the charlatanism that ought to be highlighted, far more than religion.
I have read a fair bit in my time, I have spent a lot of time with philosophical ideas, and occasionally there comes this book that changes everything, there really are only a handful in my life: Douglas Hofstader’s Godel, Escher, Bach: The Golden Braid, Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals and The Use and Abuse of History, Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, Dostoevsky’s Karamazov Brothers, and now, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan. In a way, The Black Swan is a culmination of feelings and ideas I have had at one point or another enlarged upon and enriched and defended in a way that clarifies them, gives them a context and forges a new way to live and experience the world. The best part is that it is immensely readable. It has weighty things to say but unlike any philosopher I have ever read he is able to make them clear and entertaining and, I suspect, appeal to a wide audience… exactly what this books needs to do. No hyperbole is good enough, this truly is a book that could change the world were its exposure wide enough. It identifies the intellectual hubris of modern civilization and gives us a framework by which we could readjust.
Your ‘scientific method’ is a great display car but it is meaningless when we are talking about the act of driving. The second you drive it, it is culpable, and not because human beings are stupid, but because ONLY human beings use it – scientific-method-in-use has no innate protection from deception, it can marginalize it to a degree, but, Taleb’s argument would be that degree is far from satisfactory and could be much better with applied skeptical empiricism a la the Black Swan theory.
People don’t do science the way the scientific method is thought to be done, anymore than people do their jobs according to the posted job descriptions. There are similarities, and a narrative fallacy can connect the dots and make it easier to accept, but if you are rigorous with the your skepticism you can see how quickly that falls away
The scientific method is only as good as its inputs and the theories underlying the use of those inputs. It is a fallacy to think the method can weed out the errors that may exist unnoticed within these processed components to the task at hand. Each scientist would have to verify every step of every theory underlying the use of every piece of input, in order for the Scientific Method to be Scientific.
In actuality, people skim, and narratives prevail.
there is only a finite amount of time for each scientist to work with NOT JUST the data but the underlying interpretations of the data in every facet of the task at hand. I can’t actually believe we would have this argument, because it boggles my mind how someone could even claim people do that. There comes a fairly arbitrary point depending on the scientist where the granularity of information is skimmed and accepted. Do you verify and cross reference various interpretations of Bernoulli’s principle if it is an indirect piece of the puzzle of the data you are presently working on, or do you just accept the greatness of science and let it pass, and let those people focusing on Bernoulli’s principle solely to work it out? Science is compartmentalized, the assumption is verifications are being done somewhere else by someone else.
Next let me clarify what I mean by the scientific method, because I think I have been using two uses interchangeably when they shouldn’t be. There is the more general idea of scientific method, a set of steps that essentially Bob mentioned awhile ago, and let’s say it is a general tool, and on the last step when you retest you can do it yourself.. kind of the independent thinker approach I guess. In that respect, Taleb used something like a scientific method, and I am sure even pseudo-scientists can concoct whatever they want through that method and get bad results. Why? Because the method itself cannot prevent any and all misinterpretation and reliance on skimmed information. It is like saying if you have the right tool you won’t make a mistake
Can we agree there is no Scientific Method without people, and more to the point people interpreting data? So let’s accept this ‘marginal’ fallibility in the method… the question remains: is it possible that errors can persist in this ecosystem without being uncovered, not just for a year or two, but decades or centuries? I am guessing you would both say yes, or there is some SERIOUS positivism going on here. I am guessing the response would be “sure there are errors here and there and sometimes they are not seen for a long time, but they are exceptions and marginally insignificant because the same peer-reviewed risk-modelling techniques that people have won Nobel prizes for assure us of this”. The integrity is sound by a statistical regress argument, and more so, a positivist regress argument.
Taleb: “We need data to discover a probability distribution. How do we know if we have enough? From the probability distribution. If it is Gaussian, then a few points will suffice. How do we know it is Gaussian? From the data.”
So back to this hypothetical defense, one could say the errors are marginal because on a bell curve, the majority is sound and the deviations are a minority and less significant. THIS IS THE ERROR. What is not appreciated, what Taleb shows, what changes fucking everything, is the standard by which risk-modeling on a curve is a ludic fallacy (not lucid Gamble), it is like talking about a game of dice and trying to apply it to the real world which plays by different rules. Depending on the error, some are marginal and insignificant, but some are not, some are “scalable” and it is the scalability of the error that causes a Black Swan, it is the scalability that displaces the Gaussian bell curve, it is the scalability that undermines ANY scientific study (peer-reviewed up the ass) that hinges upon, directly or indirectly risk-modeling of this kind. It is not a minor problem, because, for example look at the defense for the integrity of The Scientific Method, which if Taleb is right, undermines your argument that the benefits outweigh and overwhelm the marginal decimal point adjustment errors. Einstein changed Newtonian Physics, Taleb is changing the narrative about what lies beneath the banner of scientific credibility… and even better he did so OUTSIDE OF THE PEER-REVIEW SYSTEM. That, in itself, shows its weakness. The Scientific Method, however you want to manicure it is a political system (by virtue of the peer-review mechanism, by citation numbers, by Nobel prizes jockeying). It is no more a representation of the reality of science than the Constitution is of the United States. People cheat, cliques are created (you cite me, I cite you), pressure is created to silence evidence (Taleb talks about Henri Poincare who actually came up with a lot of the Black Swan ideas, but depending on the politics of that given time, his influence was marginalized) and the enthusiasm for clarity over randomness, for justification for whole areas of study (economics for example) won out.
: the narrative of Scientific Integrity hinges upon the ‘history of the victors’… the silent counter-evidence exists and can be looked at to contextualize the truth, but more often than not, like with history, the narrative is retroactively told by those in a position of power to tell it. The myth outweighs the reality. Taleb exposes this in several cases.
“So the problem is a misunderstanding of what science is. It’s an ongoing search for knowledge which uses the method as one of its tools to add to that bank of knowledge.”
And I am saying it is an ideal never achieved, and that you are in the act of myth-making something that happens differently (it is similar, sure, but in one key aspect significantly different). And this isn’t just a useless philosophical parlor game trick. Underlying the concept of science, which informs how we approach it, is the science-doing and from that can be abstracted this model, this scientific method. Let me put it this way: I 100% agree that the Scientific Method you are talking about, this apolitical concept, this ideal, is apolitical and ideal and infallible (and it is a display car with no engine). But it is infallible because it is an ideal, science is done in the minds of people, in the physical tweaking of laser trajectories, in the interpretations of phenomena into theories and the continual retesting (the method cannot save us from those errors in waiting).
Your position appears to be that it can save us well enough, that there is a pragmatism to it that transcends individual use or patterns or corruption. There is only pragmatism if it can spot the corruptions occurring to it outside of the box. My point is there is a significant blindspot this “Science” cannot see. Nobody investigates “Science” except pseudo-scientists! It is a conceptual idea, not the act of doing. You need to apply the scientific method to science itself to resolve the blight I am talking about. But scientists with the same attitude of Gamble won’t do that because there are demarcations of what is true science and what is gobbly-gook, and this is a barrier on knowledge, presumably for the sake of the integrity of the cumulative knowledge base.
In the act of preserving a kind of knowledge you cut off the ability to analyze the integrity of the method you use.
Now from your last comment, Bob, I get the idea you are more lenient about what can be pooled in with this idea of the Scientific Method, that economists, insurance analysts, statisticians, philosophers, can be included so long as they use this technique, and somehow the peer-bases feed off of one another (?) . I have been arguing more against Gamble’s opinion of a group of people using the method the ‘right’ way vs the pseudos (because after all, the methodology can be used exactly the same way irrespective of the inputs, this is my confusion with you saying The Scientific Method, without the details of the specific group of scientists, it is merely the same method used by fringe groups, the method can support or disprove some crazy shit, what matters is the peer-system it is attached to).
Ingrained in the methodology is the need of peer-reviewing, and so this notion that you can speak of the pure form of it without the political, is wrong. You cannot have a group of people judging the integrity of one another’s reason without it being political. That, again, is an ideal not based in reality – it removes human behavior from the equation. The corruption is endemic to the process, and my whole thing about Black Swan theory is the corruption is far greater and more damaging than the anointed have been able to acknowledge.
Now maybe you are saying the introduction of Black Swan theory is a part of this “Scientific Method” success story, they (human beings) got it wrong but over time, they get it more right. OK. That is not attributed to science (concept or the doers). That is attributed to the human race. With that wide a net you can excuse almost any short-sightedness that soon after a calamity, finds an answer.
My target is the Scientific Community (of which the Method is a tool) insofar as we pretend such a thing can be demarcated.
“if we as humans decide to make [the scientific method] political, well, we’re just stupid. And science couldn’t care less.”
Science can’t care because you have removed the human from the equation
the scientific method itself is only as good as the peer-review system it adopts, and by that I mean the parameters. If you only want to have findings that can be reproduced and verified empirically as close to phenomena as you can get, and the peer-system devoutly adheres to this than the likelihood is there will be relatively sound means of refining a particular kind of knowledge.
Theoretically you could use the same steps of the scientific method, change the parameters, so that it is not empirical, but within a certain realm of logic that is ascribed, have a peer-system on the same page and churning out refined product along those lines. That was my point above about fringe people being able to use the method and the value not inherent to it. The value is value added by the particular set we think of as scientists.
Is all knowledge empirical? No. How well does the scientific community consult knowledge outside the realm of empiricism? Are there degrees of integrity they are willing to integrate with? And if so, if they will absorb findings that are not empirical, conceptual frameworks, philosophical ideas, why then is there a circling of the wagons to assert the empirical integrity of science? The demarcation is either blurred or it isn’t.
my personal opinion is the demarcation IS blurred, but that the way science is done is like a high-functioning autistic. Kind of the way the Catholic Church has to get with the times, whether it likes it or not, there is top-down inspirations from outside of the demarcation to be relevant. The selecting of Nobel winners, perhaps, or just a free-floating narrative that infiltrates, the community integrates into its theories conceptual frameworks, from philosophy, from economics, from statistics and that is how the ‘high-functioning’ aspect occurs, otherwise it would be utterly hopeless. These free-floating meta-narratives are not scientific, not empirical, but intuited. And they can fail (I mean by scientific standards as well as higher magnitude). Failure can come from not enough input from outside of the box, or the ideological bent of the input by way of power bias.
It is not just that the act of science refines useful knowledge, it can blind us of the dangers in the process. Look hard enough at the single point on the horizon and you are liable to walk off a cliff.