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Posts Tagged ‘knowledge

“We can judge our progress by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers, our willingness to embrace what is true rather than what feels good”*…

 

science

 

If one takes Donald Trump and his administration to embody modern conservatism, it is easy to see in their response to the coronavirus pandemic the right’s final divorce from science and expertise. There was the case of Rick Bright, the Health and Human Services scientist who claims that the Trump administration retaliated against him when he objected to the administration’s rapid push to distribute anti-malaria drugs that were largely untested for treating coronavirus patients. There are reports that the president for months ignored his own intelligence experts’ warnings that the virus threatened our shores. There was the ongoing drama over whether Trump would fire Anthony Fauci, who has headed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. And there was the president’s daily passion play—the White House press briefings where he’d stand next to scientists who grimaced as he speculated that the death toll was exaggerated and that sunlight inside the body might kill the virus.

The White House’s sorry Covid-19 track record has sparked a chorus of dissent recently distilled by New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, who argues that the crisis displays conservatives’ long-standing “antipathy to science,” owing to “populist distrust of experts, religious rejection of information that undermines biblical literalism and efforts by giant corporations to evade regulation.” But this narrative is too pat. While something is plainly amiss in the relationship of the Trumpian right to science, it is hardly as principled as the religious objections of, say, creationists opposing evolutionary theory. Neither is it straightforwardly hostile.

What’s more curious about the response by the president and his allies to the virus is rather their embrace of scientific expertise of a sort…

The story of the crisis is not quite that of scientists who knew the answers and one political party that just wouldn’t listen to them. Rather, it is a story of fracture—of conflict and confusion, of experts earning mistrust, of each side cultivating its own class of experts to own the other’s. It is also a perverse story of how a group of self-styled truth-telling outsiders turned science’s mythology against its institutions, warping it from a tool to fight the virus into a tool to attack the establishment.

How did we get here?…

Ari Schulman (@AriSchulman) explains how a new class of outsider experts is exploiting institutional failures and destabilizing knowledge: “The Coronavirus and the Right’s Scientific Counterrevolution.”

TotH to Byrne Hobart, who notes (in his nifty newsletter, The Diff):

… this essay obviously takes a side, but it tries to be fair to the side it disagrees with. Which means there are two Straussian readings: maybe it’s an essay about how science is on one side in an American political context, and the other side only makes vague gestures towards empiricism. Alternatively, it could be an essay on how science never answers political questions, but politics corrupts science. (Why doesn’t science answer political questions? Because you can’t build a coalition out of stating the obvious, but you can build one from denying it—if your beliefs are crazy, you can spot members of the ingroup. So most scientific questions are irrelevant to politics, and when they’re relevant, politics wins by default in the short term, even if it loses long-term. To build a coherent and healthy ingroup, you need beliefs that are crazy but don’t lead to bad decisions.)

Pair with another of Hobart’s suggestions: “On Cultures That Build” (and the reasons why, the author argues. the U.S. is not one).

* Carl Sagan

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As we commit to learning, we might note that today is the birthday of not one but two extraordinary mathematicians:  Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646; variants on his date of birth are due to calendar changes), the German  philosopher, scientist, mathematician, diplomat, librarian, lawyer, co-inventor, with Newton, of The Calculus, and “hero” (well, one hero) of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Trilogy…  and  Alan Turing (1912), British mathematician, computer science pioneer (inventor of the Turing Machine, creator of “the Turing Test” and inspiration for “The Turing Prize”), and cryptographer (leading member of the team that cracked the Enigma code during WWII).

Go figure…

Turing (source: Univ. of Birmingham)

Giambattista Vico was also born on this date in 1668.  A political philosopher, rhetorician, historian, and jurist, Vico was one of the greatest Enlightenment thinkers.  Best known for the Scienza Nuova (1725, often published in English as New Science), he famously criticized the expansion and development of modern rationalism and was an apologist for classical antiquity.

He was an important precursor of systemic and complexity thinking (as opposed to Cartesian analysis and other kinds of reductionism); and he can be credited with the first exposition of the fundamental aspects of social science, though his views did not necessarily influence the first social scientists.  Vico is often claimed to have fathered modern philosophy of history (although the term is not found in his text; Vico speaks of a “history of philosophy narrated philosophically”). While he was not strictly speaking a historicist, interest in him has been driven by historicists (like Isaiah Berlin).

 source

 

Written by LW

June 23, 2020 at 1:01 am

“This page contains material that is kept because it is considered humorous. It is not meant to be taken seriously.”*…

 

800px-Cow-on_pole,_with_antlers

A cow with antlers atop a pole. Wikipedia contains other images and articles that are similarly shocking or udderly amoosing.

 

Of the over six million articles in the English Wikipedia there are some articles that Wikipedians have identified as being somewhat unusual. These articles are verifiable, valuable contributions to the encyclopedia, but are a bit odd, whimsical, or something one would not expect to find in Encyclopædia Britannica. We should take special care to meet the highest standards of an encyclopedia with these articles lest they make Wikipedia appear idiosyncratic. If you wish to add an article to this list, the article in question should preferably meet one or more of these criteria:

  • The article is something a reasonable person would not expect to find in a standard encyclopedia.
  • The subject is a highly unusual combination of concepts, such as cosmic latte, death from laughter, etc.
  • The subject is a clear anomaly—something that defies common sense, common expectations or common knowledge, such as Bir Tawil, Märket, Phineas Gage, Snow in Florida, etc.
  • The subject is well-documented for unexpected notoriety or an unplanned cult following at extreme levels, such as Ampelmännchen or All your base are belong to us.
  • The subject is a notorious hoax, such as the Sokal affair or Mary Toft.
  • The subject might be found amusing, though serious.
  • The subject is distinct amongst other similar ones.
  • The article is a list or collection of articles or subjects meeting the criteria above.

This definition is not precise or absolute; some articles could still be considered unusual even if they do not fit these guidelines.

To keep the list of interest to readers, each entry on this list should be an article on its own (not merely a section in a less unusual article) and of decent quality, and in large meeting Wikipedia’s manual of style. For unusual contributions that are of greater levity, see Wikipedia:Silly Things.

At once a delineation of the frontiers of canonical (vs. valuable but off-beat) knowledge and a rabbit hole down which it’s eminently amusing to descend: “Wikipedia:Unusual articles

* Notice atop the Wikipedia page “Wikipedia:Unusual articles

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As we forage on the fringe, we might recall that it was on this date in 1975 that then-27-year-old director Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel Jaws premiered.  Released “wide” (to 500 theaters at once, as opposed to rolling out in a few theaters first, as was then customary) and backed by a (then substantial) $700,000 marketing campaign, Jaws grossed $7 million in its opening weekend (on its way to over $450 million worldwide).  Prior to Spielberg’s triumph, summer had been the studios’ dumping ground for their weaker films; Jaws ushered in the era of the summer blockbuster.

source

 

Written by LW

June 20, 2020 at 1:01 am

“In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”*…

 

book-page-1024x469

 

For years, the Internet Archive has been acquiring books (their goal is every book ever published) and warehousing them and scanning them. Now, these books are being “woven into Wikipedia” with a new tool that automatically links every Wikipedia citation to a print source to the exact page and passage from the book itself, which can be read on the Internet Archive.

Citations to print materials are both a huge potential strength and weakness for Wikipedia: a strength because there’s so much high-quality, authoritative information in print; and a weakness because people can make up (or discount) print citations and bamboozle other Wikipedians who can’t see the books in question to debate their content, context, or whether they should be included at all.

Archive founder Brewster Kahle kicked off the initiative after a discussion with Wikimedia’s executive director Katherine Maher, who was “worried that truth might fracture.”

Wikipedia is a key battleground in the war against disinformation, and the Internet Archive’s measures — which were presented to Congressional staffers yesterday — are a huge advance on the state of the art.

“I want this,” said Brewster Kahle’s neighbor Carmen Steele, age 15, “at school I am allowed to start with Wikipedia, but I need to quote the original books. This allows me to do this even in the middle of the night.”

For example, the Wikipedia article on Martin Luther King, Jr cites the book To Redeem the Soul of America, by Adam Fairclough. That citation now links directly to page 299 inside the digital version of the book provided by the Internet Archive. There are 66 cited and linked books on that article alone.

Readers can see a couple of pages to preview the book and, if they want to read further, they can borrow the digital copy using Controlled Digital Lending in a way that’s analogous to how they borrow physical books from their local library.

Via Boing Boing: “The Internet Archive’s massive repository of scanned books will help Wikipedia fight the disinformation wars“; for more details, read The Internet Archive’s announcement here.

“Together we can achieve Universal Access to All Knowledge, said, one linked book, paper, web page, news article, music file, video and image at a time.”

– Mark Graham, Director of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine

* George Orwell

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As we accelerate access, we might send insightfully-humorous birthday greetings to William Penn Adair Rogers; he was born on this date in 1879.  A stage and motion picture actor, vaudeville performer, cowboy, humorist, newspaper columnist, and social commentator, he he traveled around the world three times, made 71 films (50 silent films and 21 “talkies”), and wrote more than 4,000 nationally syndicated newspaper columns.  By the mid-1930s Rogers was hugely popular in the United States, its leading political wit and the highest paid of Hollywood film stars.  He died in 1935 with aviator Wiley Post when their small airplane crashed in northern Alaska.

Known as “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son,” Rogers was a Cherokee citizen, born to a Cherokee family in Indian Territory (now part of Oklahoma).

“I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat.”- Will Rogers

220px-Will_Rogers_1922 source

 

Written by LW

November 4, 2019 at 1:01 am

“There is a city beneath the streets”*…

 

Avtovo

Avtovo station, St. Petersburg

 

Anyone who knows a bit about Soviet state socialism knows about the Moscow Metro and its system of underground palaces; these awesome, opulent spaces have been a fixture of travel guides since the 1930s, and now they’re equally prevalent on Instagram accounts. Much less known is that these marble-clad portals in the centre of the capital are just the most visible elements of a gigantic Metro-building project that would gradually expand into more than a dozen different systems across several Republics — Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan. After Moscow came St Petersburg, Kyiv, Tbilisi, Baku, Kharkiv, Tashkent, Yerevan, Minsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Dnipro. “Metro-Trams” with palatial underground halls were built in Krivyi Rih and Volgograd; and a miniature “Cave Metro” was built for the tourist site of New Athos, Abkhazia.

Soviet experts were also responsible for engineering Metro systems outside the USSR — in Prague, Budapest, Warsaw, Sofia, Pyongyang, and Calcutta (as it then was), India’s first Metro system in the capital of Communist-governed West Bengal. Soviet Metro building was an enormous project, spanning two continents. An early slogan had it that “the whole country is building the Moscow Metro”, but between the 1960s and 80s this could have been rephrased as “the Moscow Metro is being built in the whole country”. Why, then, was this particular kind of Metro building so important?…

Decorated with chandeliers, mosaics, and Lenin busts, the Soviet Union produced the most decorative (and probably the most photographed) transport system in the world.  Find out why (and see more gorgeous photos) at “The heavens underground: the Soviet Union’s opulent metro stations, from Belarus to Uzbekistan.”

* Robert E. Sullivan Jr.

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As we go to ground, we might wish a Joyeux Anniversaire to Denis Diderot, contributor to and the chief editor of the Encyclopédie (“All things must be examined, debated, investigated without exception and without regard for anyone’s feelings.”)– and thus towering figure in the Enlightenment; he was born on this date in 1713.  Diderot was also a novelist (e.g., Jacques le fataliste et son maître [Jacques the Fatalist and his Master])…  and no mean epigramist:

From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step.

We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter.

Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

A thing is not proved just because no one has ever questioned it.

 source

 

 

Written by LW

October 5, 2019 at 1:01 am

“There is nothing new except what has been forgotten”*…

 

galaxy

 

Many galaxies would fly apart if they had as much mass as estimates based on their visible signature suggest. Although some have posited alternative theories of gravitation to explain this discrepancy, most physicists now hypothesize the existence of mass-bearing particles that are not detectable through emitted radiation such as visible light. We call these particles dark matter, and it is estimated to compose about 85% of all matter in the observable universe.

In analyzing the functional institutions of our society, we are not able to see for ourselves most of the knowledge that created them. Knowledge of this sort includes trade secrets, tacit technical knowledge, private social networks, private intelligence-gathering operations, management and persuasive skill, cooperation and collusion among founders and their allies, and founders’ long-term plans for their institutions.¹

This knowledge has profound effects on the social landscape. We must understand it if we hope to understand society. We therefore must examine intellectual dark matter: knowledge we cannot see publicly, but whose existence we can infer because our institutions would fly apart if the knowledge we see were all there was.² Such intellectual dark matter rests at the foundations of our society, dwarfing in scope and importance the accessible, shareable, visible knowledge on which we normally focus.

There are many forms of intellectual dark matter, but the three principal ones are lost, proprietary, and tacit knowledge…

Knowledge that we can show exists, but cannot directly access, rests at the foundations of society and technology.  Samo Burja explains how– and why it matters: “Intellectual Dark Matter.”

* Marie Antoinette

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As we contemplate comprehension, we might recall that it was on this date in 1587 that a group led by John White established the Roanoke Colony in what is now Dare County, North Carolina.  It was in fact the second colony there:  in 1585, 107 men had been left to establish a presence on Roanoke Island.  White and his crew were actually sailing to Chesapeake Bay, but stopped to check on the Roanoke group.  When they arrived, they found no one.  The master pilot of the expedition insisted that White and his crew of 115 men and women (re-)found the colony at Roanoke.

After years of difficulty, the group persuaded White to return to England to ask for help.  He did, but was delayed in returning by the on-going war with the Spanish, when he finally returned, in 1590, he found no trace of the colony–all inhabitants, including his grand-daughter, Virginia Dare, the first child born in Roanoke Colony, thus the first England child born in the New World, were gone, leaving behind a single word, “Croatoan,” carved on a tree.  It is believed that they attempted to migrate to Croatoan Island (near Cape Hatteras), and were absorbed into the Croatan tribe there.  In any case the story of the Lost Colony was born…  though it fact, it was the Colony Lost Again.

…one of the chiefe trees or postes at the right side of the entrance had the barke taken off, and 5. foote from the ground in fayre Capitall letters was grauen CROATOAN without any crosse or signe of distresse

-Richard Hakluyt, from his description of the deserted settlement at Roanoke Island, August 18, 1590;  Principal Navigations, Voyages of the English Nation, Vol. III, 1600

White at the tree

 

 

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