Pragma Synesi – interesting bits

Compendium of interesting bits I come across, with an occasional IMHO

Science Isn’t Broken

Wonderful article explaining why we can’t take each scientific study as “truth”, yet science is still providing us with the best answers.  Make sure you read it at the origin, so you can play with the interactive graph.

The Scientific Method: Science Isn’t Broken

It’s just a hell of a lot harder than we give it credit for.

By Christie Aschwanden | Aug 19, 2015 | FiveThirtyEight

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August 25, 2015 Posted by | statistics | , , , | Leave a comment

“I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss”

You cannot always believe what the newspapers write.  Or what scientific journals write.

I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How.

John Bohannon | 5/27/15 |

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May 31, 2015 Posted by | nutrition | , , , | Leave a comment

Play the game, help science

Cool “spot-the-egg” game that helps science. Can you get on the high-score board?

September 26, 2014 Posted by | evolution, fun | , , , | Leave a comment

Unreliable research

If you think you can rely on scientific research as truth, you’d be wrong, according to this article. I certainly will be much more skeptical of research from now on.  Well explained, a must-read article from The Economist:

Unreliable research:

Trouble at the lab

Scientists like to think of science as self-correcting. To an alarming degree, it is not

The Economist, Oct 19th 2013

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April 8, 2014 Posted by | information, statistics | , , , , | Leave a comment

When simplifying reality doesn’t work

Science is just coming up with better and better ways to predict something by simplification of reality — discovering “causations”. Statistics is supposed to help us with this.  But we tend to forget that causations supposedly found this way are not reality, just something we come up with to help our ability to predict better.  The universe is extremely complex, and simplifying assumption can make our predictions wrong.  A fascinating article from Wired magazine, January 2012:

Why Science Is Failing Us



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January 5, 2012 Posted by | behaviour, decision making, philosophy | , , , , | Leave a comment

Explaining Religion

“Explaining Religion” is a three-year European scientific collaboration involving scholars from 14 universities. Some of their intriguing experiments are detailed in the article below.

From The Economist, Mar 19th 2008:

The science of religion:Where angels no longer fear to tread

Science and religion have often been at loggerheads. Now the former has decided to resolve the problem by trying to explain the existence of the latter

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February 26, 2011 Posted by | behaviour, economics, psychology, religion | | Leave a comment

The End of Theory?

“All models are wrong, but some are useful” — I love that quote. For me it highlights the raison d’etre of science: to predict and therefore to increase control. I don’t agree with the article that theories and models will become obsolete, but it is time to add some new tools to the set of predicting tools we already have.  And use the most useful ones.



The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete

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August 7, 2008 Posted by | statistics | , , , , | 4 Comments

How Anecdotal Evidence Can Undermine Scientific Results

For me, this is the key quote from the article below:
“…we have evolved brains that pay attention to anecdotes because false positives (believing there is a connection between A and B when there is not) are usually harmless, whereas false negatives (believing there is no connection between A and B when there is) may take you out of the gene pool…”
Something to watch for – both in self and in others.

Scientific American Magazine – July 25, 2008

How Anecdotal Evidence Can Undermine Scientific Results

Why subjective anecdotes often trump objective data

By Michael Shermer

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August 1, 2008 Posted by | behaviour, brain, decision making, evolutionary psychology | , , , | 2 Comments

The science of religion

The science of religion

Mar 19th 2008
From The Economist print edition

Science and religion have often been at loggerheads. Now the former has decided to resolve the problem by trying to explain the existence of the latter
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April 21, 2008 Posted by | anthropology, behaviour, brain, economics, evolutionary psychology, religion | , , | Leave a comment

In search of Truth

As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality,
they are not certain; and as far as they are certain,
they do not refer to reality. — Albert Einstein

Humans have a strong urge to find the “truth”. I think that’s an evolutionary trait helpful in gaining control — the “truth” allows for better predictions hence you have more control over your situation and have a better chance of survival/reproductive success. But due to our limited knowledge and limited perceptions there is no way we can find the ultimate, actual truth about anything. What we do is form a model that fits within our limited knowledge, and use it as the ultimate truth. A better approach would be to use the model as a predictor, and watch for a superior predictor to replace it, knowing that neither is likely to be the real truth. Einstein’s quote above puts this idea succinctly.

It sounds like scientists would all have this approach, but human nature intervenes — most believe their models (theories) are the truth and will argue vigourously to defend it as such. I’d much rather they’d argue to defend their theories as being the best predictors they know of. The difference in approach should give one an open mind to improvements.

Those whose beliefs of “truth” comes from a book (such as creationists) would benefit the most from this approach, as models in such books are not useful for prediction. Their vigourous arguments to defend their truth rests solely on discrediting other models. By not being able to predict properly with their useless models, they give up control over their lives.

March 13, 2008 Posted by | behaviour, imho, religion | , , , , | Leave a comment