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Comment: Re:The article isn't any better. (Score 1) 743

by swillden (#47978545) Attached to: How Our Botched Understanding of "Science" Ruins Everything

It isn't predictive capacity just in the sense that it will describe how known things happen - it should describe what will happen in a previously unknown situation, which is where experimentation comes in, whether it is contrived or found in nature. Take the theory that angels pushed planets around and that the movement of the stars was governed by the whim of the gods - when a theory came along (Newton's gravitation) that both described current phenomena, and also was able to predict something previously unexpected (the return of Halley's comet) it was a resounding vindication of the theory.

Yes, and the converse is also crucial: For example the Michelson-Moreley experiment observed a phenomenon (or, rather, lack of one) which defied explanation under Newtonian Mechanics. Because Newton's theory is a good explanation there was no way to make minor adjustments to it which could explain the null result. Instead, we got special and then general relativity, which completely changed the explanation to one in which gravitational forces don't really even exist.

To put it another way, what you said is that good explanations have "reach"; they explain more than the phenomenon they were created to explain. Further, they also tell us what those other phenomena are, because the explanation itself implies that reach (though sometimes we don't see all of the implications). And, finally, they are not easily modifiable to account for new observations which don't fit the theory.

This makes explanatory theories far more than simple predictive tools, and is the reason that the empiricist view of science as merely a process for deriving predictive rules is incorrect.

Comment: Stop requiring people to overpay (Score 2, Insightful) 271

The current IRS regulations effectively require people to overpay their income taxes, which results in nearly everyone getting a refund, which they want processed quickly, because somehow it's okay if the government is holding money you didn't actually owe, until you actually know how much they're holding. If, on the other hand, people have to mail in a check they don't care if it takes the IRS a few months to verify everything.

Simple solution: Eliminate the regulations that require overpayment, such as the regulation that penalizes you for underpaying if your withholdings are inadequate to cover your liabilities and aren't at lease as large as the prior year's withholdings. Some, perhaps many, people will still choose to overpay, as a sort of brain-dead savings plan, but many will reduce their withholdings, and those that still overpay will have no basis for complaint about a slower refund, since it was their choice.

But, then, I think the whole concept of mandatory withholdings is evil and wrong. It's just one of many ways that taxpayers are misled about how much they're paying. It's not the worst of such deceptions, but it's a significant one.

Comment: Re:The article isn't any better. (Score 1) 743

by swillden (#47976181) Attached to: How Our Botched Understanding of "Science" Ruins Everything

I don't know that I would state it that way, just because the fundamental measure of the quality of an explanation is its capacity to predict the results of natural phenomena.

That is only one measure of quality. Another that is equally important but harder to describe is that a good explanation is hard to change. There are all sorts of bad explanations which predict phenomena with perfect accuracy but which can be trivially modified to also address any new, different observation which didn't fit the prior form of the explanation.

One example (cadged from David Deutch's book "The Beginning of Infinity") is the Greek myth of Persephone and the changing seasons. The myth perfectly predicts that seasons will change, and when, but because it's all based on whims of gods with magical powers, you can trivially alter it to explain/predict any version of events you like... which means that in reality it doesn't actually predict anything.

Good explanations, on the other hand cannot be easily altered. Suppose, for example, that it was discovered that every 963rd year, the seasons swapped. The scientific explanation for seasons (tilt of the planet causing increased insolation in the hemisphere tilted toward the sun, due to lengthened days/shortened nights and more direct angle of incidence) simply could not provide any explanation for such a swap, unless we can find some mechanism to quickly shift the planet's axial tilt by ~30 degrees.

This characteristic of good explanation is not the same as falsifiability, BTW. The mythical explanation for seasons is also falsifiable.

Comment: Re:Because... (Score 1) 235

by swillden (#47973909) Attached to: Do Specs Matter Anymore For the Average Smartphone User?

I'm not sure about the Android or Windows Phone situation though.

The Nexus 5 32GB is £249. Officially, Google only guarantees to continue supporting and upgrading devices for 18 months, which would give an at-release "rental" price of £166. However, Google seems to have quietly abandoned the 18-month limit, given that the Nexus 4 is supposed to be receiving Android L, which means it will be supported through the end of 2015 at which point it will be three years old. If we assume the year-old Nexus 5 will follow the same course there's two years of support left, making the Nexus 5 "rental", £125 per year if you buy it right now, or £83 if you bought it when it came out.

Of course, since Nexus devices are unlocked it's pretty easy for users to continue upgrading them even after Google stops releasing updates. So assuming you're willing to type a few commands from time to time, the per-year price can be very low. My son is still using my Galaxy Nexus and there's no reason it won't continue being a very usable phone for another 2-3 years, always on the latest OS (I flashed a development version of L to a Galaxy Nexus a couple of weeks ago and it ran quite well). If we can assume that the Nexus 5 is good for five years, the at-release annual "rental" price is £50.

Comment: Re:The article is more extreme than the summary (Score 1) 743

by swillden (#47968189) Attached to: How Our Botched Understanding of "Science" Ruins Everything

"Science is the best method of obtaining Truth"

I worked in science for over a decade but never saw truth with capital T either defined in science or stated as goal of science.

Substitute "correct explanation of the universe" for "Truth" if you prefer. I think they're the same thing.

There is no notion of "Truth" there, useful information is the best one could hope for, and any physicist will tell you that it is quite possible the fundamental workings and principals of the universe might be unknowable and untestable though they hope that is not the case.

It might be unknowable, but (a) there's no indication of that (no, I don't think our failure to find a unified theory in a few generations is an indication; that just means understanding reality is hard, which we already knew) and (b) it's not clear how we could even know that it's unknowable. As we devise ever better explanations for the workings of the universe it's possible that we're not obtaining a true knowledge of what's "really" there, but if not, then what we are obtaining is completely indistinguishable from said knowledge.

What's very interesting to contemplate is how we could arrive at the knowledge that the structure of reality is unknowable. The only way I can think of is if we were to determine at some point that below (or above?) a certain scale interactions and processes become truly random, not in the sense of Quantum Mechanical randomness, which still appears to obey clear and fairly simple probabilistic rules (and which can be explained by the many-worlds hypothesis, if you want), but random in the sense of being completely without observable order.

But, even if we did achieve that knowledge, would that not, itself be Truth with a capital T? It would not be at all useful, but it would be an accurate description of reality. It would, perhaps, be the clearest example of pure science, since it would have no possible engineering applications.

Oh, one more point: Note that I'm not claiming that science ever achieves "Truth". It is and always will be an asymptotically-approaching approximation to a completely correct explanation. That doesn't change the fact that correct explanations are what science is seeking.

Comment: What is your goal? (Score 3, Interesting) 179

by swillden (#47965141) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Who Should Pay Costs To Attend Conferences?

Why do you want to attend the conference?

If your goal is to be able to do a better job for your current employer, then the employer should pay.

If your goal is to become better at the kind of thing you do, then ideally your employer should recognize that value to them and pay, but if they don't recognize it, then you have to decide whether the personal growth is worth it for the personal cost... and perhaps seriously think about finding an employer who is less short-sighted.

If your goal is to have a bit of a vacation, save your money and go on vacation some place that's interesting to you. Perhaps even Las Vegas (though that wouldn't be my choice).

Comment: Re:The article is more extreme than the summary (Score 1) 743

by swillden (#47965101) Attached to: How Our Botched Understanding of "Science" Ruins Everything

No, science is not the pursuit of Truth, that would be philosophy down the hall.

Science is the best method of obtaining Truth that we have yet discovered, namely: conjecture and criticism, with a willingness to discard ideas which fail, and no interest in ideas which are so disconnected from reality as to be impossible to test via criticism. As such, useful philosophy is a branch of science, even though it's not often viewed that way.

There's also much philosophy which doesn't allow itself to be subjected to criticism, but that's useless because without criticism it's impossible to separate error from truth. Such philosophy not only isn't the pursuit of Truth, it's completely unable ever to say anything objective about Truth.

Comment: Re:The article isn't any better. (Score 5, Insightful) 743

by swillden (#47964967) Attached to: How Our Botched Understanding of "Science" Ruins Everything

From TFA:

So let me explain what science actually is. Science is the process through which we derive reliable predictive rules through controlled experimentation. That's the science that gives us airplanes and flu vaccines and the Internet.

No - engineering "gives us airplanes and flu vaccines and the Internet". Science gives us the theoretical (in the scientific sense) frameworks and tools that engineering can apply to do that. The author shows at least as much confusion as those he decries, and he does it from the start.

Yes. That quote describes the philosophy known as "empiricism", which asserts that the epistemological purpose and process of science is to derive methods for prediction, as opposed to creating explanations. The modern, Popperian and post-Popperian, understanding of science is that it is based on the philosophy of falsifiability, and is a process of conjecture and criticism, with the goal of creating expanations for how the world works. The explanations do enable prediction, but they're deeper than that, because rules of thumb that provide accurate predictions can exist without explanations of the underlying phenomena, and such rules of thumb are strictly less valuable and less useful than explanations. The most essential difference, though there are many, is that explanations explain their own "reach", making clear the set of phenomena to which they apply, while rules of thumb don't, regardless of their accuracy.

Also, some of the criticism takes the form of experiment, but not all, and in fact not even most. Most conjectured explanations are discarded after only a little analysis, because that's all it takes to show them to be inconsistent with what's already known, or to show them to be bad or shallow explanations for other reasons. Controlled experimentation, per se, isn't even necessary. This is a good thing because in some areas of science, for example, astrophysics, we don't have the ability to experiment on the objects of study. Yet we can still theorize, criticize, examine evidence and move gradually towards ever more accurate and deeper explanations.

The explanations provided by science are, as you say, what make engineering possible, but science is the process of creating ever-better explanations of the universe, not merely of producing reliable predictive rules.

Comment: Re:Bullshit. (Score 1) 221

by swillden (#47961985) Attached to: Secret Service Critics Pounce After White House Breach

I'm gay. I live in Belgium. Our Prime Minister is gay. I saw him in the club Friday night. It doesn't _have_ to be like it is in the US.

Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't, but your example really doesn't have much bearing. The US has 30X the population of Belgium. 40X the GDP, 56X the military personnel and probably 100X the impact on world events -- all of which means there are perhaps four orders of magnitude more people interested in killing the US President than the Belgian Prime Minister (these things scale non-linearly), even when the US isn't actively trying to piss off a lot of people. Which, unfortunately, it has been for several decades now.

Though on second thought, the fact that "Belgium" is the most offensive word in the galaxy (off Earth) may mean that there are more people annoyed at your country than we think. Perhaps Mr. Di Rupo should be more cautious. At the very least, he should keep a towel handy.

Comment: Re:More and serious threats (Score 1) 221

by swillden (#47961913) Attached to: Secret Service Critics Pounce After White House Breach

It's only since the Civil War that the federal government has started to play more of a role than state government in the every day lives of people.

More recent than that. Until the New Deal the federal government was actually smaller than most state governments, and definitely had less impact on most peoples' daily lives.

Comment: Re:kill -1 (Score 1) 458

by swillden (#47959573) Attached to: Fork of Systemd Leads To Lightweight Uselessd

It's just a slightly-faster reboot that's especially useful when you must ensure the kernel doesn't change (ex. unknown illo/grub state).

I suppose, though I, at least, have never had a situation where I needed to reboot and make sure the kernel doesn't change. I've had mucked-up bootloaders aplenty, but the solution there is to fix the bootloader (and to keep a boot floppy / CD / DVD / USB stick handy).

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.