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DilGreen comments on Fake Explanations - Less Wrong

58 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 20 August 2007 09:13PM

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Comment author: DilGreen 01 October 2010 02:16:28PM 14 points [-]

Interestingly enough, my teacher, Chris. Alexander (author of A Pattern Language), recounts his entrance test for a physics degree at Cambridge. The applicants were asked to experimentally determine the magnetic field of the earth. He performed the experiment, and came up with an answer he knew to be wrong. Wrong by too large a margin to put down to experimental error. A smart chap, he had time to repeat the key part of the experiment, and recalculate - got the same answer. He used the last part of his time to write down his hypothesis for having achieved such a result. And, alone among the students, he was right. A massive electro-magnet was being used on the floor below as part of another experiment.

I believe the advice offered to me as an 18yr old physics student encountering similar circumstances was simply to show my workings and the incorrect result, and to add that I knew this was not the 'right' answer.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 13 July 2011 09:42:48PM 3 points [-]

I had a similar episode in (Russian equivalent of) 10th grade, where a physics class lab experiment had critically flawed equipment, but we were supposed to write down all the steps according to a predetermined script described in the textbook. I instead described what was really happening in the experiment, why, and what was different from the intended scenario. The teacher marked other students according to how well they adhered to the script, even though it didn't square with the actual experimental data in any way, and they had to forge or "reinterpret" the data. (I did get an A, but possibly only because of my prodigy status.)