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Comment author: Will_Sawin 13 August 2017 06:33:13PM 1 point [-]

Just a quick note on your main example - in math, and I'm guessing in theoretic areas of CS as well, we often find that searching for fundamental obstructions to a solution is the very thing that allows us to find the solution. This is true for a number of reasons. First, if we find no obstructions, we are more confident that there is some way to find a solution, which always helps. Second, if we find a partial obstruction to solutions of a certain sort, we learn something crucial about how a solution must look. Third, and perhaps most importantly, when we seek to find obstructions and fail, we may find out way blocked by some kind of obstruction to an obstruction, which is a shadow of the very solution we seek to find, and by feeling it out we can find our way to the solution.

Comment author: JonahSinick 27 June 2015 02:02:48AM *  8 points [-]

The top 3 answers to the MathOverflow question Which mathematicians have influenced you the most? are Alexander Grothendieck, Mikhail Gromov, and Bill Thurston. Each of these have expressed serious concerns about the community.

  • Grothendieck was actually effectively excommunicated by the mathematical community and then was pathologized as having gone crazy. See pages 37-40 of David Ruelle's book A Mathematician's Brain.

  • Gromov expresses strong sympathy for Grigory Perelman having left the mathematical community starting on page 110 of Perfect Rigor. (You can search for "Gromov" in the pdf to see all of his remarks on the subject.)

  • Thurston made very apt criticisms of the mathematical community in his essay On Proof and Progress In Mathematics. See especially the beginning of Section 3: "How is mathematical understanding communicated?" Terry Tao endorses Thurston's essay in his obituary of Thurston. But the community has essentially ignored Thurston's remarks: one almost never hears people talk about the points that Thurston raises.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 27 June 2015 11:29:34PM 1 point [-]

Thank you for all these interesting references. I enjoyed reading all of them, and rereading in Thurston's case.

Do people pathologize Grothendieck as having gone crazy? I mostly think people think of him as being a little bit strange. The story I heard was that because of philosophical disagreements with military funding and personal conflicts with other mathematicians he left the community and was more or less refusing to speak to anyone about mathematics, and people were sad about this and wished he would come back.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 27 June 2015 01:36:21AM 3 points [-]

That's because outside of physics (and possibly chemistry) there are enough constants running around that all quantities are effectively dimensionless. I'm having a hard time seeing a situation in say biology where I could propose dimensional analysis with a straight face, to say nothing of softer sciences.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 27 June 2015 10:01:32PM 2 points [-]

One thing that most scientists in these soft scientists already have a good grasp on, but a lot of laypeople do not, is the idea of appropriately normalizing parameters. For instance dividing something by the mass of the body, or the population of a nation, to do comparisons between individuals/nations of different sizes.

People will often make bad comparisons where they don't normalize properly. But hopefully most people reading this article are not at risk for that.

Comment author: btrettel 27 June 2015 03:40:42PM 1 point [-]

Not familiar with Noether's theorem. Seems useful for constructing models, and perhaps determining if something else beyond mass, momentum, and energy is conserved. Is the converse true as well, i.e., does conservation imply that symmetries exist?

I'm also afraid I know nearly nothing about non-linear stability, so I'm not sure what you're referring to, but it sounds interesting. I'll have to read the Wikipedia page. I'd be interested if you know any other good resources for learning this.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 27 June 2015 09:58:14PM 0 points [-]

Conservation gives a local symmetry but there may not be a global symmetry.

For instance, you can imagine a physical system with no forces at all, so everything is conserved. But there are still some parameters that define the location of the particles. Then the physical system is locally very symmetric, but it may still have some symmetric global structure where the particles are constrained to lie on a surface of nontrivial topology.

Comment author: William_Quixote 31 July 2014 06:29:41PM 5 points [-]

Physicists's responses to a given claim of discovering FTL signaling are one of the most predictable phenomena I can think of—even the comets and the tides throw more curveballs. One could easily replace them with a chatbot.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 06 August 2014 06:48:36PM 1 point [-]

Do you often read physicist's response to claims of FTL signalling? It seems to me like there is not much value in reading these, per the quote.

Comment author: XiXiDu 11 March 2014 06:32:39PM *  2 points [-]

If you are already unable to determine the relevant expert community you should maybe ask how accurate people have been who started a new research field compared to people decades after the field has been established.

If it turns out that most people who founded a research field should expect their models to be radically revised at some point, then you should probably focus on verifying your models rather than prematurely drawing action relevant conclusions.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 11 March 2014 09:33:23PM 2 points [-]

No, you should focus on founding a research field, which mainly requires getting other people interested in the research field.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 04 March 2014 01:48:54AM -1 points [-]

Unfortunately, the people involved have an incentive to keep them closed.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 04 March 2014 02:42:39AM 1 point [-]

I don't think that's really relevant to the original quote.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 01 March 2014 07:20:31PM 4 points [-]

Unfortunately, governments are really bad at doing this.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 03 March 2014 05:31:05PM 1 point [-]

True, but that doesn't mean we're laboring in the dark. It just means we've got our eyes closed.

Comment author: Xodarap 01 March 2014 09:05:14PM 10 points [-]

From Ng et al.:

Political knowledge and skills included the following two measures: political knowledge (e.g., Chao, O’Leary-Kelly, Wolf, Klein, & Gardner, 1994; Seibert, Kraimer, & Crant, 2001) and supervisor-focused political tactics (e.g., Wayne, Liden, Graf, & Ferris, 1997)

Taking the Chao paper as an example, they look at things like "do you know who the most influential people in your organization are?" and "do you know what to do to get the most desirable work assignments?"

The Wayne paper looked at how frequently people used the tactics I listed in the article.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 03 March 2014 04:00:35AM 8 points [-]

I would be interested in a post about how to acquire political knowledge!

Comment author: James_Miller 01 March 2014 05:27:27PM *  22 points [-]

[A]lmost no innovative programs work, in the sense of reliably demonstrating benefits in excess of costs in replicated RCTs [randomized controlled trials]. Only about 10 percent of new social programs in fields like education, criminology and social welfare demonstrate statistically significant benefits in RCTs. When presented with an intelligent-sounding program endorsed by experts in the topic, our rational Bayesian prior ought to be “It is very likely that this program would fail to demonstrate improvement versus current practice if I tested it.”

In other words, discovering program improvements that really work is extremely hard. We labor in the dark -- scratching and clawing for tiny scraps of causal insight.

Megan McArdle quoting or paraphrasing Jim Manzi.

[Edited in response to Kaj's comment.]

Comment author: Will_Sawin 01 March 2014 06:57:46PM 6 points [-]

10% isn't that bad as long as you continue the programs that were found to succeed and stop the programs that were found to fail. Come up with 10 intelligent-sounding ideas, obtain expert endorsements, do 10 randomized controlled trials, get 1 significant improvement. Then repeat.

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