Archive for falsification

beyond subjective and objective in Statistics

Posted in Books, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 28, 2015 by xi'an

“At the level of discourse, we would like to move beyond a subjective vs. objective shouting match.” (p.30)

This paper by Andrew Gelman and Christian Hennig calls for the abandonment of the terms objective and subjective in (not solely Bayesian) statistics. And argue that there is more than mere prior information and data to the construction of a statistical analysis. The paper is articulated as the authors’ proposal, followed by four application examples, then a survey of the philosophy of science perspectives on objectivity and subjectivity in statistics and other sciences, next to a study of the subjective and objective aspects of the mainstream statistical streams, concluding with a discussion on the implementation of the proposed move. Continue reading

astronomical evidence

Posted in pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2015 by xi'an

As I have a huge arXiv backlog and an even higher non-arXiv backlog, I cannot be certain I will find time to comment on those three recent and quite exciting postings connecting ABC with astro- and cosmo-statistics [thanks to Ewan for pointing out those to me!]:

the dangers of pseudo-science

Posted in Books, University life with tags , , , on October 26, 2013 by xi'an

“The borderlines between genuine science and pseudoscience may be fuzzy, but this should be even more of a call for careful distinctions, based on systematic facts and sound reasoning. To try a modicum of turtle blood here and a little aspirin there is not the hallmark of wisdom and even-mindedness. It is a dangerous gateway to superstition and irrationality.”

“This is a standard modus operandi of pseudoscience: it adopts the external trappings of science, but without the substance.”

Interestingly enough, the New York Times paper on Traditional Chinese medicine that I discussed in a previous post induced a new (reply) column in the New York Times by Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry. It is called the dangers of pseudo-science and it rightly separates empirical hypothetico-deductive reasoning (like bark helping with headaches) from irrational beliefs like qi, which cannot be tested or falsified. The authors echo (much more eloquently) my surprise at Asma’s discourse as being opposed to the fundamentals of the philosophy of science and as using particularly weak philosophical arguments… Of course, the difference between science and pseudo-science has always been a fuzzy one, dixit the above quote, as illustrated for instance in the first issues of the Proceedings of the Royal Society, which mixed articles introducing calculus with articles attempting to prove the existence of God and articles about witchcraft experiments. But there are cases like astrology (and qi) that are demonstrably pseudo-science, for being both non-falsifiable and inoperative at explaining (and predicting) phenomenons and effects. (As a coincidence (?), I bought a very short introduction to Philosophy of Science while in Warwick. And may even post about this book! I think I will abstain from Pigliucci’s and Boudry’s, Philosophy of Pseudoscience, though, as it would take me a bit far from home.)

relativity of falsification?

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , on October 13, 2013 by xi'an

IMG_1568“It seems entirely reasonable to believe in the effectiveness of T.C.M. and still have grave doubts about qi… The causal theory that’s concocted to explain the practical successes of treatment is not terribly important or interesting to the poor schlub who’s thrown out his back or taken ill.”

In the train to Roissy airport, I read an old New York Times, as I had no time to download today’s issue. One surprising article was about Chinese medicine, for it was written by a philosopher (or at least a professor of philosophy!) but did not hold much depth in its analysis. The writer was making an argument about the relativity of Scientific proofs, mixing Popper (of course!), Kuhn and Feyerabend (whose deconstructionism he misrepresented as a complete abandon of the scientific method) with Conan-Doyle’s belief in spirits and curses. As if a (talented) writer like Conan-Doyle could bring any scientific weight in the debate… And opposing Western versus Eastern science. The author actually seemed to question the relevance of Popper’s falsification principle, on the grounds that (a) established science does not readily accept falsifications of its current theories and (b) beliefs may turn into scientific theories if we find new experimental ways to test (falsify) them. Point (a) is confusing Science with the scientific establishment, which has repeatedly proved itself a bastion of conservatism (even though caution makes sense as well), while point (b) sounds like opening a Pandora box fuelled by extreme relativism: see e.g. “Maybe in years to come we will discover some subtle chemical properties in turtle blood that ameliorate certain illnesses“. There is no relativity in the way (reproducible) experiments are conducted and analysed. I liked (not!) the argument that masters of Traditional Chinese medicine took years to learn their anatomical maps, as it reminded me of medieval medical doctors having to master astrological maps to gain their degree… As a very minor aside, I also got surprised that the Buddhist author of the article agreed to have a turtle killed just to drink its blood towards treating a cold, while entertaining (reasonable) doubts about the efficiency of the treatment!  (Disclaimer: I am not dismissing traditional Chinese medicine versus occidental medicine, as I think they both involve both empirical learning and a-scientific aspects. This is about the philosophical arguments in the article.)

After writing that piece in the train, I alas missed my flight to Warwick (by 3 minutes, not due to writing the post!) and then checked the paper on the Web where I found this much more detailed criticism by Jerry Coyne (professor at U of Chicago and author of a book called Why evolution is true?)