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Showing posts from April, 2016

When You Trying to Sound Smart

but you ain't, you get yourself in some trouble.

When I saw that one Rob Sheffield wrote an article called "'Blurred Lines': The Worst Song of This or Any Other Year" I clicked on the link, thinking I would like the piece, since I don't like the song. (Yes, I know that's a parody.)

Instead, I found an article I like even less than the song. Robin Thicke is crass and crude and commercial... but at least he doesn't pretend to be something else. Sheffield, however, is going to show off how much smarter he is than the pop stars about whom he writes... by saying things like:

"Also, in terms of geometry, it's impossible for lines to be blurred because lines are straight by definition. If they get blurred, they're not lines anymore. Then they're 'squiggles' or 'blotches' or something. This is just math, Robin Thicke!"

There are so many things wrong with this paragraph that it actually represents an amazing compaction of…

Russell Kirk on Government

"Governments are the offspring of religion and morals and philosophy and social experience; governments are not the source of civilization, nor the manufacturers of happiness. As Christianity embraces no especial scheme of politics, so various forms of government are best—under certain circumstances, in certain times and certain nations. And, far from being right to revolt against small imperfections in government, a people are fortunate if their political order maintains a tolerable degree of freedom and justice for the different interests in society. We are not made for perfect things, and if ever we found ourselves under the domination of the perfect government, we would make mincemeat of it, from pure boredom."

Read more here.

"It was a different world then"

On a 2013 episode of Criminal Minds, they dug up a time capsule from 25 years ago and found a severed head in it. How could it have gotten in there? Wasn't the capsule guarded? The sheriff explained, "It was a different world then: no one even locked their doors!"

So this different time, when no one worried about crime, was... 1988! In the middle of the crack years, when crime rates were sky high compared to today!


Children as consumer goods

You can't profit from something everybody knows about!

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It is really something how often I see articles proffering "financial advice" that "reveal" some well known fact as a source of "profit." For instance, I recently saw an article (I'm not going to go hunt for it: you can easily find one like it yourself) saying that houses are a good investment "because of the mortgage interest tax deduction."

But the mortgage interest tax deduction has existed for many years, and is hardly a secret. Thus, whatever benefit it creates is already fully accounted for in the price of real estate, so that, on average, real estate will just return the ordinary return on capital invested: real estate costs more than it would have without that deduction, and just enough more to bring its return on investment into line with all other assets. (And I'm not here claiming that markets are always and everywhere in equilibrium: but I do think markets work well enough that no disequilibrium is going to last for decades!…

And these "rationalists" think that witchcraft is a nutty idea!

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When people look back on the history of ideas a thousand years from now, the idea that witches could turn themselves into cats or that wizards could visit other places in their dreams will see like very minor oddities compared to the idea that we are "living in a simulation."

(In fact, in some computer-simulated reality, why shouldn't there be sorcerers or ghosts or teleportation? They exist in World of Warcraft!)

Misreading Oakeshott

Here John Gray does it:

"or a sceptical view of the power of human reason (as in David Hume and Michael Oakeshott), conservatives distrusted any attempt to remake the world according to the dictates of high-minded ideals and abstract models."

This is a common mistake made by people who do not understand Oakeshott was an idealist philosopher. Oakeshott was not "sceptical" about human reason. He did not say that rationalism is good reasoning, but still even the best reasoning comes up short of the mark. To the contrary, what he said was that rationalism is irrational. It is an attempt to replace concrete thinking with reasoning that is abstract, and therefore partial and defective.

An analogy: imagine that some people's image of top notch free throw shooting was formed by watching Andre Drummond. They tell everyone, "The way to shoot free throws is the Andre Drummond way." Now Oakeshott comes along and says, "No, that way is nonsense: he gets ter…

Sumner channels Collingwood

"While working on this project I have gradually come to the conclusion that modern macroeconomics, macro history, and the history of thought are a seamless whole; it is impossible to really understand any one filed without also having deep knowledge of the other two." -- Scott Sumner, The Midas Paradox, p. 357

Chance: the modern witchcraft

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"Thus, however 'mystical' the content of Zande witchcraft beliefs may or may not be... they are actually employed by the Zande in a way anything but mysterious -- as an elaboration and defense of the truth claims of colloquial reason. Behind all these reflections upon stubbed toes, botched pots, and sour stomachs lies a tissue of commonsense notions the Zande apparently regarded as being true on their face: that minor cuts normally heal rapidly; that stones render baked clay liable to cracking... that in walking about Zandeland is unwise to daydream, for the place is full of stumps. And it is as part of this tissue of common sense assumptions, not of some primitive metaphysics, that the concept of witchcraft takes on its meaning and has its force... It is when ordinary expectations fail to hold, when the Zande man-in-the-field is confronted with anomalies or contradictions, that the cry of witchcraft goes up. It is, in this respect at least, a kind of dummy variable in t…

The classical market for loanable funds and the zero lower bound

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Here's a way explain the difference between the "classical" market for loanable funds and the "Keynesian" market for loanable funds, and bring home the important difference between market participants moving along a supply or demand curve and their moving the supply or demand curve.

We start with a supply and demand diagram for loanable funds, with the equilibrium interest rate at 6%:

Now, consumers decide to save more, increasing the supply of loans and dropping the equilibrium interest rate from 6% to 5%:


Well done, market! Equilibrium achieved, end of story, right? Well, if all of our ceteris are paribus, yes, that's it. The market clears at 5% and our tale has ended. And that certainly could be what happens!

But it doesn't have to be what happens. Firms are manned by human actors who themselves interpret, and based on that interpretation react to, events. What if they interpret that rise in savings as an ominous sign: consumers are worried about th…

What TV Takes for "Smart"

The character Spencer Reid in criminal Minds is supposed to be a super genius. When the writers want to illustrate this, they have him say things off the top of his head (in the context of the search for the identity of a Las Vegas waitress) like, "There are 2538 restaurants in Las Vegas."

Someone who really said that in that context would be, not a genius, but an idiot savant:

1) What in the world is he doing wasting his time and neural capacities memorizing trivial facts like that?

2) What about the ridiculous precision? If he were really smart, he would realize that the day after he read that number, the number changed, and changed again the next day, and the day after.

3) And what about the useless precision? What the team needed to know was that they couldn't afford to try a one-by-one combing of all restaurants: they needed a better strategy. "There are around 2500 restaurants in Las Vegas" would have done the job quite nicely!

All trends can be extrapolated forever!

"We are on track to rid the planet of trees within 600 years." -- Melissa Holbrook Pierson, reviewing Lab Girl in the April 10 Book Review section

I suppose if Ms. Holbrook Pierson heard that her friend's child had increased in weight from 8 pounds to 16 pounds in his first year, she would conclude, "He is on track to weigh 1 quadrillion 125 trillion pounds by the time he is 50!"

Why Can't Immigration Be "Fixed"?

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Our immigration system is a mess... apparently. If you want open borders, it is terrible that so many people who could be working legally instead have to be here illegally. If you want tighter controls, it is terrible that so many people our law should have excluded instead are here, with apparently no intention of doing anything about it. So from both sides of the debate, the situation looks terrible...

But what if there is a third side? What if there is a side that wants lots and lots of immigrants in the country, but wants them here with as little legal standing as possible, so they are always fearful of being turned in and deported? So they will work lots of hours for low pay and no benefits and not complain?

When you have an apparent mess on your hands that won't clear up, year after year after year, it is often useful to ask, "Is there someone for whom this is not a mess at all, but the ideal situation?"

Our screwy tax code is another case where this applies.

I favor safe, legal abortion

So long as it is safe for the baby too, and not just the mother.

What Is Religion?

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By the way, although it sometimes drives people a little nutty, the way I use "religion" is hardly unique to me. The great anthropologist Clifford Geertz defined religion as "(1) a system of symbols (2) which acts to establish powerful, pervasive and long-lasting moods and motivations in men (3) by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic."

Thus, it is not quite right to say "scientific materialism is a religion." Some people may be scientific materialists in a offhand sort of way, and find their life motivation in some other fashion. What is more correct is to say that "scientific materialism functions as a religion for many people." In particular, when we find someone claiming something like "We must face up to the fact that our lives are the product of random chance, and that we are alone in an al…

The Polynesians Had a Third Sex!

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This is often brought up in discussions of transgendered people, apparently to prompt the reaction, "Well, if those nice Polynesians did, than we should too!"

However, "recognizing a third sex" did not always turn out well for those so recognized:

"The Romans... regarded intersexed infants as supernaturally cursed and put them to death... [Among] the East African tribe, the Pokot... frequently, intersexed children are killed in the offhand way one discards an ill-made pot..." -- Clifford Geertz, "Common Sense as a Cultural System," Local Knowledge, pp. 81-83

Maybe the Polynesians were on to something here, and maybe not. My point is simply that citing what some other people in some other time and place did about some problem we are facing now is interesting, and can suggest avenues for further exploration, but by itself doesn't really decide much!

Drugs are illegal

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I saw a character in a TV show chastise another character for having hash oil in her purse by saying, "Drugs are still illegal."

Of course, not all drugs are illegal! Alcohol is not, tobacco is not, and aspirin is not.

If the character speaking had wanted to be precise, she would have said, "Illegal drugs are illegal." But then we have a mere pleonasm! And that formulation might lead us to question why some drugs are legal, and others are not.

A similar situation occurs when someone asserts that a Christian bakery should not be able to refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding because "discrimination is wrong." Of course, such people are perfectly happy to discriminate among many other possible sorts of weddings, e.g., brother-sister weddings, and child weddings, and polygamous weddings. What they are really claiming is that wrongful discrimination is wrong: which is, of course, true by definition.

But by phrasing this as they do, they are begging the…

The God of "Productivity"

Adam Ozimek, a disciple of economism, argues that automation is good whenever it raises productivity, by which he means more is produced using fewer resources.

He does not consider the possibility that sometimes, raising productivity might increase human misery, as "more consumption goods at a lower price" does not represent the sum total of human happiness.

The Primacy of the Will, II

Here:

"I recently read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, a book on why people wind up feeling the way that they do on politics and morality. The most important takeaway is that while people will usually offer elaborate rationales for their moral stances, in reality we start from some core of emotion or instinct, some feeling of revulsion or compassion, and then we justify it with reason. It is very, very rare (possibly to the point of non-existent) for a person to reason their way to a moral stance."

Enlightenment Secularism IS a Culture

Trevor Phillips wants people who immigrate to Britain to drop their "cultural baggage": in the name of diversity, of course!

Now, someone is at least being coherent should they insist that, say, "British culture is superior: anyone who comes here should drop their own culture and adopt ours."

Or, they might be coherent while making a more modest claim: "British culture, whether superior or not, is, in any case, our culture, and if you come to our island, we expect you to adopt it."

These claims are coherent, but quite obviously have nothing to do with "diversity," at least when it comes to diversity within the British Isles.

But Phillips is able to claim he wants everyone to "wear" their "cultural baggage" lightly in his "diverse" Britain because his culture, Enlightenment Secularism, is a culture that denies it is one. Indeed, a central cultural belief of the Enlightenment Secularists (Esses) is that their beliefs …

How Times Have Changed

Writing a few decades ago, Robert Nisbet noted:

"In each of these [professions] a man is guaranteed his job so long as he competently fulfils its specification, whether this be installing carburetors, performing an audit, or playing second base, and he is not likely to be dismissed or demoted on grounds extraneous to his competence exzcept for commission of felony or flagrant insurbordination." -- "Permanent Professors: A Modest Proposal"

The social justice warriors were not on the loose yet, were they?

House Hunting with Bob Dylan

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I believe this is the basis for a great reality TV show.

Atomism

Notions like "taxation is theft" rely on atomistic individualism for whatever plausibility they have. Taxation would be theft if:

1) The natural state of human beings was to exist as isolated individuals, somehow in full possession of a bunch of property despite their isolation; and

2) These atomic individuals then entered into a "social contract" in which they agreed to live in a society with other humans, but only on the condition they get to keep all of the property they had when they lived alone.

Of course, both one and two are complete nonsense: human beings would not even be human beings apart from a human social group. Our natural state is to live in a group with a number of other human beings, and the monads of atomic individualism have only existed in history due to terrible mishaps. And they certainly possessed no property!

Furthermore, the natural state of affairs in these groups was to treat resources as the possession of the group. Private property wa…

No one is going to try to force priests to perform same-sex marriages!

Oh, wait, yes someone isgoing to try that.

By "Diversity," I Meant "Uniformity"

The phoniness of contemporary diversity on display:

"“For a long time, I too thought that Europe’s Muslims would become like previous waves of migrants, gradually abandoning their ancestral ways, wearing their religious and cultural baggage lightly, and gradually blending into Britain’s diverse identity landscape."

So Trevor Phillips liked a "diverse" Britain in which people from all around the world could abandon everything that makes them distinct and become exactly like everyone else: Note especially that any culture except Western secularism is just "baggage"!

Teaching the Matrix Method of Solving a System of Linear Equations

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I taught this topic to my students per the textbook, and about half the class was really struggling. Now, most of these students were OK on solving these systems using equations with x, y and z. Why were they not getting the matrix method?

I stopped and rethought the whole enterprise, and realized that the textbook introduced a few rules, without really explaining them, and then jumped straight into somewhat complex problems to solve. Why not follow Carl Menger, and break everything down to the simplest possible elements, and build up from there? So I spent half a class walking the students through the following twelve systems, asking them to write the matrix, and solve it if need be. (Some of the systems are already in the solved form, which was part of the point of the exercise.)

1) x = 7

2) 2x = 14

3) x = 7, y = 4

4) 2x = 14, 2y = 8

5) x + y = 7, y = 4

6) x + y = 7, 2x + y = 10

7) x + y = 7, x + 2y = 11

8) x + y = 7, 2x + 4y = 22

9) 2x + 2y = 14, 2x + 4y = 22

10) x = 3, y = 4, z =…

Distributism Doubleplay

My essay on modern distributism is online at The American Conservative.

And the Henry George School of Social Science has put up a web page for my upcoming talk.

The Law Is Not a Mathematical Treatise

We often find people saying something like, "If Americans can serve in the military at age 18, it is contradictory not to let them drink at 18 as well." (An example of this sort of accusation.) But these complaints rest on a confusion.

When we want to build up a system of mathematics, such as geometry, we state propositions (theorems, axioms, lemmas, etc.) and work out their consequences. We should worry about the consistency of our propositions, because if two of them are contradictory, anything at all can be proven in our system.

But the law does not consist of propositions with logical consequences, from which we try to prove something further. It consists of rules of conduct, with consequences for the breaking thereof, which serve to help guide and improve our practical life. In general, the only important sort of proposition that laws contain is that X is illegal and Y is legal.* Therefore, in general, laws can be contradictory only in declaring X to be both legal and …

"Think for Yourself!"

That's an idea you picked up from somebody else.

The Same Things That Have Done Me In

Here.

Things I Hate, Numbers 12 & 35

The use of "hacking" to mean almost any damned thing the writer wants it to mean.

In the above link, "hacking" apparently means "figuring out." Say what?

"Hacking" originally had two meanings:

1) Coding that was done in a rush, without much planning: "I got the invoice system working, but it was just a hack: I'll have to clean the code up tomorrow."

2) Coding designed to break into someone else's computer system: "I hacked into the FBI's fingerprint database."

The connection between the two meanings was that hacking (2) was often done via hacking (1). And it is interesting to note that usage (1) was largely negative: you might have to employ a "hack" if the client needed to see a result the next day, but it was a stopgap measure, to be replaced by sound coding later.

But the term became trendy, and now "hacking" is used just to make any old thing seem trendy and up-to-date: if someone figures …

Theoretical History

"in order to understand the October [1929] crash, one needed to explain why it would have been sensible for investors to be highly optimistic in September 1929, and somewhat pessimistic in November 1929." -- Scott Sumner, The Midas Paradox, pp. 60-61

Again, Sumner is introducing his conclusions as a criterion for what facts will be acceptable. Of course, no one embarks on an attempt to explain some historical episode with a "blank slate": every effort at understanding is an effort to understand better what is to some extent already understood. There is nothing wrong with Sumner starting with the hypothesis that investors were "sensible" in September 1929, and seeing if it holds up. But here Sumner posits their being sensible, not as a conjecture to be explored, but as a given which any explanation must incorporate. And given that is a pre-condition he has placed on any acceptable explanation of what occurred, it is inevitable that the end result of his i…

It's Good We Have Editors, Right?

The Washington Postthinks Corinthians is in "the Hebrew Bible":

"[Curry] wears a tattooed ‘A’ on one finger, and a Hebrew Bible verse inside of one wrist: 'Love never fails,' First Corinthians, 13:8."

Given the contempt in which most editors at WP probably hold traditional religions, I'm thinking the writer might have been able to claim that Corinthians is in the "Hindu Bible" and get away with it.

The right to boycott is not a guarantee that every boycott is right!

In online discussions in which I have objected to some boycott, I have on several occasions seen someone respond "Well, your free market worship goes right out the window when it is a boycott you don't like, huh?"

Let us set aside the assumption that I "worship" the free market, something my libertarian readers are likely to find a little ironic. Is a laissez-faire libertarian committed to approving of every boycott?

The reasoning employed by my interlocutors seems to be, "Well, if you like free markets, you must approve of every single thing that goes on in a free market."

But why? If someone approves of free speech, do they have to approve of everything ever said? If someone is in favor of "big government," do they have to approve of the Gulag?

There is nothing hypocritical about approving of markets in general and disapproving of lots and lots of things that go on in the market. For instance, I could be strongly against smoking, and stil…

Efficient Markets? Part II

"On June 4, 1928, the New York Times (p. 4) reported 'Credit Curb Hinted by Reserve Board.' The market actually rose slightly on June 5, but then, over the following week, the Dow plunged 7 percent. Policy news ought to be incorporated into securities prices almost immediately, and thus, it is unclear whether the Fed's announcement had any impact on the markets." -- Scott Sumner, The Midas Paradox, p. 47

This is a funny way to do historical research: one goes in knowing what should happen -- "policy news ought to be incorporated into securities prices almost immediately" -- and then creates the facts -- "it is unclear whether the Fed's announcement had any impact" -- based on the pre-existing theory.

There is a way to determine whether the news about the Fed was what "caused" this drop: detailed examination of the journals, memoirs, letters, newsletters and so on of stock market participants of that time, to see if this was real…

Efficient Markets?

When the NBA three-pointer was created, only about 3% of shots were from behind the three-point line. It took decades for teams to reach an "efficient" level of three point shooting. (An example: in the 1984-85 season, Larry Bird was hitting 43% of his three-pointers, but only shooting 1.6 of them per game.)

It often takes time for markets -- meaning the human beings who participate in markets -- to digest some news or realize the importance of some innovation. The technology was in place in 1995 to put all of your company's internal information on an "intranet" -- I know, because I was doing it -- but it took a decade for many companies to catch on.

Which brings us to our next post.

Can Computers Think?

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Maybe.

Many of my worked-up correspondents are outraged because, they claim, I deny the possibility that computers can think. But I have never denied that possibility, and have explicitly said I don't deny it in the past. In fact, as that post notes, I keep denying it, and yet my critics simply ignore my repeated denials, and accuse me of a bias in favor of "meat machines" over "silicon machines." Let me say it again: Maybe Big Blue actually realizes it is playing chess, and actually knows that it has an opponent. Maybe it actually feels triumphant when it beats a grandmaster!

Can thermostats think?

Maybe. Maybe a thermostat knows when it is cold in the living room, and knows that the furnace must be kicked on.

Can electrons think?

Maybe. Maybe an electron knows it ought to orbit a nucleus in a certain orbital.

What has puzzled me throughout this discussion is why AI enthusiasts want to deny thought to simple physical mechanisms, but at some (seemingly arbitra…

The Slave and the Figs

At the beginning of his Interpretation and Overinterpretation (1992), Umberto Eco tells the following story:
At the beginning of his Mercury; Or, the Secret and Swift Messenger (1641), John Wilkins tells the following story:
How strange a thing this Art of Writing did seem at its first Invention, we may guess by the late discovered Americans, who were amazed to see Men converse with Books, and could scarce make themselves to believe that a Paper could speak...

There is a pretty Relation to this Purpose, concerning an Indian Slave; who being sent by his Master with a Basket of Figs and a Letter, did by the Way eat up a great Part of his Carriage, conveying the Remainder unto the Person to whom he was directed; who when he had read the Letter, and not finding the Quantity of Figs answerable to what was spoken of, he accuses the Slave of eating them, telling him what the Letter said against him. But the Indian (notwithstanding this Proof) did confidently abjure the Fact, cursing the Pap…

Machine "Learning"

Computer programs are machines. The brilliance of a general-purpose computing machine is that its circuitry can be re-wired on the fly by a program loaded into memory. But we could always create hardware that duplicates any program: we burn the program onto a PROM.*

But let's say we think there is a machine out there that might solve our problem, but that it is very, very complex, and we are not sure how to build it. The brilliance of "machine learning" software is the realization that we can build a machine X that searches the space of possible machines for the machine Y which is the one we really want. We code some criteria for "Getting warmer!" and "Getting colder!" and then set X going, looking for Y.

We can call this "learning" if it makes it easier for the people working on these problems to picture what they are doing. But it is really not different, except in complexity, than a program searching a database for a record that meets ce…

Magical Computers

Arthur C. Clarke once said that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." (For those who can't follow its construction, of course.) This explains a lot of the belief in Artificial Intelligence. This magical thinking regarding a piece of technology is on full display in the television show Criminal Minds, where the "search wizard," Garcia, can, with about 10 keystrokes, pull absolutely any combination of pieces of information out of her magical computer. ("Garcia, get me the names of all people released from prison in the last month who are on psychiatric drugs and subscribe to HBO."*)

I just saw on episode in which Garcia was asked to find the location of the mobile phone of the "best friend" of an FBI agent's missing niece. That's all the computer needed: "Find the location of Meghan's best friend's cell phone." About 3 seconds later, a little dot was blinking on a map.

You see, becau…

We'll Be Having Fun All Sumner Long

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"For instance, Romer argued that the 1929 stock market crash sharply reduced consumer confidence, and that this was a major factor depressing aggregate demand. But the quite similar stock market crash in 1987 seemed to have no impact at all on economic growth, suggesting that the direct impact of stock prices on real output is certainly very small." -- Scott Sumner, The Midas Paradox, p. 39

What we have here is an oscillation between an historical mode of explanation and a scientific one. Science deals in generalizations, and has nothing to say about specific events other than citing them as instances of its generalizations. ("The arrow will fall back to earth, as it was shot in the air with less than escape velocity.") History, on the other hand, deals with particulars, and a resort to scientific generalizations is at most a stopgap in an historical explanation, filling in where we lack actual historical knowledge. ("Although we have no evidence for what hap…

Geoffrey Hinton on How There Are Never New Religions

Here:

" I think that’s what differentiates science from religion. In science, you can say things that seem crazy, but in the long run they can turn out to be right. We can get really good evidence, and in the end the community will come around."

Because it has simply never been the case that someone came along and suggested a new religion and people wound up adopting it.

The Delicacy of Scientific Testing

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This article is worthy of careful consideration. Consider these quotes:
Scientists have substantial evidence that dark matter exists and is at least five times as abundant as ordinary matter. But its nature remains a mystery.

“If it’s really dark matter, many other experiments should have seen it already,” says Thomas Schwetz-Mangold, a theoretical physicist at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany—and none has.

“The modulation signal is there,” says Kaixuan Ni at the University of California, San Diego, who works on a dark-matter experiment called XENON1T. “But how to interpret that signal—whether it’s from dark matter or something else—-is not clear.”

The fact that many have tried and failed to repeat DAMA’s experiment shows that it is not easy, says Elisabetta Barberio at the University of Melbourne, who leads the Australian arm of SABRE. “The more one looks into their experiment, the more one realizes that it is very well done.” So scientists have evidence of a lot of…

We Have Naive Falsification, and We Have...

vagueness:

"Sir Karl [Popper] is not, of course, a naive falsificationist. He knows all that has just been said and has emphasized it from the beginning of his career...: 'In point of fact, no conclusive disproof of a theory can ever be produced; for it is always possible to say that the experimental results are not reliable or that the discrepancies which are asserted to exist between the experimental results and the theory are only apparent and they will disappear with the advance of our understanding.' [But] having barred conclusive disproof, he has provided no substitute for it, and the relation he does employ remains that of logical falsification. Though he is not a naive falsificationist, Sir Karl may, I suggest, legitimately be treated as one." -- Thomas Kuhn, "Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research"

So we have two sorts of falsificationists:

1) The naive ones, who think, "Well, an experiment didn't agree with your theory, so chuck it…

What Is Ideology?

If someone asks me what my greatest achievement in political philosophy is, I would answer, "Providing a precise, non-question-begging definition of ideology."

I offered this, in Oakeshott on Rome and America, in Aristotelian terms: ideology is the attempt to treat as theoria was is instead a matter of phronesis (practical wisdom).

Let us consider the matter of my getting to work. When I need to get to campus, what I do is consider the current circumstances I face in getting there, and then choose the best means to get there, given what I face. Some days, the G train is a perfectly adequate means. But other days, I find the G train is running slowly, or skipping stops, or I am just running a few minutes late, and I get a cab. But what route should the cab take? Well, I check my phone, and look for traffic jams. In fact, I've taken 5 or 6 different cab routes to get to work.

But the "travel ideologue" will have none of this. There is a single correct way to arr…