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Posts tagged with progress

[Scientific theories can be accurate and even make novel predictions, whilst being ultimately wrong. Scientific theories can also be inaccurate, whilst being ultimately right.]



Consider specifically the state of ætherial theories in the 1830’s and 1840’s. The electrical fluid, a substance which was generally assumed to accumulate on the surface rather than permeate the interstices of bodies, had been utilized to explain inter alia the attraction of oppositely charged bodies, the behavior of the Leyden jar, the similarities between atmospheric and static electricity and many phenomena of current electricity.

Within chemistry and heat theory, the caloric æther … explain[ed] everything from the role of heat in chemical reactions to the conduction & radiation of heat and … standard problems of thermometry.

Within the theory of light, the optical æther functioned centrally in explanations of reflection, refraction, interference, double refraction, diffraction and polarization. (Of more than passing interest, optical æther theories had … made … startling[, true] predictions, e.g., Fresnel’s prediction of a bright spot at the center of the shadow of a circular disc: a surprising prediction which, when tested, proved correct. If that does not count as empirical success, nothing does!)

There were also gravitational (e.g., LeSage’s) and physiological (e.g., Hartley’s) æthers which enjoyed some measure of empirical success. It would be difficult to find a family of theories in this period which were as successful as æther theories. Compared to them, 19th century atomism … a genuinely referring theory … was a dismal failure. Indeed, on any account of empirical success which I can conceive of, non-referring 19th-century æther theories were more successful than contemporary, referring atomic theories.

[According to] J.C. Maxwell…the æther was better confirmed than any other theoretical entity in natural philosophy!

Larry Laudan’s A Confutation of Convergent Realism, Philosophy of Science, 48(1), 19-49

via David Corfield




Research focuses on real wages—wages that are adjusted for inflation. Getting data on wages is tricky. But accounting for inflation is even harder. (For example, workers often paid rent informally, meaning that there are few records around).

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And so it is unsurprising that researchers differ in their estimations of real wages. Some, such as Peter Lindert and Jeffrey Williamson, suggest that full-time earnings for British common labourers, adjusted for inflation, more than doubled in the seventy years after 1780. But Charles Feinstein argued that over the same period, British real wages only increased by around 30%. It’s a bit of a … mess.

Most people agree that after about 1840, real wages did better. Nicholas Crafts and Terence Mills shows that from 1840 to 1910, real wages more than doubled. Their findings are mirrored by other researchers ….

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in almost all British cities, mortality conditions in the 1860s were no better—and were often worse—than in the 1850s. In Liverpool in the 1860s, the life expectancy fell to an astonishing 25 years. It was not until the two subsequent decades that rises in life expectancy were found

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A billion chronically hungry people in the world via The Economist
As you can see from the right-hand scale, during the 1990’s and 2000’s the “bottom billion” poorest people have been starving or close to it.
Even though the right-hand scale is more important, the lines get graphical emphasis.
Therefore the two pictures, though nearly equivalent in absolute terms, tell very different stories:about a spiking crisis and increasing failure to deal with poverty during rich-world recession
about marginal improvements that continue despite a rich-world financial debacle.

Both stories were told by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, of the United Nations.
Of course statistical bodies revise estimates all the time.
But still this juxtaposition warns us to question the facticity of numbers appearing in charts.
All data come from somewhere. Just because the numbers appear on a chart doesn’t make them correct.

A billion chronically hungry people in the world via The Economist

  • As you can see from the right-hand scale, during the 1990’s and 2000’s the “bottom billion” poorest people have been starving or close to it.
  • Even though the right-hand scale is more important, the lines get graphical emphasis.
  • Therefore the two pictures, though nearly equivalent in absolute terms, tell very different stories:
    1. about a spiking crisis and increasing failure to deal with poverty during rich-world recession
    2. about marginal improvements that continue despite a rich-world financial debacle.
  • Both stories were told by the Food and Agriculture Organisationof the United Nations.
  • Of course statistical bodies revise estimates all the time.
  • But still this juxtaposition warns us to question the facticity of numbers appearing in charts.
  • All data come from somewhere. Just because the numbers appear on a chart doesn’t make them correct.

hi-res




Chances of US Blacks, Hispanics, Poor, Women, Men, Whites, Rich to reach the middle class by middle age.
 by Isabel Sawhill, Scott Winship, and Kerry Searle Grannis
SWG define the US middle class as 3 times the poverty level. That’s
at least $35 000 / year for a single person
or at least $71 000 / year for a family of four (multiple family members can work toward that).
Middle age they take to begin at 40.
 
You can also see the 40% who do not make it to the middle class in Catherine Mulbrandon’s picture:

 
SWG find “rungs” on the ladder to prosperity, such that within their dataset,
achieving today’s rung increases the odds of achieving tomorrow’s rung,
and failing to achieve today’s rung decreases the odds of achieving tomorrow’s rung.

(The weakest link is from basic reading & maths skills + social & emotional skills → to high school graduation + non-criminality. The strongest link is from acceptable pre-reading & pre-maths + school-appropriate behaviour → to basic reading & maths + social-emotional skills.)
That is a Markov or AR(1) at each step, but changing 2×2 matrices (pass-through probabilities) each time.
The poor outcomes for low-birthweight black poor youths are then understood, within the paper, as the composite effect of passing through the several gates.
For example low birth weight, poor parents of the wrong race starts the child off in the disadvantaged category. 40% of those are off track when school starts. Then 55% of (not just the 0-disadvantaged ∩ 1-disadvantaged, but all of the) stage-1-disadvantaged continue to advance to the next stage on the losing track.
In this way the eventual low success-rate of the adults from poor families is seen as the product of a succession of gates.
In matrix terms each 2×2 matrix “shuffles beads from gate to gate”. For example the first matrix is

and the product (composite) of the first two is this matrix product:

In the product matrix the red entry is the fraction of babies born disadvantaged (0-loser) who end up 2-disadvantaged after 2 matrices M₁bull;M₂ have been applied—entering middle childhood.

If you wanted to compute the overall numbers from the bar chart at the top you would need also a starting vector X₀ saying how many babies start off already at a disadvantage. (The fraction who don’t start off disadvanaged is not a free parameter.)

Chances of US Blacks, Hispanics, Poor, Women, Men, Whites, Rich to reach the middle class by middle age.

 by Isabel Sawhill, Scott Winship, and Kerry Searle Grannis

SWG define the US middle class as 3 times the poverty level. That’s

  • at least $35 000 / year for a single person
  • or at least $71 000 / year for a family of four (multiple family members can work toward that).

Middle age they take to begin at 40.

 

You can also see the 40% who do not make it to the middle class in Catherine Mulbrandon’s picture:

image

 

SWG find “rungs” on the ladder to prosperity, such that within their dataset,

  • achieving today’s rung increases the odds of achieving tomorrow’s rung,
  • and failing to achieve today’s rung decreases the odds of achieving tomorrow’s rung.

image

(The weakest link is from basic reading & maths skills + social & emotional skills → to high school graduation + non-criminality. The strongest link is from acceptable pre-reading & pre-maths + school-appropriate behaviour → to basic reading & maths + social-emotional skills.)

That is a Markov or AR(1) at each step, but changing 2×2 matrices (pass-through probabilities) each time.

The poor outcomes for low-birthweight black poor youths are then understood, within the paper, as the composite effect of passing through the several gates.

For example low birth weight, poor parents of the wrong race starts the child off in the disadvantaged category. 40% of those are off track when school starts. Then 55% of (not just the 0-disadvantaged ∩ 1-disadvantaged, but all of the) stage-1-disadvantaged continue to advance to the next stage on the losing track.

In this way the eventual low success-rate of the adults from poor families is seen as the product of a succession of gates.

In matrix terms each 2×2 matrix “shuffles beads from gate to gate”. For example the first matrix is

image

and the product (composite) of the first two is this matrix product:

image

In the product matrix the red entry is the fraction of babies born disadvantaged (0-loser) who end up 2-disadvantaged after 2 matrices M₁bull;M₂ have been applied—entering middle childhood.

image

If you wanted to compute the overall numbers from the bar chart at the top you would need also a starting vector X₀ saying how many babies start off already at a disadvantage. (The fraction who don’t start off disadvanaged is not a free parameter.)

(Source: brookings.edu)


hi-res




[H]ow much of [Popper or Kuhn’s] philosophy relies upon actual, as opposed to reconstructed, history? Popper’s or Kuhn’s accounts of science bear little resemblance to actual science (and indeed if taken seriously I think both accounts would stop science dead in its tracks).

I also think, but this is very much my own view, that Kuhn imposed his notion of incommensurable revolutions on the history, and did not derive it from it. I think he came to the history with Wittgenstein and various other philosophical notions, and found what he was looking for. His historical work is excellent, but I do not think he derived his theoretical philosophy of science from it.

For a start, none of the supposed revolutions look anything like what he claimed they would. Even the Copernican “Revolution” takes over 200 years by his own admission.

It is my experience that when scientists appeal to Popper in particular, they manage to overlook that what they are trying to do scientifically is either ignored by Popper (like classification) or treated as irrelevant (like testability and verification, or discovery heuristics).

John S Wilkinson

(Source: evolvingthoughts.net)




[In] Against Method … [Paul] Feyerabend divides his argument into an abstract critique followed by a number of historical case studies.

The abstract critique is a reductio ad absurdum of … the belief that a single methodology can produce scientific progress. Feyerabend … identifies four features of methodological monism: the principle of falsification, a demand for increased empirical content, the forbidding of ad hoc hypotheses and the consistency condition.

He then demonstrates that these features [together would] imply that science could not progress….

Wikipedia

(Source: Wikipedia)




That [the world would be centuries more advanced today if religion never existed] is an attitude usually spawned by a … Euro-centric … view of the significance of the European dark ages. While Europe was stagnating … due to its economic collapse, … scholars in the east were making incredible scientific leaps forward. The Renaissance didn’t happen because of a rediscovery of Roman/Greek knowledge… that knowledge was never lost thanks to the Eastern Roman empire. The renaissance happened thanks to the knowledge imported from the east, including Byzantium and the Islamic world. …

There were … flaws in the natural philosophies of the Roman/Greek world that held them back. From our modern perspective they had all the necessary tools to create an industrial revolution yet treated these as nothing more than toys. And they had these for many centuries before the fall of the western empire!

redditor hetmankp, Did the Catholic Church try to stop scientific progress?

(Source: reddit.com)




[T]he implication of authority in science is rather odd given that the fifteenth-century revival of science in western Europe was a reaction against argument from authority.


…Precisely what “science” denotes is … unclear, but the present mental associations of objectivity and progress ensure that … using this prestigious epithet confers an air of authority; … would anyone attend the London School of Economics and Political Alchemy?




Slow and steady.

hi-res




Mathematicians will never have enough time to read all the discoveries in Geometry (a quantity which is increasing from day to day and seems likely in this scientific age to develop to enormous proportions) if they continue to be presented in a rigorous form according to the manner of the ancients.

Christiaan Huygens, AD 1659

(from John Stillwell p 146)