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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Mailvox: considering self-correction

Azimus is interested in the possibility that science is not, in fact, self-correcting.
Experimental replication, in the very rare instances it is actually performed and is successful, is nothing more than auditing. There is no substantial difference between one scientist re-running another scientist’s experiment and one accountant re-calculating another accountant’s books. In other words, science isn’t self-correcting in any meaningful sense even in its ideal form."

Interesting thought. Tilting a little in the direction of a "let's have a definition war" argument, but an interesting thought. By that yardstick would you call the market, or engineering self-correcting?
Very well, we can certainly do this the methodical way. Rather than risk a definition war, I will first ask Azimus for his definition of "self-correcting" before I answer his question about the market or engineering being self-correcting. I'm not avoiding his question, it's only that as I've pointed out before, depending upon how one defines "self-correcting", science is either NOT self-correcting or else it is TRIVIALLY self-correcting in the same manner that practically every human activity is.

To which Azimus responded:
As I read your post, it struck me that the definition of "self" is scaleable. In your accountant example, accountant #1 may not be self correcting, but if accountant #2 audits #1 as part of a departmental auditing system, the accounting department is "self correcting." In the same way an engineering firm has a green-horn doing most of the design work, which is then reviewed by a 5yr+ experienced PE who examines the work and makes corrections. The greenhorn is not self correcting, but scaling the word "self" to be the engineering firm, would the firm not be "self correcting"?

A marksman firing at a target makes allowances for distance, elevation distances, windspeed, etc. His first shot misses. He interprets the fall of the round and hypothesizes the wind was stronger than he allowed for and he adjusts accordingly in the second shot hitting the target. Is this self correcting?

Since there is no argument on the word "correctiong", The battle line seems to be drawn along the word "self". I see it as scaleable and will define the term thus:

Self correcting: an entity is self correcting if it contains a mechanism by which error is identifed and eliminated.
Very good. So, Azimus has chosen the option by which we must ultimately conclude that science is TRIVIALLY self-correcting. He is correct, and in his examples given, the auditing department, the engineering firm, and the marksman would all be considered self-correcting.

But from both his definition and his examples follow three obvious questions. They are:

1. What is the entity of science?
2. If there is no successful replication of a scientific experiment, and therefore no self-correction, is the experiment still science?
3. Since scientific reliability and authority claim is based on its self-correcting mechanism, how is science any more reliable than any other entity that possesses its own mechanism for self-correction?

I'm sure we shall all await his answers to those three questions with interest. In the meantime, I owe him a direct answer to his previous question: yes, the market and the engineering discipline are both self-correcting by his definition provided. The market self-corrects incorrect corporate valuations. Engineering self-corrects technologies that do not work and structures that do not stand.

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25 Comments:

Anonymous civilServant April 17, 2012 7:38 PM  

If it is not replicated then is it science? Surely this comes before any definition of "self-correcting."

Blogger Vox April 17, 2012 7:43 PM  

You're jumping ahead, CivilServant. We may get there eventually, but for now, we have to learn how Azimus prefers to define "self-correcting", as he has several valid options.

Anonymous O.C. April 17, 2012 8:06 PM  

My son told me that in Chemistry class today, after the teacher told everyone to be really careful handling the sulfuric acid, one dolt stuck his finger into the beaker of acid, just to see if it was really all that bad.

I'd call that an example of self-correcting Science.

Anonymous Vidad April 17, 2012 9:10 PM  

@ O.C.

Now that's independent thinking.

I used to play with chemicals as a kid. Until my dad walked through some bleach I'd spilled in the carport and it burned the bottom of his foot.

I was corrected, with a severe paddling, but it wasn't truly "self-correcting."

Anonymous zen0 April 17, 2012 9:22 PM  

The market is definitely not self correcting, if we mean the Wall Street market. It is rigged.

I think we need to remember the term scientism, scientody, and the other one...er....scientistry.

Which one of these do people refer to as self-correcting?

Blogger RobertT April 17, 2012 10:07 PM  

"There is no substantial difference between one scientist re-running another scientist’s experiment and one accountant re-calculating another accountant’s books."

Azimus is either a complete fool or he is just talking to hear himself talk. He certainly knows nothing about accountants auditing practices. Having audited Fortune 500 companies as a member of largest auditing firm in the world and having been audited by other such firms as an executive with a Fortune 500 company, I can attest to the very common occurrence that errors in accounting are regularly found and corrected during audits performed by accountants on the work of other accountants. Yes accounting has its faults, foremost of which in my opinion is that accounting is stuck in the 13th century when the same GAAP reports we still use were first used. And I will readily admit the shortcomings of accounting reporting have given rise to the popularity of analytics as an alternative problem solving tool. And yes, I will admit that some glaring errors have been made by elite auditing firms, but never the less, to compare accounting and accountants to science and scientists is hitting below the belt and blathering complete nonsense.

This is one of the least informed and stupidest things I have ever read.

Anonymous Azimus April 17, 2012 10:26 PM  

My 5 minutes of fame! Vox I am flattered for the attention. I hope I'm worth the effort.

As I read your post, it struck me that the definition of "self" is scaleable. In your accountant example, accountant #1 may not be self correcting, but if accountant #2 audits #1 as part of a departmental auditing system, the accounting department is "self correcting." In the same way an engineering firm has a green-horn doing most of the design work, which is then reviewed by a 5yr+ experienced PE who examines the work and makes corrections. The greenhorn is not self correcting, but scaling the word "self" to be the engineering firm, would the firm not be "self correcting"?

A marksman firing at a target makes allowances for distance, elevation distances, windspeed, etc. His first shot misses. He interprets the fall of the round and hypothesizes the wind was stronger than he allowed for and he adjusts accordingly in the second shot hitting the target. Is this self correcting?

Since there is no argument on the word "correctiong", The battle line seems to be drawn along the word "self". I see it as scaleable and will define the term thus:

Self correcting: an entity is self correcting if it contains a mechanism by which error is identifed and eliminated.

Anonymous Azimus April 17, 2012 10:30 PM  

RobertT April 17, 2012 10:07 PM

Azimus is either a complete fool or he is just talking to hear himself talk.


Rather a combination of both, I would say. Still, not terribly neighborly of you to say so, chap.

Anonymous Azimus April 17, 2012 10:36 PM  

RobertT April 17, 2012 10:07 PM

but never the less, to compare accounting and accountants to science and scientists is hitting below the belt and blathering complete nonsense.

This is one of the least informed and stupidest things I have ever read.


?

I did not compare accountants to scientists Vox did.

My point was simply that accountants could be considered "self correcting" through an auditing process, which Vox later said was at best trivially self correcting (which means I must be wearing him down ha ha ha).

Anonymous Azimus April 17, 2012 10:41 PM  

I will check back in to see how badly I've been spanked in the morning.

Anonymous David Of One April 17, 2012 11:58 PM  

Dr. Vox scans the room ... calm, cool and collected.

Interestingly, Dr. Vox puts a regular glove on one hand. This glove has a gritted surface ideal for grasping and holding. On the other hand Dr. Vox puts on a glove on the other hand ... but wait, something is shockingly ... horrorfyingly different as the glove extends past the elbow!

What could this mean?

Is there going to be experimental replication? Will there be some horrid exam? Will there be an audit? Will there be some sort of correction?

Whom will receive Dr. Vox's attention? Scientists? Engineers ... or Accountants?

Wait a minute! Dr. Vox is no longer looking at Azimus! Dr. Vox gazes across the participants of this gathering ... but wait!!! Has his gaze settled upon RobertT?

Dr. Vox flexs the fingers of the hand with the long glove!

As for me I quickly exit the room with the door securely closed behind me while shuddering to think what is about to happen!

Blogger Doom April 18, 2012 12:11 AM  

1st kid: "Show me yours."

2nd kid: "Show me yours first."

1st kid: "There."

2nd kid: "MOMMY!"

I think one of them had a plan. Never mind.

Anonymous Toby Temple April 18, 2012 12:18 AM  

here is simple presentation of self-correcting:

I went to the tree house first, than to the toy house..

opps! I mean THEN, not THAN!

See! I am self-correcting!

Anonymous VD April 18, 2012 3:21 AM  

I will admit that some glaring errors have been made by elite auditing firms, but never the less, to compare accounting and accountants to science and scientists is hitting below the belt and blathering complete nonsense.

I can only presume you say this because accountants are more than 11% reliable....

Anonymous Toby Temple April 18, 2012 4:11 AM  

new definition of science to be added soon:

science - a self-correction entity that follows specific rules to acquire truths about the physical world.

so, the obvious question:

Is science a he, she or is science gay?

Anonymous Rantor April 18, 2012 6:13 AM  

A question of scale... to be fully self correcting, the entity would need a process by which ALL errors are identified and eliminated.

Of course you may presuppose ALL, but when I read it it sounds like it may be enough if some errors are identified and eliminated. As that would be a self correcting process, just not completely so.

Of course this raises the standard.

Blogger mmaier2112 April 18, 2012 7:58 AM  

I think the Market encompasses the whole world. After all, you have to BUY the politicians first to get them to give you the keys to the kingdom.

Anonymous Papapete April 18, 2012 9:30 AM  

Ok I'm not trying to stir up trouble, but does the potential for catching errors qualify as self-correcting or does it have to actively do the error-catching? I ask because the science fetishists seem to regard the potential of error-catching as sufficient, while Vox is pointing out that the activity of error-catching is not working.

Anonymous Randy M April 18, 2012 11:03 AM  

2. If there is no successful replication of a scientific experiment, and therefore no self-correction, is the experiment still science?
I'm not Azimus, but technically there is only self-correction if there is unsuccessful replication (and then follow-up to find out why), assuming that by successful you mean repeated the process correctly but achieved different results.

If your criteria for success is instead just successfully repeating the parameters/process of the trial irrespective of the results then I would agree with your phrasing but the word is ambiguous.

In other words, getting the same results is verification, getting different results is correction, and not bothering to check until long after when someone else points it out is certainly not self correction, though it is probably the M.O.

Anonymous Azimus April 18, 2012 12:34 PM  

This is rapidly getting to existential discussion…

First, I grant no monopoly to the “scientific community” or self-described “scientists” of today to determine what science is. I will take a step back and call the entity of science “the layers of human knowledge obtained that describe the behavior of the physical world.”

Science’s mechanism for self-correction lies in the utility of the knowledge layer in question. I may have developed a light bulb filament that lasts 3 million hours of operation at low wattage out of an alloy that costs $500,000 an ounce to refine. This additional layer of human knowledge in the realm of light bulbs will doubtfully ever be scrutinized as it has almost zero utility, and will remain unchecked. However if a new refining process is discovered that drops the cost to $500 an ounce, the utility of the knowledge increases and the self-correction mechanism kicks in – in this case, it is known as “the market” and “engineering”.

To answer your second question by metaphor, let’s say that G.E. decides to explore bringing this new filament to market, it attempts to repeat the scientific experiment and cannot successfully replicate it. You say “therefore no self-correction”, but I would posit that it is self-correction, and the human race has added to the layers of knowledge related to how not to make a light bulb (to twist Edison’s famous phrase into the argument). Science is still being added to, however the G.E. experiment becomes the added layer of knowledge and eliminates the layer that had been added to light bulb filament possibilities. So, yes, the G.E. experiment is science, the original experiment is not.

I have chosen to up-scale “science” to be larger than the self-congratulating and politically driven “scientific community” presently dominating, so I may have made the purpose of the third question moot. However to answer as best I can, the “scientific community” of today is not an entity of its own, rather it’s an appendage (/parasite) of more pro-active communities – telecommunications companies, food companies, pharma, the military, government, on and on. They are a head without a body. The head itself needs the body as its correcting mechanism – engineering, the market, war, etc. Therefore if you draw the borders of “science” around those who are self-described “scientists” by profession, they are actually handicapped in the realm of self-correction and inferior to engineering and the market, as they are collectively a pile of disembodied heads that have little in the way of useful means to correct each other.

Anonymous zen0 unchained April 18, 2012 7:28 PM  

I have recently considered self-correction, but I heard that it can result in having hairy palms.

(baddah bing)

Anonymous zen0 April 18, 2012 7:32 PM  

This is rapidly getting to existential discussion…

Azimus

And if you choose to continue down this path of justification, you risk allowing the incipient insanity at the core of your being to take over all of your thought processes.

Just stop, already, for the children, if not yourself!

Anonymous zen0 April 18, 2012 7:35 PM  

Have a nice cup of tea and go to bed.

Anonymous zen0 April 18, 2012 8:44 PM  

At the risk of violating the 3 ina row rule, only becauz everybody seems to have gone to bed, I have considered self-correction, but I have heard that it can result in hairy palmz, so I decided to abstain.

Anonymous Azimus April 19, 2012 9:35 AM  

It appears I have bored the king and his court. C'est la vie

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