Ways of Science

Imagine if I told you, we should trust corporate CEOs, or politicians, or public school teachers to be “self-correcting.” Imagine if I said that because they have similar degrees from similar institutions, they alone should judge their own, and they alone will correct any flaws or mistakes that appear.

You would say I’m insane.

Or, more generously, you say that such a blind faith might be acceptable for limited times in emergency situation. For instance, during a war we might put our faith in our military, up to and including the Commander-in-Chier. Indeed, that may be the best decision. But let that trust last to long, and you end up with an Egypt, or a North Korea: a kleptocracy good only at keeping itself in power.

Science, as an institution, is very new. While there were always mathematicians, and always engineers, scientists (full time employees of universities who democratically control their departments and whose primary job was research) are very new as a profession. It dates to 1880 or so, nearly a generation after Abraham Lincoln died, in the United States, though it appeared (minus the democratic control) about a generation earlier in what is now Germany.

The first “wave” of American science was made possible by the Department of Agriculture, which funded research programs to increase farm productivity. The Department of Agriculture is still heavily involved in science, to the extent that reliance of Department of Agriculture funds (which have always been bureaucratically allocated) are a political issue in the Association of American Universities.

US-Department-of-Agriculture

This first “wave” was not self-correcting. It was bureaucratically-correcting. The Department of Agriculture (motto: “Agriculture is the foundation of manufacture and commerce”) was guided by clear and well understood metrics (such as cross yield per acre) which allowed a fair and reasonable prioritizing of grant proposals. This system has worked well for a century, though obviously is open to political corruption.

National_Science_Foundation_Seal

The second “wave” of American science was made possible by the experimentation of the FDR and Truman administration. There was widespread consensus of extending the Department of Agriculture model to other fields. While Senator Harley Kilgore (D-WV) focused a direct extension, emphasizing local stakeholders for research, Vanaveer Bush emphasized self-regulation of science, with scientists alone deciding which scientific research would be funded. The institution created to push this was called the “National Science Foundation” (motto: “Supporting Education and Research across all the fields of Science, Mathematics and Technology”). As Wikipedia summarizes:

[Vannevar] Bush did not like the idea of letting social interests and community members drive science policy. He feared that the selection of research projects would become politicized, and he also had complete faith in the ability of scientists to pick the best possible projects. Furthermore, in contrast to Kilgore, he felt that the agency should have the narrower mandate of pursuing only basic science, rather than basic and applied science. Unlike Kilgore, he believed the public should not own research results and products, instead responsible researchers should own the research results. Broadly speaking, Bush’s vision was significantly more narrow than Kilgore’s proposal. It maintained the status quo in patenting arrangements, it limited project selection to scientists, and it narrowed projects to basic research

Unlike the Department of Agriculture model, which focused on bureaucratic control and practical research, the National Science Foundation focused on self-correction and abstract research. Instead of the corrupt but sustainable Department of Agricultural Model, the Untied States decided to focus on a pristine but unsustainable model that relied on the high moral standing of a small number of experts.

And now, we may be near the end of all that.


You don’t hear about Department of Agricultural research scandals because there are none. Seriously, bing it. Google it.  Everyone knows that political pull matters. But the focus on applied research means that there is little room for “trust me” by scientists. The corn grows with less water or it doesn’t. The goose has lower morality or she doesn’t. The bull’s calves are healthier or they aren’t. Too many stakeholders are too dependent on scientific progress in agriculture for falsified results to spread.

The Department of Agriculture’s “stakeholders” aren’t the easily ignored, like veterans or under-represented minorities. They are large land-owners, large farm services, and agribusiness. There’s well known waste and inefficiency in the Department of Agriculture, but the model (while inefficient) is fundamentally sound and sustainable.

Meanwhile, in NSF-land, most “findings” are false. Not some, not much, most. No profession “self-corrects” without outside pressure. Instead, careering spreads, and questioning results of another is considered “bullying.” Like in any corrupt political system, “anti-corruption” is simply a mask for elimination of enemies, because everyone knows everyone is corrupt.


A small number of revolutionaries, for a limited amount of time, can take great advantage of an unaccountable lack of power. Before they remember they have families, before others who want to be like them succeed in their goals, great change is possible. Maybe that time period lasts twenty years. But the NSF model, which is based on honesty and self-correction, is surely past its prime. Most research is false. Uncovered faked results are on the rise.

This is the background of the “replication crisis” in NSF-land.  Pure science has lost her cloak, which hid her flaws.   And the wolves are circling.

In the future research may still be under the “NSF” umbrella. But the importance of peer-review and self-correction in science are on the decline. Their time has come and gone.

A World Uncensored, the twitch.tv home invasion

Twitch.tv is a streaming site owned by $GOOG that features user generated content… primarily computer & video game playing and commentary. The feeling of watching a favorite gamer on twitch is similar to listening to a favorite radio DJ — relaxing, enjoyable, and you feel part of a club.

Sajedene-just-got-robbed--665x385

At least — most of the time. Recently, one twitch gamer was robbed on live stream following a home invasion. So far one suspect has been arrested.

No extra points for guessing the demographics.

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, originally Decorations Day, a day for the dead from both sides of the Civil War.

Thanks to my brother, who runs Geographic Travels, I know I have ancestors who died on both sides. The Virginian died the day after the Battle of Seven Pines. At the same time, the history of the town where our direct male line lived during the Civil War records numerous deaths in my family from the fighting.

The Civil War killed more Americans than any more in American history. Following the end of major combat operations and the subsequent military occupation and guerrilla war, the situation was similar to before it began: broad home rule for the South, and Union control of foreign and military policy. Slavery was ended, though “slave-like” conditions persisted, and civil rights would not be enforced in the South until the 1950s, then a far less bloody method was found.

May our leaders have the wisdom to know when to fight, and how to fight, and what the costs will be.

Internet-Centric Entertainment (an example)

Yesterday I talked about how most of my video entertainment now comes from the internet. The on-demand and interactive nature of internet video builds on itself. Here is a specific example of that.

Using Youtube on Xbox One, a bit ago I watched this trailer for Godzilla:

That led me to Red Letter Media’s review, which I watched on my Surface Pro connected to my tv:

That review stated that while the new Godzilla was better than the 1990s version, both were inferior to the current directory’s previous film, Monsters. Monsters is a post-9/11 style movie, portraying life several years after the dramatic events of a Monster movie. I watched Monsters on Amazon Prime, thru its Xbox One app.

There’s still a few ‘killer apps’ for TV. Some sports, Game of Thrones, and 24 hours news streaming would still be painful to lose. But that seems just a matter of time.

(Inadvertently and almost) cutting the cord

ervice and getting their entertainment exclusively thru the internet. I almost loved television too muh for that — the news is interesting, and there are so many great shows — but I recently realized my weekly “TV” viewing time was probably down to 2 or 3 hours per week.

The reason wasn’t austerity or puritanism. Rather, there are so many on demand options on my Xbox One it’s hard to justify cable as a separate purchases.

Youtube on Xbox One has many great news channels that my wife and I “subscribe” to for free, such as Vice News, New York Times, CNN, and The Verge. From the same source there are entertainment sources such as Jimmy Kimmel, College Humor, GoPro, and Cyanide or Happiness which provide a pleasant welcome to each new day.

vice news

We are living in a golden age of television, however, so it’s great so much of it is available without cable tv. Most every show are available for purchase from either Xbox Video or Amazon Video. Similarly, movies can be purchased from Xbox or Amazon, or watched from either the Amazon or Netflix streaming services.

Even sports is moving to a cable-also format, with great apps from the NFL and Major League Baseball. There’s also the woman’s football (which streams live games) and computer games on watch Twitch.

As of now, there are only two things absolutely missing. There’s no easily watchable 24 hours streaming news channel, and HBO shows aren’t available for either download or purchase without a traditional cable tv plan. Hopefully, HBO’s eroding market share will make them reconsider this move.

We’re not in a post-cable-tv world yet, but that world is rapidly coming. It’s harder and harder to justify having a cable TV plan at all,.

Watching Twitch

$GOOG paid a billion dollars for twitch, a video streaming service. Unlike Youtube (which focuses on general audiences and miscellaneous niches), vimeo (which focuse on gorgeous cinematographic videos), or Daily motion (which focuses on being second place to Youtube), Twitch’s niche is gamers.

twitch_logo

Twitch is focused around games (live events) and channels (feeds of live events by specific gamers or groups). Yesterday, my wife and I watched navigated Twitch on Xbox One. Broadly, the two main types of games & channels appear to be competitive games and social games. Exmaples of competitive games include League of Legends (the most popular game in the world) and Starcraft II, while an example of a social game is Grand Theft Auto V.

twitch gsl announcers

Competitive games are organized like minor sports, such as women’s football, women’s basketball, or mixed martial arts. Not only are many of the trappings of major spots there (commentators, slick graphics, various functionaries) but minor spots have two elements major sports can lack: a sense of exclusivity and a proof of passion. Unlike major sports, identifying with a minor sport means identifying with a subculture to which you belong. And unlike major sports, few millionaires are made in minor sports, so a player is more likely to be following a calling as opposed to buying a beach house.

twitch xmoonliterose

My wife and I, however. enjoyed watching social games more. Many of these players/hosts were female, and combined competent gameplay with the personality of an effective radio disk jockey. Any flirting was PG, and you quickly felt that you were in the company of friends. For a fantasy game like Grand Theft Auto V, where play is self-directed and often absurd, watching someone play with friends can be even more relaxing than playing yourself (where the question of “what is to be done?” looms as large as in real life).

twitch creature talk

Twitch is a community — a billion dollar community — I was largely ignorant of a few days ago.

The world is vast, and there are such people in it…

Easter: Flesh and Blood

And the human said:

This one at last, bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh…

– excerpted from Genesis 4, from The Five Books of Moses, translated by Robert Atler

And the Lord said to Cain:

Why are you incensed
and why is your face fallen?

For whether you offer well,
or whether you do not,
at the tent flap sin crouches
and for you it is longing
but you will rule over it

And He said, “What have you done? Listen! your brother’s blood cries out from the soil that gaped with its mouth to take your brother’s blood from your hand.

And Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is too great to bear. Now that You have driven me from this soil and I must hide from Your presense, I shall be a restless wanderer on the earth and whoever finds me will kill me.”

And the Lord said to him, “Therefore whoever kils Cain shall suffer sevenfold vengence.” And the Lord set a mark upon Cain so that whoever found him would not slay him.”

– excerpted from Genesis 4, from The Five Books of Moses, translated by Robert Atler

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

– The Gospel of Mark 14, from the New International Version.

Firefox Drops to 3rd Place

I remember driving to the mall with my dad, to buy a copy of Netscape Navigator 1.2 on floppy disks. Since that time I’ve had a soft spot for Netscape and its successors, including Firebird and the increasingly irrelevant Firefox.

firefox_third_place

This month comes the news that Firefox has fallen to 3rd place, with more users on both Google Chrome and Internet Explorer.

Life’s too short to waste time on a third place browser.  I am writing this on Google Chrome, and regularly use Internet Explorer.  But I’ve uninstalled Firefox.

The tDAxp eXPerience