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Monthly Archives: February 2007

Lancet publishers condemned over promotion of arms

Reed Elsevier, the publisher of The Lancet, has today been condemned by a former editor of the British Medical Journal for its involvement in the promotion of arms sales.

Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Richard Smith urges scientists and academics to publish their research and findings elsewhere.

Full story here

Original article in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine: ‘Reed-Elsevier’s hypocrisy in selling arms and health’

Theory falsification

Question: if you want to falsify a theory, do you need a plausible alternative theory?

Toy-examples of falsification suggest not, but I think they mislead. For example: my theory is “there is a fairy in my cupboard”. Potentially falsificatory test of this theory: open cupboard – is there a fairy there? Ignoring for the moment the problem of the impossibility of hard falsification, it looks fairly straight forward. That was the theory, there was the test.

However, this toy example is so simple it allows us to leave implicit the plausible alternative, namely there is no fairy in the cupboard. If no plausible alternative is to hand, I don’t think identifying a potentially falsifying test is so straightforward.

I arrived at this train of thought via a discussion last night about vegetarianism. I was trying to convince people that we have have an evolved disposition to obsess about and ritualise our food behaviours, so that any food habit, however arbitrary or initially unideologically – for example not eating meat just because you happen to live with vegetarians – can quickly and easily embed itself in our psychological preferences and become the subject of purity rituals and taboos (“Don’t cook my vegeburger in your bacon fat!” sort of thing).

I’ve been trying to think of a way to test/falsify this theory and can’t. This either means that the information content of the theory is actually minimal – i.e. it isn’t actually saying anything – or it means (my best guess for the truth) that my scientific imagination isn’t very good. And I think the missing link in my chain of thought it the lack of any apparent plausible alternative. Simple negating the theory (“food behaviours are not subject to purity obsessive behaviour”) doesn’t produce an interesting theory, and the tests that it suggests would, i feel, be passed without actually providing evidence that my theory is any good at all, just better than nothing. In other words, I think I would find people are obsessive about food behaviours, some of which are pretty arbitrary, but I don’t think this would allow me to convince anyone that what I am saying is true.

The problem may be with the nature of the theory (an evolutionary ‘just so’ story?) rather than with falsficiation.

24-2-07 Links

The Devil and Saint Rubashov

Two old-guard revolutionaries, old comrades in the war too, sit either sit of a desk. It is an interrogation, and their positions could easy have been reversed. Rubashov is the prisoner, Ivanov the warden of the prison. Rubashov is accused of conspiracy, of failing to maintain the strict ideological discipline demanded of party members.

Apage Satanas!” repeated Ivanov and poured himself out another glass. “In old days, temptation was of carnal nature. Now it takes the form of pure reason. The values change. I would like to write a Passion play in which God and the Devil dispute for the soul of Saint Rubashov. After a life of sin, he has turned to God—to a God with the double chin of industrial liberalism and the charity of the Salvation Army soups. Satan, on the contrary, is thin, ascetic and a fanatical devotee of logic. He reads Machiavelli, Ignatius of Loyola, Marx and Hegel; he is cold and unmerciful to mankind, out of a kind of mathematical mercifulness. He is damned always to do that which is most repugnant to him: to become a slaughterer, in order to abolish slaughtering, to sacrifice lambs so that no more lambs may be slaughtered, to whip people with knouts so that they may learn not to let themselves be whipped, to strip himself of every scruple in the name of a higher scrupulousness, and to challenge the hatred of mankind because of his love for it—an abstract and geometric love. Apage Satanas! Comrade Rubashov prefers to become a martyr. The columnists of the liberal Press, who hated him during his lifetime, will sanctify him after his death. He has discovered a conscience, and a conscience renders one as unfit for the revolution as a double chin. Conscience eats through the brain like a cancer, until the whole of the grey matter is devoured. Satan is beaten and withdraws—but don’t imagine that he grinds his teeth and spits fire in his fury. He shrugs his shoulders; he is thin and ascetic; he has seen many weaken and creep out of his ranks with pompous pretexts …”

Arthur Koestler, ‘Darkness at Noon‘ (1940, tr. Daphne Hardy)

Quote #188


In Britain people are often told to ‘stop talking about politics, it only causes arguments’. But you can only have that attitude if politics doesn’t appear to affect your life. If the house was burning down, and one group was urging everyone to ‘run through the flames’ while someone else shouted that the only chance was to jump, even my Mum wouldn’t say ‘Stop talking about fires, it will only cause a row. Now let’s have a nice cup of tea and burn to death.’

Mark Steel, ‘Reasons to be Cheerful’ (2001)

15-2-07 Links

 

I have come to discuss our common work

I am not a writer, a philosopher, a great figure of intellectual life: I am a teacher. There is a social phenomenon that troubles me a great deal: Since the 1960s, some teachers are becoming public men with the same obligations. I don’t want to become a prophet and say, “Please sit down, what I have to say is very important.” I have come to discuss our common work.

I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning. If you knew when you began a book what you would say at the end, do you think that you would have the courage to write it? What is true for writing and for a love relationship is true also for life. The game is worthwhile insofar as we don’t know what will be the end.

Michel Foucault (via andy)

Quote #186

Jim Hacker: Don’t tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers:

  • The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country;
  • The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country;
  • The Times is read by people who actually do run the country;
  • The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country;
  • The Financial Times is read by people who own the country;
  • The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country;
  • And the Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.
  • Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read the Sun?
    Bernard Woolley: Sun readers don’t care who runs the country, as long as she’s got big tits.

    Yes, Prime Minister

    Reborn as wordpress

    I have moved this blog from Moveabletype to WordPress. As well as being a world of open-source goodness, WordPress is far easier to use, at first impression, and I’m hoping that I’ll have more luck defending myself against comment spam.

    How i did this:

    After, as a precaution, exporting my Moveabletype MySQL database, using PHPmyadmin. I then enjoyed the Famous WordPress 5-Minute Install and it was easy. Thank’s to Mike for advice and encouragement.

    Comments are now back open, so say hello, or let me know if any old posts were broken by the move and need fixing.