Category Archives: organization

Is data, science?

beaker

“I am quite conscious that my speculations run quite beyond the bounds of
true science.” –Charles Darwin

“My laboratory is my paper” –Albert Einstein

Poor Darwin. A political football of his time. While he supported his theories with data, many people insisted, as some do today, his work was not science. Yet as time passes his science has been treated as fact by more and more people. How useful is Darwinism? How did this change occur? More importantly does all science need to survive a public political fight to be treated as knowledge?

One needs look no further than Isaac Newton to find science nobody disputes today. There was controversy at the time, but it was limited to the cosmic implications. Newtonian physics is demonstrable using repeatable experiments. A series of steps could be followed to demonstrate and even separate it’s components. The formulas to predict how objects interacted with each other and gravity were demonstrably true.

The problem came with the orbital components. The same rules that predicted projectile parabolas could be adapted to predict the planets orbits (ultimately with some small errors) But there is no way to create a second identical solar system to add or remove components and test each part of the theory. There is no way to create a control. Without a control Newtonian physics was reduced to predictions. People passed the time waiting for his predictions to come true by arguing about them.

Einstein by comparison was extremely lucky. For decades the vast majority of the science community didn’t even understand his theories. His theories were impossible to demonstrate or test. No physical mechanism was available to do so. Few had the context to even argue about his theories, so they didn’t. Einsteinian physics was almost entirely predictions, but he caught no flak.

While the world slowly caught up, Einstein’s predictions have enjoyed wild success. His work is a great demonstration of the value of predictions in science. The science community didn’t refute Einstein in his time, it just largely ignored him. Room was made for his predictions to be tested at a later date.

Which brings us to Darwin. Like Einstein, many of his theories had no way to be conclusively tested at their conception. The theories matched existing data and you could tease out some components of it. It wasn’t until DNA was discovered in 1953 that the tools to reach an absolute conclusion on Darwin were known to be possible. But unlike quantum physics, people understand husbandry and paternity. Everyone had their two cents to give. Solid data with deceptive relevance justified genocides and terrible experiments. The label of ‘science’ ran amok.

With Darwin, the act of simple testing, of manipulating variables and comparing the results to controls could turn unethical. To come up with a system of learning about our own species required prediction to avoid terrible acts. A new truth became known about science, and to this day is often misunderstood. Data driven science can be both unethical and irrelevant to the targeted questions. Darwin’s value didn’t come from his data, but the predictions he could make with that data.

The ideal science is experiment driven. The experiments provide not only data, but and understanding of their context. Nobody serious disputes this. The problem is when separating a control is not possible. Either because of the economic cost, or the ethical cost. Darwin by his quality predictions has shown us not only the path of life, but a blueprint for more ethical science. The sure way to avoid public relations with murderous consequences in a lab coat. The worst part of human experimentation in the name of science?  it’s relative pointlessness compared to tested prediction?  It’s just a sad, avoidable, footnote.

Regardless if the impossible control is torturing humans, or copying planets, Darwin gave us a gift. The truth vetted in a trial by fire. The knowledge that data driven politics without prediction is an invitation to pointless suffering and disaster. Repeatable experiments are science. In it’s needed absence, quality, specific, predictions are science. Without prediction, data, even of the highest certainty and relevance, simply is not. It’s pre-science at best.  Darwin finalized prediction as the minimum requirement for the label of ‘science.’

The tragedy of the currency

columns-s

The problem with both central banking and vaulted gold are the same, they provide legitimate efficiencies. There is no airtight analytical case against them.  Economies of scale of security and analysis do provide some, even much, legitimate value.

Do those economies of scale outweigh the risks of the ‘keepers’ keeping a private ledger?  Almost always at first and never forever.  Corruption creeps in.  Corruption is really the rising cost of transparency.  A chess game of emotions,  like ‘kindness’, ‘fairness’, ‘ability’ and even magical powers, slowly chips away at the keepers ability to be honest.  Once the honesty dies, nothing feeds the flow of transparency and it withers and wilts.  Eventually nothing is left but a carboard cutout of it’s former self.  An unliving, inaccurate, but easy to explain and defensible approximation of the actual state of weights and measures.  A public ledger.

Insider threats always abound, so a brutally honest private ledger must be quietly kept along side it.  Once transparency is a shell of it’s former self, the stake holders of their currency no longer keep tabs on it’s mechanics.  Discrepancies form, and are exasperated by greed as they are observed and then exploited by the now unwatched keepers.  At first the exploitation is covered up to protect the currency itself, but eventually the cover up exists strictly to protect it’s liquidity, and then, it’s ability to hold any value at all.

The tragedy of the currency is wrapped up in it’s mechanics.  The single ledger becomes a lightning rod of anger, justified or not, against inequity.  Politicians (remember ‘politc’ is simply your public face) delay to answer smartly.  Not to skim at first but simply to quiet their opponents. Sometimes the delayed issues are completely tangential to the virtues of the currency.

Time is friction in transparency.  Delays become corruption.  The older data is the more useless it becomes.  A composite caricature of discombobulated snapshots in time.  You can’t trust what you can’t see, and you can’t see the whole accountant at once.  At first it’s impractical, and then it’s discouraged.

The mechanics of absolute power corrupt absolutely.  The problem with a single ledger has always been, it’s single accountant, and their perhaps unintentional but still vulnerable political face.

Most civilizations have approached this as a political problem.  Avoid bad politics and the accountant is safe.  History has demonstrated no person or their protectors are unassailable.  Even if they were, they are mortal and will be succeeded.  Instead the United States proposed a technical solution.  Every person is their own accountant.  They must preserve their own ledgers. Nearly impervious to corruption, but inefficient.  Then in desperation, in a time of world war, this was abandoned for centralized efficiencies.

If you solve the single accountant problem in a centralized way, you solve the public/private ledger problem.  Enjoy the spoils of the economies of scale without the classical risks.  How can many accountants share one ledger without losing the efficiencies of one copy?  By copying and verifying the copies of the ledger so fast that the entire market can view every trade in real time without latency.  Time approaches an infinitely small number, so transparency approaches an infinitely large one.  That is exactly what Bitcoin does.  And it’s never been done before.  Laid down on the transparency of it’s open source code, the open ledger is copied and updated all over the world every second of every day.  Everyone can know the ledger is real because they can see exactly how it is verified.

How to trust is an unsolvable problem, but how to avoid needing to trust is already solved.  A grand joke on those who obsess over politics.  A comedy of the currency.