Friday, December 14, 2018

Don’t ask what science can do for you.

Among the more peculiar side-effects of publishing a book are the many people who suddenly recall we once met.

There are weird fellows who write to say they mulled ten years over a single sentence I once spoke with them. There are awkward close-encounters from conferences I’d rather have forgotten about. There are people who I have either indeed forgotten about or didn’t actually meet. And then there are those who, at some time in my life, handed me a piece of the puzzle I’ve since tried to assemble; people I am sorry I forgot about.

For example my high-school physics teacher, who read about me in a newspaper and then came to a panel discussion I took part in. Or Eric Weinstein, who I met many years ago at Perimeter Institute, and who has since become the unofficial leader of the last American intellectuals. Or Robin Hanson, with whom I had a run-in 10 years ago and later met at SciFoo.

I spoke with Robin the other day.

Robin is an economist at George Mason University in Virginia, USA. I had an argument with him because Robin proposed – all the way back in 1990 – that “gambling” would save science. He wanted scientists to bet on the outcomes of their colleagues’ predictions and claimed this would fix the broken incentive structure of academia.

I wasn’t fond of Robin’s idea back then. The major reason was that I couldn’t see scientists spend much time on a betting market. Sure, some of them would give it a go, but nowhere near enough for such a market to have much impact.

Economists tend to find it hard to grasp, but most people who stay in academia are not in for the money. This isn’t to say that money is not relevant in academia – it certainly is: Money decides who stays and who goes and what research gets done. But if getting rich is your main goal, you don’t dedicate your life to counting how many strings fit into a proton.

The foundations of physics may be an extreme case, but by my personal assessment most people in this area primarily chase after recognition. They want to be important more than they want to be rich.

And even if my assessment of scientists’ motivations was wrong, such a betting market would have to have a lot of money go around, more money than scientists can make by upping their reputation with putting money behind their own predictions.

In my book, I name a few examples of physicists who bet to express confidence in their own theory, such as Garrett Lisi who bet Frank Wilczek $1000 that supersymmetry would not be found at the LHC by 2016. Lisi won and Wilczek paid his due. But really what Garrett did there was just to publicly promote his own theory, a competitor of supersymmetry.

A betting market with minor payoffs, one has to be afraid, would likewise simply be used by researchers to bet on themselves because they have more to win by securing grants or jobs, which favorable market odds might facilitate.

But what if scientists could make larger gains by betting smartly than they could make by promoting their own research? “Who would bet against their career?” I asked Robin when we spoke last week.

“You did,” he pointed out.

He got me there.

My best shot at a permanent position in academia would have been LHC predictions for physics beyond the standard model. This is what I did for my PhD. In 2003, I was all set to continue into this direction. But by 2005, three years before the LHC began operation, I became convinced that those predictions were all nonsense. I stopped working on the topic, and instead began writing about the problems with particle physics. In 2015, my agent sold the proposal for “Lost in Math”.

When I wrote the book proposal, no one knew what the LHC would discover. Had the experiments found any of the predicted particles, I’d have made myself the laughing stock of particle physics.

So, Robin is right. It’s not how I thought about it, but I made a bet. The LHC predictions failed. I won. Hurray. Alas, the only thing I won is the right to go around and grumble “I told you so.” What little money I earn now from selling books will not make up for decades of employment I could have gotten playing academia-games by the rules.

In other words, yeah, maybe a betting market would be a good idea. Snort.

My thoughts have moved on since 2007, so have Robin’s. During our conversation, it became clear our views about what’s wrong with academia and what to do about it have converged over the years. To begin with, Robin seems to have recognized that scientists themselves are indeed unlikely candidates to do the betting. Instead, he now envisions that higher education institutions and funding agencies employ dedicated personnel to gather information and place bets. Let me call those “prediction market investors” (PMIs). Think of them like hedge-fund managers on the stock market.

Importantly, those PMIs would not merely collect information from scientists in academia, but also from those who leave. That’s important because information leaves with people. I suspect had you asked those who left particle physics about the LHC predictions, you’d have noticed quickly I was far from the only one who saw a problem. Alas, journalists don’t interview drop-outs. And those who still work in the field have all reason to project excitement and optimism about their research area.

The PMIs would of course not be the only ones making investments. Anyone could do it, if they wanted to. But I am guessing they’d be the biggest players.

This arrangement makes a lot of sense to me.

First and foremost, it’s structurally consistent. The people who evaluate information about the system do not themselves publish research papers. This circumvents the problem that I have long been going on about, that scientists don’t take into account the biases that skew their information-assessment. In Robin’s new setting, it doesn’t really matter if scientists’ see their mistakes; it only matters that someone sees them.

Second, it makes financial sense. Higher education institutions and funding agencies have reason to pay attention to the prediction market, because it provides new means to bring in money and new information about how to best invest money. In contrast to scientists, they might therefore be willing to engage in it.

Third, it is minimally intrusive yet maximally effective. It keeps the current arrangement of academia intact, but at the same it has a large potential for impact. Resistance to this idea would likely be small.

So, I quite like Robin’s proposal. Though, I wish to complain, it’s too vague to be practical and needs more work. It’s very, erm, academic.

But in 2007, I had another reason to disagree with Robin, which was that I thought his attempt to “save science” was unnecessary.

This was two years after Ioannidis’ paper “Why most published research findings are false” attracted a lot of attention. It was one year after Lee Smolin and Peter Woit published books that were both highly critical of string theory, which has long been one of the major research-bubbles in my discipline. At the time, I was optimistic – or maybe just naïve – and thought that change was on the way.

But years passed and nothing changed. If anything, problems got worse as scientists began to more aggressively market their research and lobby for themselves. The quest for truth, it seems, is now secondary. More important is you can sell an idea, both to your colleagues and to the public. And if it doesn’t pan out? Deny, deflect, dissociate.

That’s why you constantly see bombastic headlines about breakthrough insights you never hear of again. That’s why, after years of talking about the wonderful things the LHC might see, no one wants to admit something went wrong. And that’s why, if you read the comments on this blog, they wish I’d keep my mouth shut. Because it’s cozy in their research bubble and they don’t want it to burst.

That’s also why Robin’s proposal looks good to me. It looks better the more I think about it. Three days have passed, and now I think it’s brilliant. Funding agencies would make much better financial investments if they’d draw on information from such a prediction market. Unfortunately, without startup support it’s not going to happen. And who will pay for it?

This brings me back to my book. Seeing the utter lack of self-reflection in my community, I concluded scientists cannot solve the problem themselves. The only way to solve it is massive public pressure. The only way to solve the problem is that you speak up. Say it often and say it loudly, that you’re fed up watching research funds go to waste on citation games. Ask for proposals like Robin’s to be implemented.

Because if we don’t get our act together, ten years from now someone else will write another book. And you will have to listen to the same sorry story all over again.

144 comments:

  1. "Instead, he now envisions that higher education institutions and funding agencies employ dedicated personnel to gather information and place bets." Isn't that exactly what is happening already at US universities? Every now and then many places all decide that a certain young 'hot shot' must be hired. They then come up with salary offers that are way out of line just to outbid the other university. So, they bet on a person, but indirectly also on a field of research because the latter made the 'hot shot' famous.

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  2. Quant,

    The hot shots are hot because they're popular with their peers. Just look at who gets hired. Everyone is drawing on the same measures: publications, citations, grants, and the grants themselves draw on publications and citations.

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  3. "The only way to solve it is massive public pressure."

    Scientific endeavor guided by mob rule doesn't sound like a good idea.

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  4. David,

    What you call the "mob" are people whose taxes fund research.

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  5. The mob is also who make up those legendarily wise crowds.

    sean s.

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  6. I'm very short on time these days, but maybe the scientific community needs to look at how the Law treats citations; not only counting them up, but also characterizing them by how the citing papers treat them (positive, negative, neutral, mere mentions, etc.)

    Some famous cases get cited a lot. Negatively. Not good for the reputation of a jurist who wrote an opinion widely regarded as bad.

    sean s.

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  7. I can't help thinking that if climate scientists had to bet a certain fraction of their pension/savings on their prediction/forcasts, those graphs of future outcomes would look quite a bit different. 'It's worse than we thought' is easy when there's no cost to the assertion. This would have worked just as well for the LHC in the run-up to its first - and second - run.

    I'm thinking of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's 'skin in the game' concept here. Betting - or putting anything of value on the line - has an amazing way of focusing the mind.

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  8. Research business models are managerial exercises. Applied flesh and applicable product are fungible process fluids. We've met! Shall we bet whether 400,000 theorist-years are falsified by a chemist-day in a microwave rotational spectrometer?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdYBcbmXQmU&t=2m51s
    … Discovery is the last piece.

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  9. Robin "now envisions that higher education institutions and funding agencies employ dedicated personnel to gather information and place bets."
    I think this is happening already in various ways. In the sciences universities are supporting the writing of patents as much as they're supporting the writing of papers. There are departments for that. Grant money contracts include statements about what happens to any patents or copyrights or trademarks as well as about who pays for paperclips. Intellectual property contracts seem to constitute almost precisely a futures market. If you talk to anyone in any "quantum institute" anywhere, I think they'll tell you that there are plenty of non-disclosure rules. String theorists may be able to mouth off, but the average AMO lab likely has to think carefully about what they say.
    There is, perhaps, a strand of this that seeks to game the patent system, edging ever further towards being able to patent anything at all that might come out of a university. It used to be that algorithms couldn't be patented, but then they said that various aspects of software can be patented, so that by now it's much harder to be sure what can be patented and what cannot.

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  10. Immanuel Kant on Supersymmetry: A Practical Evaluation

    arxiv.org/abs/1003.2967

    "Put your money where your moth is" is a great philosophy, yet 237 years old :-)

    Regards, Alexander

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  11. I had a sort of similar idea once, that I didn't develop much. The basic idea was that every full? member of APS would get 1 funding point (or more a fraction of a point), every non-permanent employed scientist (postdoc, phd student, etc) would get an additional funding point and every tenured professor would get a 3rd funding point (and there would be special additional points available for APS/AAAS fellows/etc). So tenured professors (without awards) would have 3 points, APS members 1 point and postdocs (for example) 2 points. Then there would be some central site where all scientists could provide a proposal for why they should be funded, and then a given scientist could give points to those they think should be funded. Scientists would do this just like scientists do literature review. You would have some limitation like the point from being an APS member could be spent anywhere, but the point for being a working scientist could only be spent outside of your field/institutions and the point for being tenured could be spent only outside of your institutions/collaborations). Then funding would come down to something similar to 1 point = ~140k USD (over 4 years) which would go to lab equipment, contributions to large scale collaborative experiments (in the case of HEP/Observational Astronomy/etc), PhD student salaries, postdoc salaries, PI (summer/sabbatical) salary, travel and so on. You would probably also want to limit non-working scientists (like PhD students) to only being able to receive 1 point.

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  12. "That’s why you constantly see bombastic headlines about breakthrough insights you never hear of again."

    Some researchers are busy placing bombastic headlines in the general media. Many other researchers do not play this game and still manage to get their research funded.

    I think that these bombastic headlines give scientists a bad reputation, but I don't know how this can be prevented.

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  13. In 1973 John Wheeler dedicated "Gravitation" to the taxpayers who funded his (and others) scientific endeavour. In 2018 someone calling taxpayer's pressure "mob rule" sounds to me like a perfect description of the problem science and scientist is having.

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  14. I think I've now known Robin for almost 30 years. I often disagree with him, but even when I think he's wrong he's usually wrong in a very interesting way and I'm not entirely sure of my position. His ideas are always subtler than one expects, and it's especially worth fully understanding the ones one thinks are "crazy".

    I first saw his notion of pushing "Idea Futures" markets to provide data on complicated questions in 1992 or so, in a long forgotten small circulation magazine. Perhaps I should have bet with him at the time about how long it would take for people to start taking the idea seriously. :)

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  15. I tried to place a bet on what Dark Energy was with the internet bet mob. Could I get 1000 to 1 on a crackpot idea? No way! Most didn't want to know - heard that before. Best was 5 to 1 within 5 years. I wish.

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  16. Bravo for this post, Sabine. Turf protection is a primary behavioral activity in many vocations. Competing ideas are often threats to jobs, money, status. My financial career concentrated in currency options, with models and outcomes competing with each other. Bookies make excellent probability sources. However, scientific detail is beyond most of them. (me included)

    One idea is to make *all* applications for jobs, grants, admissions to programs...blind. No names. No genders. No nationalities, religions, races... Judging wines without bottle labels is similar. You have jumped out of the current game, and that takes courage. Changing the system is generational in my opinion. Let's hope others join you.

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  17. Sabine: I wish to complain, it’s too vague to be practical and needs more work.

    Good. That saves me the trouble of complaining. That being said, it's hard to imagine how it could ever really work. Of course, incentives work, but this isn't a simple case. And as any economist will tell you, incentives often backfire even in simple cases. Economists love to tell stories about failed incentives. Ask Robin and I'll bet he has a good story for you.

    By the way, eight years ago I made a bet with a guy who said bitcoin would take the world by storm. I bet that in five years, bitcoin would be used in less than ten percent of all financial transactions. He thought I was being foolishly generous with my terms, and he assumed he would win easily. Well, here we are eight years later, and bitcoin is used in less than ten percent of all financial transactions.

    In case anyone is wondering, no, he has not paid the hundred bucks (.0031 bitcoin) he owes me. I dislike bet squelchers. I happily pay all of my lost bets.

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    Replies
    1. At the risk of being inkorrect, the word is "Welch."

      Delete
  18. Peter,

    Yes, that works (to some extent) for areas where patents can be applied for right away. But for most of academia that's not the case. If you want to go this way, you'll end up in a corner with Daniel Sarewitz who basically wants to scrape any kind of research that doesn't directly translate into application. It's a disaster-idea when it comes to long-term progress.

    Also, the idea to reward scientists for writing patents too has its problems. That's because you can get patents for crazy ideas that will not go anywhere (I have seen exactly this happening after my university introduced a bonus for patents). A patent doesn't equal an application. If you put more pressure on this, you'll just create yet-another screwed-up incentive without really solving the problem.

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  19. Steven,

    I have indeed been wondering why there's so much resistance among scientists to use better measures for academic success that would go a long way in "blinding" assessments. It would be easy enough to even remove names from any such evaluation. I believe the reason is that many of those who are currently active actually rely on networking to get to where they are. They are good at playing the game the way it is, and are afraid if the rules change they will lose out.

    And of course that's exactly what will happen. Some of the winners will become losers, hence change is unlikely to come from the current winners.

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  20. Steven,

    I really think it doesn't take much to make this reality. A website, a trial program by some funding agency, maybe in a specific discipline.

    But, you see, it's a key-in-the-car problem. You can't unlock the car because the key's inside. In this case, you can't get research funding for a project to improve research funding allocation because the research funding allocation needs to improve.

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  21. “… scrape any kind of research that doesn't directly translate into application. It's a disaster-idea when it comes to long-term progress.”
    There is a funny take on this by Sundance Bilson-Thompson.

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  22. 1. Robin is by far the deepest thinker I have across. I think is probably the greatest thinker who has ever lived thanks to his work on signalling theory. This is not just my opinion, ask Tyler Cowen, ask Michael Nielsen, ask Scott Aaronson.
    https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2007/07/assorted-link-2.html

    2. You should ask Robin what he thinks about education. I was actually going to suggest before that you and Robin do a a video-call like you did with Peter Woit.

    3. Scientists are there for status, I think Robin knows this. But getting people to bet on their ideas would maybe bring more accountability. In fact this is one of the most important ideas in economics: prices transfer information. How to design the correct institution would be the problem.

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  23. The social norm for scientists to bet on their ideas would indeed bring accountability. Maybe academics don't have that much money but think about it. This is indeed what prices are for. They help to allocate scarce resources.

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  24. I have a feeling that one legitimate reason why scientists might be reluctant to use Robin's solution is that once the media got hold of the story, they would make fun of science.

    However, I think the insight is sound, but perhaps they could 'gamble' academic insight tokens (AIT's) that would be taken into account by grant awarding committees alongside citations etc.

    Thus when you made your prediction that the LHC would only find the Higgs, you would potentially have forfeited a minimum of 50 AIT's (but you could have bet more) which would be a public number that would act as an indicator of how much you believed your own prediction, but after the results were in, you would win back 5 times as many AIT's that you could 'spend' on getting future grants approved.

    Having said that, I think the most powerful way to improve science would be to get more public exposes, such as the book you reviewed earlier, "Rigor Mortis".

    One book that might fit that role for HEP would be this:

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00FOU0CXG/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

    This book isn't perfect, because the author, Alexander Unzicker, indulges in way too many ad hominems and a lot of bluster, but remarkably, he does seem to expose some serious weaknesses of HEP in general. The final chapter consists of a series of pointed questions to physicists.

    I have never seen anyone attempt to respond to these questions (but the internet is a big place)!

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  25. Hi Sabine,
    It's an interesting idea, but like you said it doesn't seem to be sufficiently developed yet. Some questions about its effectiveness come to mind:

    1. Because estimating probabilities of success must be done carefully when real money is involved, the estimators must rely on the best expertise they can find. If they themselves aren't experts, they must rely on the expertise of others. (I assume that if someone isn't actively writing papers in an area and hasn't in the past, or otherwise have "skin in the game," then they are not experts in the area.) What criteria would a non-expert estimator most likely use to choose their experts?

    2. It makes sense to interview researchers who left the field shortly after their PhD or first postdoc--not just "active" researchers--and I agree the range of opinions would increase by including them. But increasing the number of different opinions doesn't necessarily help determine which opinions should carry more weight--other criteria are needed. What are those criteria? (I suppose one could use the opinions/rationales of adherents to one view to "challenge" those with a different view, and pick a winner from those who best argue their views, but being a good debater doesn't imply being right.)

    3. In deciding which people to take most seriously, why wouldn't he/she use the same kind of "objective" criteria that are currently used, like paper count, citations, prestige, etc.? After all, with money on the line estimators want to play it safe too.

    4. Alternatively, one could assign higher credibility to those with a compelling story. But some people are really good at dazzling and exciting others even though their record of successful ideas is not compelling (not to pick on anyone, but how much of Nima Arkani-Hamed's prestige derives from past scientific successes?)

    4. What are the criteria for scientific success? Predictions that are verified? Then forget fundamental physics for the most part, given the spotty record of successful predictions that (in recent decades) aren't essentially put in by assumption. Faithfulness to describing all data? Then wouldn't that favor a dumb n-parameter fit (certain to be successful) over a speculative idea?

    5. How would success of a truly outside-the-box research program be estimated? Almost all new theories don't work out, but if an idea has no existing research base how can it be evaluated? If it can't be evaluated, then why fund it? Or why not assume its likelihood of success is very low, and still not fund it?

    6. Even if some funding is reserved for fundamental physics, the problem of evaluating relative probability of success remains.

    At the end of the day, it isn't clear to me (yet) why a betting-based system would be any more likely to break the logjam in fundamental theory than what we already have. I strongly suspect some genuinely novel ideas or assumptions are needed, but suspect they would probably be as heavily discounted by the "new" system as the current one.

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  26. @Sabine

    "What you call the "mob" are people whose taxes fund research.""

    Sabine, I believe you decry the tactics used to gain those funds in the collider article. Those tactics work because they exploit ignorance.



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  27. Any chance Robin might drop by and comment?

    On who has expertise (several people have made comments on this): in addition to the obvious people (those who write papers in the relevant field, PhDs, post-docs), there are those who teach it but do not write papers, those who have retired, the PhD students who "left the field" (fintech firms pay a lot more!), the interested "amateurs" or "laymen" (laypeople?) who have taught themselves (maybe they had a BSc, but didn't go on to get a PhD; in astronomy this description covers a quite large number of people), and science journalists (although many or most would be covered by another category already mentioned).

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  28. Sabine,

    The discussions in "Superforecasting : The Art and Science of Prediction" by Phil Tetlock and Dan Gardner seem of relevance here. And the Good Judgment Open website is a fun place to play. Reading these, I was struck by the comparative lack of concrete expertise assessment in fundamental physics.

    Best,
    Ted Rogers

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  29. Sabine, I agree that patents aren't perfect(!) and that as instruments they are quite coarse, but because they are an existing de facto large-scale futures market, any new futures market that will make a significant long-term difference will have to coexist and/or compete effectively with the patent ecosystem.

    There is perhaps a question whether it's newness or refinement that we want to encourage? Often newness is quite raw until someone else refines the idea, but do we attach more value to one over the other?

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  30. Here's a better solution to the problems.

    I have invented and implemented at https://truthsift.com a technology that supports creating proof trees about any subject. It is easy to post proofs and refutations of any step of the proof. Just as in mathematics, a statement is only considered tentatively established if there is a proof of it that nobody has raised a rational objection to. This supports collaboration, critical thinking, and prevents adherents of a position from simply ignoring the arguments against it, which is amazingly common. Refereeing is thus public, open, although still if desired anonymous, and debated point by point.

    Please check it out and let me know what you think. If you like it, please recommend it to others. I would love to see you post a proof of any topic that interests you, particularly scientific. Or if you see any statement you can rationally refute, please do so.

    Sincerely,

    Eric Baum

    PS – here's a proof tree showing that the minority dissenting opinion is usually right. https://truthsift.com/search_view?topic=On-Controversial-Topics,-Who-is-More-Often-Right,-the-Majority-or-a-Minority?&id=466

    If you think it's wrong, in any step, feel free to post a rational refutation.

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  31. Postulate a flat Earth. Model it as a cylinder...then a Klein bottle breakthrough!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_xQ_C5RUfo
    … Bluejeans flat Earth theory. Note the strings, and the exposition's final two words, "topological manifold."

    Globes violate accepted theory.

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  32. @Unknown: when I entered the top URL in my browser, I got this:

    "HTTP Status 500 - Handler processing failed; nested exception is java.lang.OutOfMemoryError: Java heap space"

    Maybe that means something you can act on? Certainly in terms of your comments, I have a disproof of "a technology that supports creating proof trees about any subject" ;-)

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  33. Unknown wrote: here's a proof tree showing that the minority dissenting opinion is usually right

    Not quite. Here's the actual "proof":

    "For controversial topics, the majority is at least as often wrong as right when confronted with a minority view."

    From what I could see, the "controversial topics" were topics that lots of people are ignorant about. An amusing example is a poll taken of Harvard graduates who incorrectly (and confidently) explained why it's colder in winter and hotter in summer.

    The folks at the truthsift website are shocked - shocked! - that such ignorance is possible at Harvard. They point out that Harvard students got it wrong "in spite of the fact that this is covered in every grade school."

    People remember what they find interesting or useful. The vast majority of people forget all the algebra and history they learned in high school.

    Unknown wrote: If you think it's wrong, in any step, feel free to post a rational refutation.

    From what I can see, the steps are just people inserting pros and cons. It's a pro-con way for people to have a discussion.

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  34. Sabine wrote: I really think it doesn't take much to make this reality. A website, a trial program by some funding agency, maybe in a specific discipline.

    I agree. But as an engineer, I've been conditioned to go from the drawing board to actual design. The initial debugging happens in the design phase, even before a prototype is built.

    Robin's proposal sounds interesting, but without actual design and details it's impossible to say more.

    I'm a big fan of betting, by the way. One of my mottos is "put your money where your mouth is." It's fun to make bets. It's amazing how a small amount of money can enhance interest. It's even more amazing how a small amount of money encourages people to think much more carefully about what they are claiming. When no money is involved, talk is cheap and people will claim the darndest things. I've seen people appear to be super confident about some fact, but as soon as I propose a bet they lose their confidence.

    When Donald Trump was elected, I created a large betting pool with family and friends. To be in the pool you had to pledge a hundred dollars. I drafted twenty yes/no questions that made predictions about Trump over a four year period. Examples of questions: Will Trump be reelected in 2020? Will Trump be impeached? Will Trump build his wall? Will the national debt increase? Will Obamacare be repealed? The person who makes the most correct predictions wins the pool.

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  35. Mark B.: I'd disagree--I don't think you'd see big changes in scientists' climate predictions with a prediction market. There's already "big money" in weather predictions, e.g. insurance, and they're pricing in climate change.

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  36. Lucretius described atomism in his De Rerum Natura, which was gave credit to Democritus and his mentor Leucippus from around 430BCE. Democritus and Leucippus postulated the world consisted of elementary particles in a void, which was liked by Aristotle and northern philosophers from Thrace and Macedonia, though the Athenians in the thrall of Plato did not. The entire idea was almost lost and Lucretius' text was found in the late Renaissance. The early Christian Church was opposed to the idea. The idea of atomism was framed 23 centuries before science figured ways to actually detect them. Quantum gravity and string theory may be in somewhat of a similar situation. Since this discusses bets I think there are good odds our current wealthy and technologically advanced civilization is going to implode into a dark age this century, which may bury a lot of scientific knowledge. Whether there is some distant future reemergence of intellectual society is uncertain.

    Einstein's general relativity predicted black holes and gravitational radiation. In the 1960s it was wild speculation that black holes existed and it was really not until the 1970s people began to seriously consider gravitational waves. The first black hole was found in 1973 or so and gravitational waves found in 2015. Gravitational waves were found a century after Einstein's first paper introducing GR, and there was no inconvenient dark age in between. So some of these things are very long term endeavors.

    This then leads to a problem with betting. One problem with academia is that it has become a bit like the corporate world or the investment banking reality. It has become more short term focused, and a lot of arguments out there against things like string theory are of this nature. I think we are faced with a pretty long term set of issues with science such as quantum gravity. I would love it if we got some at least tangential evidence for such theories in my lifetime. It could well take 100 years to build a body of evidence that is sufficient to confirm a theory of quantum gravity in the way relativity and quantum physics are empirically supported. Betting on science I think would rubbish this up and enhance a narrowed or short term focus.

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  37. Steven,

    Yes, I agree with that. It's often only once you start thinking about the details that you really understand how it works or doesn't work.

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  38. Sabine, if you want to try live experimentation with the prediction market concept, you may be able to do so here: https://www.augur.net/

    I have no hands-on experience with Auger. I happen to know one of its developers.

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  39. Steven Mason,
    for almost everything, there are some people who know the right answer but most people are ignorant of it and believe something else. This is true for why it's colder in the winter. And it's true for vaccine safety. It's true that in the first case the people who are considered experts know the right answer and in the second case they are mostly delusional.
    The difference probably is mostly that for most people the first Answer doesn't affect their finances whereas for the second answer for the experts it strong doese.

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  40. Unknown wrote: At the risk of being inkorrect, the word is "Welch."

    It's a colloquialism. A squelcher can be someone who breaks the terms of an agreement, such as a bet. When you squelch something, you're putting an end to it.

    Yes, I could also have used welsher or welcher.

    Of all the things you could have responded to, you chose that? :-)

    ReplyDelete
  41. Luke wrote: There's already "big money" in weather predictions, e.g. insurance, and they're pricing in climate change.

    Yes, good point Luke. And in an earlier comment Ted Rogers mentioned superforecasting and the Good Judgment Project. Government intelligence agencies are using some novel approaches to finding and recruiting superforecasters. Essentially, forecasting is betting.

    The interesting thing they're learning is that it's not necessarily the people with the most knowledge or the most access to classified or proprietary information who are the most successful forecasters. Rather, good forecasting is a matter of "applying the scientific method to look rigorously at data, rather than seeking to impose a given narrative on a situation."

    ReplyDelete
  42. Lawrence wrote: Betting on science I think would rubbish this up and enhance a narrowed or short term focus.

    That's certainly a possibility. Since Robin is an economist, he would know better than any of us how incentives with the best of intentions can have unintended negative consequences.

    I've seen this happen even on a small, simple scale. In my career, I've seen plenty of misguided incentives coming down from managers that had weirdly perverse effects. It's amazing how badly conceived incentives can encourage engineers to waste a company's time and money. I left government work because I couldn't tolerate the waste and inefficiency, only to discover that the private sector wasn't any better. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  43. As a layman, it seems to me there is a problem in the bet resolution; because too many things can not be permanently resolved.

    Have we permanently ruled out MOND? How will we ever know?

    We certainly would not want to use some "consensus" or super-majority vote (even of just qualified physicists) to declare a bet won or lost. Super majority opinion is what saddled physics with the current systemic problems in the first place.

    I think a better approach would be to attack the funding process (by government agencies) directly; with rules designed to always increase the diversity of topics being funded.

    If we think of their funding as an investment, then this is one way, investors limit their risks is by splitting up their money into diverse stocks and financial instruments; e.g. no more than 25% of the total funds can be invested in the top ranked stock, with declining %s for #2 through #100.

    In this case, the "stocks" are various general theories (e.g. String Theory, Loop QG, MOND, etc) and categories of project (Theoretical, Experimental), determined by what topics are being covered (by papers) and what proposals are being considered, but without considering the quantities of proposals and papers, other than to sort and rank the topics.

    Thus if 80% of the papers published are in String Theory, that only makes it #1 on the list, it doesn't mean it gets 80% of the funding. It gets the maximum of 25%, but many alternatives of String Theory are getting funded as well, to nearly the same extent.

    Just my first thought; all the details could be tweaked. I imagine there is already a way to categorize topics, for example.

    Rules forcing the funding investments to be distributed across many topics will reduce the likelihood of stalling investigation by betting everything on one promising (but doomed) prospect. It will likely also drive departments and professors to engage in research that is NOT #1, because funding is available and somebody is going to get it. If we cannot all drink from the same big pond, some of us will survive by finding other smaller ponds.

    Dr. A.M. Castaldo

    ReplyDelete
  44. Corporate R&D departments would be the perfect platform for this. I'm director of finance for a global R&D department and were always looking to improve our performance.

    ReplyDelete
  45. @Lawrence Crowell

    "It could well take 100 years to build a body of evidence that is sufficient to confirm a theory of quantum gravity..."

    Or it could take a millennium to build a body of evidence that is sufficient to refute a theory of quantum gravity (see Ptolemy). The impossible problem, of course, is knowing how to choose between (predict) long-time winners and losers in a gambling situation that stretches through generations. That is to say nothing of the ethical implications of committing those future generations to what might turn out to be a fruitless project.

    As to the betting idea as a mechanism for addressing the socioeconomic structural issues of academic science, it is difficult to see it having a net positive effect. Any system large enough to be effective will require both an infrastructure and administrative structure, the cost of which will have to be borne by the betting pool or by a third party. That will either make the betting pool net-negative for the clients who use it or subject the system to outside influence.

    All market systems are prone to inefficiencies and large gambling systems are particularly prone to compromise and manipulation - unless tightly regulated, which further increases costs. OTH, if someone wants to argue that something must be done, I can't suggest an alternative. Rollin' them bones might be better than nothing - but probably not much.

    ReplyDelete
  46. @Unknown (Dr. A.M. Castaldo), you wrote: "Have we permanently ruled out MOND? How will we ever know?"

    MOND was (permanently) "ruled out" the day it was developed ... it is inconsistent with Special Relativity (SR). Various extensions, shall we say, to MOND, which are consistent with SR, have been published. Of course, as a fitting formula, or empirical relationship, MOND is just fine ... as no doubt are epicycles to describe the apparent motions of planets in the night sky.

    ReplyDelete

  47. I like Castaldo's idea. The caveat is that government agencies which disperse funds are powerful; and egos with money are known to dislike restrictions and rules. If it could be legislated in some way, this type of broad based plan would be an improvement in my view. (non-scientist)

    ReplyDelete

  48. > But by 2005, three years before the LHC began operation, I became convinced that those predictions were all nonsense.

    Here you have wrong recollections.

    1. The LHC began operations in 2010.

    2. In 2009 you were still optimistic about the predictions.

    In your blogpost "Hello from SUSY 2009"
    (http://backreaction.blogspot.com/search?q=+LHC+Supersymmetry)
    from June 2009, you wrote:
    [Wilczek] finished with the inspirational note [Titled "Anticipating a New Golden Age,"]
    that it's not only an exciting time to be a physicist, but an exiting time to be a thinking being - even if you are not actively working on these theories, we might be very close to unraveling some fundamental truth about reality. It was a very nice talk and I think the audience enjoyed it."

    In 2009 you found a talk entitled "Anticipating a New Golden Age" i.e. new physics,
    "very nice", so you clearly did not think the predictions are all nonsense
    4 years after 2005.

    > It’s not how I thought about it, but I made a bet. The LHC predictions failed. I won. Hurray.

    Well, you "made the bet" when the LHC had already taken data,
    i.e. you already knew the outcome.
    Like putting you money on rouge when the ball has already fallen there.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Rolf,

    Wait, what, you are trying to correct my autobiography? Speak about mansplaining.

    It is easy to confirm by looking at my publication list that I stopped working on LHC physics in 2005. I publicly complained about naturalness arguments on this blog already in 2009 though this was arguably not the first time I thought about it. At this time particle physicists were still expecting new physics to be in the first run data.

    You clearly haven't read my book, otherwise you would know that even when I was writing it - that was 3 years ago - most particle physicists still thought new physics was just around the corner. If, for example, the diphoton-anomaly had turned out to be a real signal, the whole premise of the book would have evaporated. It did not. This time-line is documented by a dozen of interviews. (I had some trouble with my editor, hence the long wait until publication.)

    For what little I recall, Wilczek in 2009 indeed gave an enjoyable talk. He is a very gifted speaker and I have much respect for him. How you come from there to me believing that susy would be found at the LHC is anyone's guess.

    I expect an apology for your false accusations.

    ReplyDelete
  50. @JeanTate isn't QM also incompatible with SR? Isn't the whole point of MOND that SR does not explain the rotational dynamics of galaxy sized collections of stars, and thus something else is needed? You can claim without proof that there is some mysterious "dark matter" nobody can pin down, or we can assume SR isn't the final answer on how gravity works, thus MOND, or perhaps there is some combination of both. It seems unscientific to rule out MOND because it disagrees with a theory we cannot test at interstellar distance; especially since MOND's models seem to do a better job (less error) of predicting what we see. What inspired the theory of gravity to start, but curve-fitting to observations?

    Dr. A.M. Castaldo

    ReplyDelete
  51. Quantum mechanics has been compatible with Special Relativity since the 1920.

    A completion of MOND doesn't have to be compatible with Special Relativity but with General Relativity. Special Relativity does not contain gravity.

    ReplyDelete
  52. If there is a carefully worded statement that can be proven about MOND, that would make an excellent Truthsift diagram. https://truthsift.com

    ReplyDelete
  53. @JeanTate I've been corrected; I confused SR and GR. That said, I am curious as to how MOND violates Special Relativity, since SR does not contain gravity. Can you explain?

    Dr. A.M. Castaldo

    ReplyDelete
  54. MOND is not relativistic. It violates both special and general relativity. Loosely speaking, it does not have the right symmetries.

    ReplyDelete
  55. Sabine,

    You say: "Quantum mechanics has been compatible with Special Relativity since the 1920."

    Would you care to comment specifically on the compatibility of Quantum mechanics with Special Relativity's Length Contraction and Time Dilation? (I believe you have been involved with theories seeking to modify Length Contraction).

    ReplyDelete
  56. > It is easy to confirm by looking at my publication list that I stopped working on LHC physics in 2005.

    Stopping to work on those predictions does not show that you "became convinced that those predictions were all nonsense".

    >I publicly complained about naturalness arguments on this blog already in 2009 though this was arguably not the first time I >thought about it.

    You did not complain.
    Take a look at this quote from your 2009 blog entry:

    >It's not that I don't share the perception that a theory that unifies all the particle interactions with only a few parameters >of order one and a few dimensionful ones would be "beautiful" and seems "natural." ... Neither do I discard the value of such >considerations. They are useful guides, they show us the limitations of our current theories and point us into a direction.

    You call naturalness a "useful guide"! This is praise, not complaint.

    The most critical you wrote was:
    > I however also think one should not elevate naturalness to a sacred principle. Maybe Nature is just "unnatural."

    But nobody elevated it to this status. This is no complaint.

    > How you come from there to me believing that susy would be found at the LHC is anyone's guess.

    I did not claim you believed in 2009 that susy would be found at the LHC. Rather
    I claim that calling a talk that strongly anticipated new physics at the LHC "very nice" without any qualification clearly indicates that
    you were not "convinced that those [anticipations] were all nonsense".

    > otherwise you would know that even when I was writing it - that was 3 years ago - most particle physicists still thought new > physics was just around the corner.

    3 years ago, LHC had taken data for 5 years and there was strong evidence
    against SUSY. E.g. in your interview with Wilczek even he states "I am starting
    to get worried." There is nothing to placing your bet at this time.

    > I expect an apology for your false accusations.

    Above I give good evidence to believe that you really
    have a wrong recollection of your position in 2009.
    Because I am a decent person, I did not and do not accuse you of lying.
    There is no accusation to apologize for.

    ReplyDelete
  57. " ten years from now someone else will write another book...".

    But will laypeople read it ? Born 1959 I belong to that generation of laypeople who have known the heyday of fundamental physics, and I was spontaneously interested in it. In 2008 I read Smolin's book and started following Woit's blog. I have remained a very regular reader of your blog and of his since 2010. I have even looked at your videos, which are interesting in several respects, and, yes, read you book. It seems not much has changed these past ten years. Still stuck.

    What to you is "more of an obsession" is, to the interested layperson, an interest. One of many. I don't think I'll remain interested for another ten years. So what if the Chinese want to spend a couple of billions on the NImatron ? It's their money. To live, we need agronomic science, pharmaceuticals, medicine, engineering, climate science, maybe condensed matter physics. But philosophy or fundamental physics ? Nice to have, yes. Essential ? Hardly so.

    You may be overestimating the public's interest in a subject that is growing stale, Sabien.
    We're laypeople. And life is tough for us too.

    ReplyDelete
  58. Hi Sabine,

    As you probably know (since I wrote a guest blog on this site!) this was one of the (many) potential applications we had in mind when we created metaculus.com. As I see it (and based on my experience with that site) there are two levels at which such a system might be useful. One is in keeping conversation honest, the other is in creating actionable predictions for individuals people and investments. There's also a question of a prediction market as such (with really money stakes involved) and a reputation-based aggregation platform like Metaculus.

    In my view, prediction markets are great for certain purposes that really require monetary stakes, i.e. if you want to hedge against particular events, or force people to confront their own beliefs using a potential monetary loss. But in terms of just *making predictions* I think reputation-based aggregation is just as good, has a much lower barrier to entry, and is more in line with the scientific mindset we'd be talking about here.

    Both mechanisms would be great for keeping conversation honest. Little is more clarifying to me when reading a breathless new story about a breakthrough in such-and-such than operationalizing a question about it and posting it on Metaculus. It really helps cut through the BS. And if you're going around saying something is 90+% likely when the well-calibrated community of predictors with a good track record says it's 20% then you'd better have something pretty convincing if anyone is going to take you seriously.

    In terms of actions on individuals and such, things are much dicier in my mind. It would certainly be possible to set up a system predicting (say) the citations or other metrics (like those derived from your site) and have people make predictions. But I don't think people will like it — probably even less than current citation counts — and I'm not at all sure it'd be better. OTOH I do think predicting citation and impact of individual papers as they come out is a useful public service and I'm all for doing that; and I think there are other quantitative larger-scale resource allocation questions that would greatly benefit from quantitative probabilistic predictions.

    Anyway, you (or anyone) has experiments along these lines they'd like to try out, we're happy to help make that happen since the platform is in place and is flexible enough for a lot of purposes (though not for actual bets, which is regulatorily doubly-illegal in the US I'm afraid).

    ReplyDelete
  59. Anthony,

    Yes, sorry. The original version of this blogpost mentioned your website, but the text ended up being far too long, so I cut out everything not entirely essential.

    I can't see it working without major financial incentives for the reason I explained above: People won't bother using it. In fact, as you see from how little those prediction markets are being used, it does indeed not work.

    ReplyDelete
  60. Rolf,

    "Stopping to work on those predictions does not show that you "became convinced that those predictions were all nonsense"."

    My decision to not spend further time on it is the best evidence of my conviction that you can ask for. Economists call it "revealed preferences."

    You are right that in 2009 I was still trying to be polite. Clearly a mistake.

    2015 Wilczek was also hoping the diphoton anomaly is an axion. This part of the interview isn't in the book though.

    "3 years ago, LHC had taken data for 5 years and there was strong evidence against SUSY"

    The correct statement is that there was no evidence for susy in the data taken until then. Of course not.

    Now, let's see, 3 years later some guy called Rolf on my blog declares that it was clear 3 years ago to everyone including, presumably, himself what would have happened 3 years later. It's just unfortunate, I guess, that there is zero documentation for all those other people's insights, whereas mine happens to be written down and printed. That must be very annoying for all the thousands of people who missed their call. Too bad for them.

    You have falsely accused me of making incorrect statements. I provided evidence to the contrary. You owe me an apology. I also expect you to sign with your name, so I know who the person is who goes around and makes such false accusations.

    ReplyDelete
  61. Sabine Hossenfelder said...

    "Quantum mechanics has been compatible with Special Relativity since the 1920."

    Since the 1920's people have been trying to reconcile Quantum mechanics and Special Relativity. Dirac and Klein–Gordon are the most famous attempts. But you need second quantizations to make sense of these theories and we only started to understand how it works in the 1950's with the development of Quantum Electro Dynamic (QED).

    ReplyDelete
  62. > You are right that in 2009 I was still trying to be polite. Clearly a mistake.

    Well, in this case you intentionally made an incorrect statement out of politeness in 2009, right?

    > You have falsely accused me of making incorrect statements.

    Well, you yourself now say that you made false statement in 2009.

    But:
    _You_ said something against your conviction out
    of _politeness_?! With all due respect: I have a hard time believing this ;-).

    > Rolf on my blog declares that it was clear 3 years ago to everyone including, presumably, himself what would have happened 3 > years later. It's just unfortunate, I guess, that there is zero documentation for all those other people's insights, whereas > mine happens to be written down and printed.

    Adam Falkowski, a top HEP theorist wrote in his widely read high-quality blog
    in Jan. 2015:

    >If, by next Christmas, we don't hear any whispers of anomalies in LHC data, we will have to brace for tough times ahead. With >no energy increase in sight, slow experimental progress, and no theoretical hints for a better theory, particle physics as we >know it will be in deep merde.

    Declaring in 2015, that you no longer expect new physics at the
    LHC required no courage, or great expertise.

    ReplyDelete
  63. Sabine, I think you are overreacting. I don't see any accusations in Rolfs post.

    ReplyDelete
  64. While it sounds intriguing, I have trepidations about the strategy. Low-value research may remain underfunded. Who would make a bet that a population of slugs is a new species? Does one bet that researcher x is going to discover 10 new species in a patch of Amazonion rainforest? Does one bet on a new species of plant producing a cure for cancer? If one wants to study butterfly aerodynamics, do they need to sex it up by mish-mashing with the conditions necessary to spawn tornadoes? Etc.

    ReplyDelete
  65. Denis wrote: So what if the Chinese want to spend a couple of billions on the NImatron?

    More like 6 billion, but that's still pocket change to the Chinese. Meanwhile in the US, estimates for Trump's Great Wall range between 20 and 70 billion, and our first manned mission to Mars will certainly exceed 200 billion. Moreover, by the time Americans set foot on Mars, the Chinese might be cloning a new race of superhumans. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  66. Sabine writes: Quantum mechanics has been compatible with Special Relativity since the 1920.

    That is sort of the case. However, there are some flies in the ointment. I remember finding some unease with these things when I took a QFT course. The problem is with Wightman conditions that state observables are commuting on spatial surfaces. This has a practical utility in that it removes nonlocal physics from local causal physics in your calculations. What nonlocal stuff there is very short ranged and these quantum phases very quickly get scrambled up before the daughter particles from an interaction reach a detector. So these nonlocal phases are to a very good approximation irrelevant. Thus we have this odd situation where quantum mechanics has nonlocality but quantum field theory is local.

    Quantum gravitation is where this problem becomes evident. A quantum field process very near the horizon of a black hole may exhibit nonlocality. This is because curvature of spacetime expands what one observes from photons passing near the horizon. Directions tangential to the radial direction become highly expanded, and on what is termed the stretched horizon that stretching of tangential spatial intervals one may observe wraps around the horizon. So very small distances can become wildly magnified. Suddenly the conveniences we have imposed on QFT are not so plausible in quantum gravity. Quantum gravitation has most probably a level of nonlocality.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Isn't this exactly the sort of meaningless nonsense that Sabine is complaining about? We have no physical experience of anything mentioned in this post. Recently, Sabine asked "Are we doing science?" The answer is no.
      The bet you make is that your theory corresponds to reality and makes predictions that can be compared to data. The punishment is supposed to be embarrassment and shame at being wrong.
      Unfortunately, physicists are incapable of shame.

      Delete
  67. Sabine said: MOND is not relativistic. It violates both special and general relativity. Loosely speaking, it does not have the right symmetries.

    I would like to take issue with SR and GR having anything at all to contradict with MOND in themselves. MOND is strictly a special case that violates(MOdifies at low a) Newtonian Dynamics (ND) in a comparable exceptionalism to the way SR and GR violate Newtonian dynamics at relativistic velocities and similar. I really don't get why we can't set aside mass equivalence in the same way that we set aside Newtonian principles. Like with the Copenhagen interpretation (of QM in this case) demands we just plug in the formulas for the wave functions and not concern ourselves with what is strictly happening, we can plug in the MOND formulae. Let us set aside the thorough explanation of what is actually happening to break these symmetries. Clearly, if we let go of the criteria that we must not contradict Einsteinean ideas on Mass, we are far more likely to make headway on figuring things out.

    regards
    Marco

    ReplyDelete
  68. Rolf,

    "you yourself now say that you made false statement in 2009"

    Needless to say, I never said any such thing. As you point out yourself, I said already in 2009 that nature simply may not be "natural" in the technical sense and that it's a mistake to rely on this principle. You simply refuse to believe what's in front of your eyes.

    "Adam Falkowski, a top HEP theorist wrote in his widely read high-quality blog
    in Jan. 2015:

    >If, by next Christmas, we don't hear any whispers of anomalies in LHC data, we will have to brace for tough times ahead. With >no energy increase in sight, slow experimental progress, and no theoretical hints for a better theory, particle physics as we >know it will be in deep merde.


    By next Christmas was after I had sold the book proposal. And what happened then was that an anomaly *did* appear.

    You continue to make statements that are wrong on every conceivable level and have still not apologized for your various other false claims.

    Your sole intention seems to be to fabricate statements with the intention to damage my credibility. I have no interest in continuing this exchange.

    ReplyDelete
  69. SpaceTime,

    That some anonymous commenter on my blog dares to question my autobiography is as sick as online comments can get. It's for reasons like this nonsense that I am very close to shutting down this comment section and instead rely on facebook where people by and large sign off with their name. I am pretty fucking tired of this shit. If you have anything further to say, sign with your name.

    ReplyDelete
  70. Dear Mrs.B,

    ... when the Trolls come out in force it's a sign that you are starting to win! Just don't feed them.

    Rgds Nigel Vickers

    ReplyDelete
  71. "It's for reasons like this nonsense that I am very close to shutting down this comment section and instead rely on facebook where people by and large sign off with their name. "

    The aim of trolls is to stop people from expressing their opinion. The new tactics of the dogmatics have changed from censoring opinions to flooding the world with non-sense to drown out sense.

    Thoughtful comments are often as interesting as the initial post. It would be a pity if your site would be the next victim of the disinformation floods.

    I hope you find a better solution than simply closing the comments.

    ReplyDelete
  72. Thanks for calling me "sick" and my comments
    "shit"!
    _My_ comments were polite, to the point of
    your blog entry and backed by comprehensible arguments
    (which I am ready to dispute, of course).

    It is conventional and normal to use pseudonyms
    in blog comments. If you do not like this, you
    indeed should stop to blog.
    I do not use facebook, exactly
    because it is pretty impossible to stay pseudonymous
    there without special efforts.
    There you'll be safe from me ;-).

    ReplyDelete
  73. Phillip,

    Yes, I could only approve comments that are signed with a name, but it would be pointless, because everyone can make up a name on the fly. There are actually several cranks who frequently try to submit the same comment with a variety of names. (Or at least I think it's different people - maybe there's really only one person who has 10,000 different theories for dark matter.)

    Really the reason this doesn't work on blogger is that most Google accounts have no social media profile tied to them. What stops people from doing this on facebook is that they'd sacrifice the effort of having built a profile. There's no such hurdle on blogger. Hence all the idiots who feel free to fabricate accusations - they do not risk anything.

    ReplyDelete
  74. Sabine,

    Maybe Christmass is a good time to take a break from the internet ...
    Have some fun with the twins ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  75. " when the Trolls come out in force it's a sign that you are starting to win!"


    "When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him."

    ---Jonathan Swift


    This gives me a chance to mention one of my favourite novels, A Confederacy of Dunces. (The history of the book is interesting, and is set to be filmed.)


    "Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens."

    ---Friedrich Schiller

    The English translation, "against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain" is referenced in Isaac Asimov's novel The Gods Themselves. It is a good book, but I disagree with those who say that it is his best.

    ReplyDelete
  76. Thanks for indirectly calling me "idiot"!
    I repeatedly stressed, and SpaceTime also
    told you, that my comments did not accuse you
    of anything. You are a very intelligent person
    and will have realized that this is true by now.

    I am convinced you would not even
    approve i.e. publish comments with false accusations,
    and that would be right of course.

    ReplyDelete
  77. Hi Sabine,

    Thanks for your work and speaking out, I really enjoy reading your thoughts on the blog and in your book. Working in finance I have two cents to contribute on the nature of markets, though, that differs from Robin’s account. In my view they are not mainly about discovering information but about distributing risk. Companies bring their stock to market in an IPO not because they think it’s going to tank, but because they need money and need outside investors to hold business risk. Investors use the market to diversify risks, being exposed to all companies is much less risky than being massively exposed to a single company, like a founder would be.

    As a secondary benefit, markets allow speculators (hedge funds) to trade on their views and so prices must reflect aggregated views, but it is not necessarily the case that their aggregate view converge to reality (or vice versa). Prediction markets are much much smaller than insurance markets which are all about risk management, let alone credit or equity markets—those are “big business”. If the prediction market is to be more than a plaything, investors would need to be able to own part of the success of a project they fund. Financial securities pay dividends or interest, I’m not sure what “academic investors” or PMIs would be looking to earn: reputation, status, citations? Then again, many researchers stake their careers on the promise of a certain field, and will benefit from being able to hedge.

    It’s a very good idea if structured to share real risks and not just gamble a few €100.

    Best, Rogier (Twitter @rogierswierstra)

    ReplyDelete
  78. Negative Fallacy attempt to S.M.:

    Show us a feeling that is not the result of evolutionary biology or a mutation! Two can play that game. I explained days ago that feelings are a subset of evolutionary biology. No response from S.M.

    ReplyDelete
  79. Ah, Rolf the mansplainer has now proceeded to explain to me how I moderate and don't moderate comments. For all I can tell, Rolf and SpaceTime are the same person, so his appeal to popularity falls somewhat flat.

    ReplyDelete
  80. "Yes, I could only approve comments that are signed with a name, but it would be pointless, because everyone can make up a name on the fly."

    I don't know the details, but some bloggers require the real names of the commentators, though they may be visible publicly under a pseudonym.

    "There are actually several cranks who frequently try to submit the same comment with a variety of names.all the idiots who feel free to fabricate accusations - they do not risk anything."

    If you read the comments anyway, just don't post any which are obviously crackpot, off-topic, uncivil, etc. No need to respond, neither publicly nor privately.

    ReplyDelete
  81. Is the term "mansplainer" not sexist?

    I don't expect this feedback to be posted, but expressing frustration by using speech that can be perceived as intolerant risks alienating moderates as well as decreasing one's own credibility.

    "Genius is patience"
    -Isaac Newton

    ReplyDelete
  82. David,

    Last time I looked "Rolf" was a male first name. If it's now sexist to refer to people who chose male pseudonyms as male then I guess that makes me a sexist. It also makes the term "sexist" entirely meaningless and I don't think we should go that way.

    ReplyDelete
  83. Phillip,

    If there was any such option, I'd have chosen that years ago. The current setting is on users with a Google account. The next stronger options I have are blog members only (that's my husband and me) and entirely off. The only other option is "anyone". That's that. I hope you see why I say I think the best option is to turn comments entirely off. I'm sure you'll survive.

    ReplyDelete
  84. I think open discussion on these things is a good thing because otherwise its just leads to people to not engage with others idea. People already live in their own bubbles. I know people who just instantly delete who have "wrong" opinions (on immigration or whatever). Its your blog but I agree with David English. The comments are the reason I read these blog. I saw Max Tegmark commenting there and it was nice.

    ReplyDelete
  85. "If there was any such option, I'd have chosen that years ago. The current setting is on users with a Google account. The next stronger options I have are blog members only (that's my husband and me) and entirely off. The only other option is "anyone". That's that. I hope you see why I say I think the best option is to turn comments entirely off. I'm sure you'll survive. "

    I was thinking of Peter Coles's blog, which is on WordPress. Maybe it offers more options than Blogger.

    In the current setup, you still read the comments, or at least glance at them, in order to approve them. So, if something looks bad, just don't approve it. When people notice that their bad comments don't get through, they'll stop posting.

    Yes, I'll survive. I even hope to start my own blog soon. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  86. "Last time I looked "Rolf" was a male first name. If it's now sexist to refer to people who chose male pseudonyms as male then I guess that makes me a sexist. It also makes the term "sexist" entirely meaningless and I don't think we should go that way. "

    The term "mansplainer" doesn't just refer to a man explaining, but rather to a man explaining in a way which implies that his explanation to a woman is overly simple and detailed in order that she can understand it because she is a woman, in other words the mansplainer is always sexist. The term itself is not, just as it's not racist to call someone a racist if the person so called really is a racist. Whether Rolf was mansplaining I don't know.

    ReplyDelete
  87. @Ari: Yes, discussion is good, and it makes the blog better than it already is. However, "open discussion" does not mean "anything goes". With regard to somewhat controversial topics, there is a difference between having an open mind and having an empty head. Sabine has often disagreed with commentators here, and even allowed guest posts by people who disagree with her. That doesn't mean that every crackpot can tout his pet theory in the comments.

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  88. Sabine,

    What you consider "comment moderation" is entirely up to you. You've mentioned New Scientist before; They've published several of my letters, but my "acceptance rate" is south of 50%. Their policy seems to be space limitation to their page limit and allowing commentary they find interesting.

    In their Last Word section (final page) they publish scientific Q/A, but again, they choose questions they find interesting, especially if the answers would interest other readers.

    I'm pretty sure they'd laugh at the notion they have any responsibility to publish abusive content or off-topic comments, or trolling, or self-promotion or any kind of tinfoil hat or confused laymen theories.

    You could adopt similar policies, reduce your "acceptance rate", and make your letters section more informative and (IMO) that makes it more entertaining and easy to read by avoiding spats and insults and misguided laymen. (Which I admit may include me!)

    Everyone says don't feed the trolls; refusing to publish their comments at all will make them move on to seek their attention fix elsewhere, and improve the experience of reading the comments you do allow.

    Dr. A.M. Castaldo

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  89. "the best option is to turn comments entirely off"

    Bee, you are fun and always interesting. Disappoint those who destroy others for the nicest of reasons. Support evolution - shoot back.

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  90. Phillip,

    The reason I approve and reply to accusations addressed at me is that I do not want to give people the impression I have something to hide. I will admit that somehow I still hope that evidence actually may convince someone they are wrong. Alas, I guess I should look at the evidence myself and conclude that this doesn't work.

    Uncle Al,

    You can't argue with people who don't have a reputation to lose. They'll simply insist on making nonsense statements ad infinitum.

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  91. "The reason I approve and reply to accusations addressed at me is that I do not want to give people the impression I have something to hide. I will admit that somehow I still hope that evidence actually may convince someone they are wrong. Alas, I guess I should look at the evidence myself and conclude that this doesn't work."

    Like many things, this would work if all people were sensible, but not all are. There are people with an agenda who will never be convinced by anything, so debating with them is a waste of time. It's like trying to convince crackpots on usenet; it just doesn't work.

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  92. @Marco Parigi: your wrote: "MOND is strictly a special case that violates(MOdifies at low a) Newtonian Dynamics (ND) in a comparable exceptionalism to the way SR and GR violate Newtonian dynamics at relativistic velocities and similar."

    Except that that's a false equivalent.

    This here is a blog site which has as a foundation (ha!), foundational (fundamental) physics. In shorthand, there are just two fundamental theories of physics, QM/QFT and GR. If you bring something to the table which can be (very obviously, in the case of MOND) shown to be inconsistent with either, then it's pretty worthless. However, if you can show that it is just some limiting case of a more general theory, one which is compatible with QM/QFT or GR (or a good extension thereto), you're back in the game.

    On the other hand, if you're doing astronomy, a new empirical relationship is very welcome! The Hubble relationship (z and distance) started out like this, and the Tully-Fisher relationship (to take just one of many possible examples) still is; as a "fitting formula", MOND is terrific!

    You also wrote: "Clearly, if we let go of the criteria that we must not contradict Einsteinean ideas on Mass, we are far more likely to make headway on figuring things out."

    And I've no doubt that many theoretical physicists do just this. Once they make some headway, they'd be wise to look at the dozens of empirical, and theoretically well-grounded, relationships in astronomy/astrophysics, as possible tests.

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  93. Sabine,

    I'd be sad to see you go to Facebook exclusively, for a very selfish reason: I am not "on Facebook" (or Twitter, etc), never have been, and never will be. So I would be unable to write any comments.

    I had been concerned about Facebook's use of my data (should I join) many years' ago; events of the last year or so have shown my concerns to be totally justified.

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  94. Kurtz wrote: Show us a feeling that is not the result of evolutionary biology or a mutation! Two can play that game. I explained days ago that feelings are a subset of evolutionary biology. No response from S.M.

    We are having that discussion in The End of Science thread. Why are you trying to bring it into this thread?

    And Kurtz, it's an outright lie to say I haven't responded. Please don't lie.

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  95. I know the interweb can be really awful, but I, too, would regret it if you move to Facebook exclusively. I'm not on Facebook and won't have anything to do with it. I'd really miss you!!

    FWIW, the old adage about "Don't feed the trolls" seems about the only way to deal with them. You're under no obligation to allow their comments, nor do you have to lower yourself to responding to them.

    It's like waving at the ocean. Sure it waves back, but it means nothing.

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  96. Sabine wrote: I am very close to shutting down this comment section and instead rely on facebook where people by and large sign off with their name.

    Isn't Facebook one of the platforms that had all that nonsense with Russians pretending to be Americans?

    I can tell you from my experience on other blogs that real names don't cut down on nonsense. For whatever it's worth, I've seen less nonsense on your blog than on some other science blogs.

    When an anonymous person on your blog claims that you're wrong about something, naturally you'd like to know who it is.

    My two cents on Rolf: Rolf is trying to convince us that there is a discrepancy about some predictions you made. You've explained why you think he's wrong. Rolf isn't buying your explanations, but so what? He's just some anonymous guy. If you made predictions that turned out to be wrong, I think you'd admit it.

    One thing I did with my kids was constantly ask them to make predictions and estimates, and they would show me the steps they took. It's an effective and fun way to teach critical thinking skills. I taught them not to fear being wrong, and that being wrong would teach them at least as much as being right.

    Phillip wrote: There are people with an agenda who will never be convinced by anything, so debating with them is a waste of time.

    Yes. Sometimes you need to go three or four rounds with someone before you suspect there's an agenda and you're wasting time.

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  97. Gee, if S.M says I'm lying, it must be true! What is the alternative to feelings being the result of evolution and feedback since conception? I'm all eyes and ears. If S.M. answered this already, I've missed it. Must be my age. As to threads, those are my clothes. Check out the slang of the middle of last century. ;-)

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  98. Amazing how sad intellectuals can be.
    And this a week before Christmas !

    Believe it or not, life is more than physics - even science !

    All right ! I'll shut up before Sabine bans me for life. 😉

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  99. Sabine wrote
    "That some anonymous commenter on my blog dares to question my autobiography is as sick as online comments can get. It's for reasons like this nonsense that I am very close to shutting down this comment section and instead rely on facebook where people by and large sign off with their name. I am pretty fucking tired of this shit. If you have anything further to say, sign with your name."

    Please don't go to Facebook only - I enjoy this informative blog, but I don't have a Facebook account, and nor do I want to. Social media can have some awful consequences, for example children can be bullied 24 hours on Facebook, and some have committed suicide as a result, others can be 'liked' by men they should run a mile from.

    You always have moderation enabled, so simply discard the trouble makers!

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  100. Sabine,

    As the old saying goes, don't wrestle with pigs, you just get dirty and the pig likes it. Best,

    Bud Rapanault

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  101. Jean wrote: I had been concerned about Facebook's use of my data (should I join) many years' ago

    I have avoided social platforms like Facebook and Twitter too. I not-so-affectionally refer to social platforms (and obsessive texting) as a "Millennial thing," even though plenty of my fellow Baby Boomers use them.

    However, more and more serious discussions are happening on platforms like Facebook. I suppose I'll have to see if I can open a Facebook account without revealing too much personal information. I don't mind revealing my name, profession, interests, or the area I live in. But I certainly understand and respect the desire for privacy.

    An interesting thing about social media is that, apparently, some employers examine the comments and pictures that employees and prospective employees post, which can have negative consequences on their jobs and careers. And any employee who criticizes his boss, the company he works for, or his profession on social media is a fool. Heck, you might get in trouble with your company even if you criticize a politician, a political policy, or your country. :-)

    A discussion moderator can be effective at keeping discussions productive and civil, but that's labor-intensive. Also, there is a fine line between effective moderating, exclusion and censorship. Someday there might be an AI moderator. A funny sci-fi story would involve an AI moderator moderating AI chatbots. :-)

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  102. Phillip wrote: Whether Rolf was mansplaining I don't know.

    I would characterize Rolf's comments as cynical and argumentative. He didn't appear to be open to Sabine's explanations or to give her the benefit of the doubt. Rolf also denied, disingenuously, that he had accused Sabine of anything. Sabine attempted to clarify this point when she wrote, "You have falsely accused me of making incorrect statements." Rolf implied that Sabine wants to run and hide from criticism, when he wrote, "There you'll be safe from me." When a man says such things to a woman, it raises the possibility of sexism, given the long history of similar remarks men make about women.

    During the Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings, Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center think tank (ironically enough), suggested that Dr. Ford was confusing Kavanaugh with another man who sort of looked like Kavanaugh. This sort of stuff still happens, even at high levels. Men frequently attempt to gaslight women.

    In my opinion, Rolf came close to mansplaining when he wrote: "It is conventional and normal to use pseudonyms in blog comments. If you do not like this, you indeed should stop to blog." Rolf knew that this explanation was completely unnecessary; it was an obvious attempt to evade Sabine's point.

    Phillip, your points about racism and mansplaining are spot on. It's not racist to call a racist racist, and it's not sexist to point out sexist mansplaining.

    For those who are interested, here are a couple of examples of mansplaining, from the "Collider/Lies" discussion:

    Daniel Saraga wrote (to Sabine): But I wondered if this lengthy activity comes at the expense of doing other, maybe more impactful, things like writing other posts or doing research (or watching a movie or resting).

    Steven Goldfarb (to Sabine): As you know, our universe can only be understood through exploration and the vast majority of our measurements turn up null results. That's science. That is how we advance our understanding of nature. We don't just say, "I think that won't work," and then not do the measurement. Not making measurements and noting these results would be a travesty to science.

    Your statement that we are not going to find anything with the FCC may very well pan out to be true. Making the leap to say that we should thus not explore is either making a parody of science or any extraordinarily stupid mistake. We are only promising to use whatever means we have to try to answer those questions and we are arguing that this is a logical next step. That is how science works. I know you know that, but the people you are writing to may not. So, please try to be more responsible in your future writing.

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  103. JeanTate said Except that that's a false equivalent.

    and

    In shorthand, there are just two fundamental theories of physics, QM/QFT and GR


    Neither of the fundamental theories adequately explain galaxy rotation relations. GR *Said nothing new about low acceleration situations*


    The fundamental theory of physics which we have discovered is wrong is the Principia of Newton fame, which implicitly gives equivalence of gravitational and inertial mass. GR inadvertently kept this equivalence on, blissfully unaware of its errors. Newton's is the false equivalent.


    Mine is a true equivalent. Newtonian Dynamics is in precisely the same predicament as it was 118 years ago, but at an unexplored cosmic low acceleration domain up to the time of formulation of GR.


    regards
    Marco

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  104. Latest in many complaints about Facebook: http://www.spiegel.de/netzwelt/web/facebook-hatte-umfangreichere-daten-deals-als-bislang-bekannt-a-1244498.html (in German).

    I don't have the "German Angst" concerning personal data (at least not concerning data I would upload to the web). However, social networks were never my thing. If I want to communicate with one person, or a small group, then I use email. If it is public, then it is on the web. I see many advantages to usenet, but for practical reasons have taken to commenting on blogs.

    If one follows more than one blog, life is essentially impossible without RSS feeds. I don't like Facebook for several reasons, and I don't see a comfortable way to follow discussions there.

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  105. I do hope Sabine doesn't go exclusively to Facebook. I don't care for the layout at Facebook, and don't relish the thought of having everyone I've befriended, plus others, being aware of my online postings outside of the Facebook community. I only use Facebook to check up on ride schedules for our local cycling club. At least on this platform there is a limited audience dedicated to the subject at hand, and I find it very user friendly. Hopefully those people who create annoying posts will provide their real identities, and not hide behind anonymity.

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  106. https://phys.org/news/2018-12-facebook-defends-partner.html
    … Facebook "data sharing"
    https://phys.org/news/2018-12-gravity-mathematically-dynamics-subatomic-particles.html
    … Oh boy! All we need is a falsifiable prediction, then no problems!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExUV3GOTDqE
    … Don't look behind the curtain.

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  107. Kurtz wrote: Gee, if S.M says I'm lying, it must be true!

    I'm confining our "discussion" to the End of Science thread. I hope you do too.

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  108. Phillip wrote: I don't like Facebook for several reasons, and I don't see a comfortable way to follow discussions there.

    I was thinking about giving Facebook a try, because there is a growing list of discussions happening there. But with so many negative comments, I'm thinking twice.

    If I create a Facebook account, but I don't have any "friends" on my account, would that prevent some or most of the problems? I don't expect anyone here to answer questions like that. I'll have to do a little research.

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  109. David Bailey wrote: You always have moderation enabled, so simply discard the trouble makers!

    Sounds good to me.

    One problem with that approach is that people with integrity don't feel comfortable filtering comments. They worry about unintended censorship and don't want to be seen as running from criticism. So you have to allow a certain amount of nonsense. Where do you draw the line in an objective and reasonable way?

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  110. @ bud rap

    Today's pig is tomorrows bacon! (Hunter S Thompson)

    Anyway, you may consider Mathew 7:6, but then, where are the pearls these days?

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  111. Thanks for this great article. How do you think (if at all) this prediction market will be tied into the hiring *and* tenure process?

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  112. I have been quite busy as of late (this is a busy time on campus) and I’ve struggled just to skim all the comments coming in. I can’t imagine where Sabine finds the time to read, filter and respond to them. And then she puts up with the asshats and nutjobs too. If it’s easier for her to do this on Facebook and filter out the boors, then that’s what she should do.

    Facebook is not hard to use, and it has very little information about you that you don’t give it. So don’t add info you don’t want out in the wild. And pay attention to security settings. It’s not hard; it’s much simpler than the topics being discussed here.

    Be Not Afraid.

    sean s.

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  113. “Anyone could do, it if they wanted to.”
    I think that the above sentence has a misplaced comma. It should be moved over by one word to the right.

    Like this:
    “Anyone could do it, if they wanted to.”

    Love your blog and your book (I own a copy), thanks :)

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  114. Wind Towel,

    Thanks, you're right, very observant :) I fixed that.

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  115. Diego,

    Robin's idea is that if the information about the market odds exists people will start to use it because it's beneficial to do so. I think he is right.

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  116. Dear Sabine Hossenfelder

    It's your blog. It's your rules. If somebody does not like them, so be it. You don't have to publish any post, you don't like.
    Some of the best blogs I follow, don't let trolls through. I certainly don't.

    I am always amazed about people who think, that they can control how much Facebook can do with their information. Your name, address, car sharing discussion, address book from your android phone (WhatsApp) contains a ton of information that can be sold. The buyer can connect this with their own information. Even the information you deliberately don't give, is useful. And don't forget the cookies and other hidden code. Facebook might have your browser history the moment you log in.

    May I suggest something like Wordpress?

    Now back to the original subject.

    I don't think betting with committees will make it any better. By far most bets would be made on things, where the outcome is quite sure. That's how betting works. Low risk, low gain.

    Who would have betted on Einstein in 1903 for the paper in 1905? Nobody.

    The CERN countries have betted on the LHC and in some way lost. But CERN has produced billions worth of € in spin off technology (that satisfies the economist, who always asks, how to make money from it). The WWW alone has made it worth it hundreds of times. No, I don't think, that the internet would evolved in what it is today, wouldn't somebody have said "Vague, but exiting". Mike Sendall took a risky bet and look what happened. In a corporate or administrative environment with commissions deciding over investments, the proposal would have died in very early stages.

    Big bets are made mostly by single people on their pet project.
    Elon Musk wanted a rocket. He could have failed big time, but they work quite well.
    Kennedy wanted to go to the moon and they did it. Biggest bet ever I would say.
    Jeff Bezos could move to Italy and find the cold fusion (it only works there).
    The big inventions, aka. big bets, are always connected to one or two names, not committees.
    What we need are persons that take the big bet. Who are hungry for that single big discovery. We should tell our brightest and best, go to the CERN/LIGO/etc. and solve the XYZ problem. We don't care about any paper until done, but keep us posted. Here is the money, see you in 5 years. Need help? Ask a few friends to help you. Bye.
    We have to give opportunities to people who maybe have a great idea, but not the means to make it work. Yes, there will be probably a bubble that eventually bursts, but from that new ideas will rise. That's part of it.
    Since I am an economist, I can clearly see, why economists should not be part of that game. Companies all over the world try to overcome the innovation gap. We may can control the evolution of products, but rarely the big innovation.
    Google is a positive example. The Google graveyard shows, how it should be done. Try and fail. If we do not accept many failures, we will not discover the occasional gem.
    Now back to you.

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  117. What role do the journals play? They give tacit approval to the papers they decide to accept. To boot, it is usually one editor making the initial decision to consider a submission. This seems an unfortunate bottleneck.

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  118. Dear Sabine

    Thanks for letting some of my comments through.
    I confess I only comment so that someone might Google my name and check out my books.
    Still I enjoy your blog and stance.
    Sincerely
    Greg Feild

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  119. "The bet you make is that your theory corresponds to reality and makes predictions that can be compared to data. The punishment is supposed to be embarrassment and shame at being wrong. "

    Punishing physicist because they believe in something and got it wrong? That kind of thinking will exactly produce the myriad of meaningless papers that are just evolutions of other papers in fields that have not produced anything useful, but are the pets of some big names or large groups. Papers in that field are save bets but still meaningless. Fear of failure isn't a good thing.
    The way of thinking in anybody doing research is: "Hey, what the heck just happened?" That means there is some data (the reality), they can not explain. Now they start to think about it. Nobody is just making up a theory, without any connection to reality. String theory did not come to live, because somebody thought it would be cool to have a universe with eleven dimensions. There was a problem at the beginning and an idea for a solution. That it looks like cul de sac now, wasn't predictable 30 years ago. The same goes for anything else, that is now rather disappointing. It is time to get of the dead horse. But when so many stay on it, because the others stay on it, because one thought he/she saw an ear move ... and so on. It is hard to be the first to admit failure. Sabine should get prices en mass for pointing out, that particle physics should get of that already mummified horse. CERN should offer her a job. But it is even harder to admit failure, when this means you lose your job. It would be a disaster for the world of science, if they shut down CERN, just because they did not find, what everybody then thought should be there. Rethinking, reorganising, restructuring. Yes! punishing? NO.

    Physicist (and anybody else in research) do not on purpose (well, most of them) play this game. We can assume, that they really want to find the solutions they seek. But often it is a dead end. We can not punish people who were wrong, just because they did not see it in the beginning. Neither should we punish people with new ideas, just because the majority thinks it is not worth it, because "everybody knows that ...."
    What we should do, is pulling the stubborn ones of the dead horse AND GIVE THEM A NEW ONE. And for the others, with their personal pet project, if you can show at least some results and consistent ideas we can understand and relate to, you get a pony. Might grow into a horse.

    ... now where to find a big enough horse for the LHC group.

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  120. Perhaps "punishment" was not the right word. However, I am not afraid to say to anyone that something like extra dimensions is very silly, and they are not "thinking" or "doing physics".
    We should be polite, but not worry about people's feelings. We aren't talking religion, yet ..
    I might add, I don't accept GR or QFT. Not only can I not envision such objects, physics doesn't even try to explain ontologically what fields are, although they are happy to invent many more.
    Don't even get me started on "the math".

    Currently, physics has no foundation or guiding maxims. The problem is trying to unite two physics theories with no physical underpinnigs.

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  121. Know the difference. Nobody has a right to be empirically wrong.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZVIHHET85Y

    https://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/terence-p-jeffrey/least-educated-state-california-no-1-percentage-residents-25-and

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  122. PS I am a retired physicist. I was on the ZEUS and CDF collaborations, if people have heard of these.
    ANYWAY, I was denied access to the journals and the preprint server, presumably because I am not currently with an institution. So I had to publish my theory on Amazon with all the other cranks and kooks!
    So if you are interested you know where to go. In the spirit of today's subject, I offer everyone a money back guarantee!
    Greg

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  123. FWIW, I'll add a vote in confidence of Wordpress. I've used it for my blog since 2011 with no complaints and think it's a very fine platform.

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  124. @Greg Field,

    "The bet you make is that your theory corresponds to reality and makes predictions that can be compared to data."

    It's the corresponds to reality part that gets short shrift in modern physics. It's a lot easier to make predictions if your model doesn't have to correspond to reality. That's just as true of the two standard models today as it was of Ptolemaic cosmology.

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  125. bud rap,

    Are you saying that testing QM/QFT against observational and experimental results has yielded no consistency? Whatsoever?? Not even QED?

    Ditto GR? Not even the GAIA results, re including bending due to the Sun’s (and more) mass in the analyses?

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  126. Christian wrote: The WWW alone has made it worth it hundreds of times

    I don't think CERN should get any credit for the WWW. If Einstein hadn't written a paper on relativity, someone else would have. Is there any scientific idea that could only come out of the head of one person?

    I'm willing to give full credit to individuals who give us artistic ideas. Without Beethoven, the universe would almost certainly never have a piece like Beethoven's 5th Symphony. We can't expect someone else to write Shakespeare's plays. But that highlights one of the differences between scientific discovery and creativity. Interestingly, the WWW is a blend of scientific discovery and human creativity. I suppose it could be argued that some of our scientific theories are a blend of scientific discovery and human creativity.

    Christian wrote: Kennedy wanted to go to the moon and they did it. Biggest bet ever I would say.

    It's true that many projects are, by their nature, big bets. We could also say that the entire political, economic and defense systems of nations are big bets. Democracy v. autocracy, capitalism v. socialism, military intervention v. neutrality. We could say that burning fossil fuels at a tremendous rate is a big environmental bet, far bigger than a manned moon project.

    Sometimes we think our bets have small risks with big rewards, until we realize they were big risks with small rewards. One example is the US war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sometimes corporations, such as Wall Street firms and banks, manage to avoid the risks of their bets when they privatize their gains and socialize their losses.

    It's been said that people make riskier bets with other people's money, so it's better to make people have skin in the game. I agree. But I'm continually amazed at the risky bets people make with their own money and lives.

    Excessive gambling, drunk driving, engaging in unsafe sex, happily married men having affairs, criminal activities such as selling drugs, etc. I'm constantly amazed at all the big bets people are willing to make.

    The willingness to take risks and the desire for safety are wired into our DNA. Without them, humans would not have survived as long as we have. It's ironic that our willingness to take risks might destroy us.

    Humans smile benevolently at the yeast that inhabit the closed system of a beer keg, oblivious to the toxic fate that awaits them. But are humans really less oblivious than yeast, regarding the closed system of Earth? I'm tempted to give yeast more credit than humans, because yeast don't have a choice. :-)

    Now I'm wondering what Robin Hanson, as an economist, thinks about the environmental bets we're making. What percentage of scientists and economists think that environmental issues are some of the biggest bets we're making?

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  127. Greg wrote: Currently, physics has no foundation or guiding maxims.

    Are you "betting" that will always be the case?

    Greg wrote: I had to publish my theory on Amazon . . so if you are interested . .

    Can you give us a peek at your theory with a brief, simplified summary?

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  128. Chris wrote: I'll add a vote in confidence of Wordpress.

    I'll ask a naïve question: If Wordpress is objectively better than other platforms, why isn't "everyone" using it? Does Wordpress have any disadvantages you can think of, compared to other platforms?

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  129. @ Steve Mason. Which product is "objectively better" than it's competitors? You should never say this to an economist. It is complicated but I will be as brief as possible. Sometimes it is a question of taste, technical advantages, "because my neighbour uses it, too" or just "I hate company XYZ".
    Wordpress has an advantage from my point of view, because it looks nicer, it can be hosted where you want, gives you more possibilities in steering who can post and is generally more flexible.
    On blogger, not allowing anonymous posts or funny aliases is a bit more difficult, because you depend on the users decision, how they use their google account. On blogger you are the product and everything that is written there, will be analysed by google and sold to companies for many reasons. I do wonder, though, why so many people still believe they can hide behind an alias from google or Facebook.
    I, and many others in my other bubble in the IT world (small bubble though), do use Wordpress or other available blog software, but I can not think of anybody who uses blogger (there might, I just don't remember). We do not know exactly, what google will find in our personal installations, but at least, I know, where my blog is physically hosted and can delete all of it any time. And I like to tinker with stuff, which I can't on blogger.
    Almost all of us, do not allow anonymous posts or aliases. If you can't stand to what you say on a personal blog and discuss in a polite manner, you have no place there. A blog is like your house. You only let people in you know and do not even open the door to people in ski masks. Free speech does not apply here. In your personal blog, you can let through only those, who agree with you. It makes the blog irrelevant, but your blog, your rules.
    I use a simple automatic rule. You have to give your real name and email address the first time you post on my blog. If I approve your post, you can later post without my approval. That works for many others, too. Aliases are blocked, as are obvious scam posts and jerks. But the discussions still can become heated. Works for me.

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  130. Steve wrote: "I don't think CERN should get any credit for the WWW." You know why I think they should? Because they created an environment that allowed Tim Berners-Lee to write the first HTML protocol and make in available for free. In a cooperation, military organisation or even national agency, that would have been impossible at that time, because free ware or open source weren't even words then. That he used things already known is quite normal, Shakespeare did not invent the English language, nor the rules for writing poems. Beethoven did not invent music. Everybody always stands on the shoulders of the giants, but sometimes that produces a new giant. But there is a second side to it. You must make it known to the public. Shakespeare would not have been what he became, without a certain flair for self marketing. Einstein needed a place to publish his paper and Tim Barners-Lee needed an organisation that wasn't into making money but much more into sharing knowledge. That mind set made it possible, that in a relative short time, many organisations outside of CERN used that new knowledge sharing tool and off it went.

    Steve, we always take bets with every decision we make. Might it be another cup of coffee or not, or building a house or not. Many daily decisions are irreversible and therefore bets, that we hope to get some kind of advantage from. Some bets might look strange to anybody outside your personal bubble, but completely logic for you at that moment. But that is not the point here. The discussion should be about some sort of organised betting on physics projects. With people deciding about the risk of bets and organisations committing to bets by financing such projects. Which I think does not any good, because many organisations will jump on the good bets to have a small gain without loosing much in case it fails. The big bets - like Einstein or Apollo - will fall through, if there isn't somebody crazy enough to do it anyway. I think it would change nothing and still produce papers en masse, because the tendency will be, to cut the projects down to small bets, rather than taking to whole big bet, like building the next LHC.
    No organisation will consciously betting on the Nobel prize, that is far too improbable, but on numbers of papers and perhaps on citations - which are more likely if you have more papers published. Unfortunately numbers of papers and citations are the currency of the scientific world. That is the thing you have to change, if you want change at all.

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  131. Steven Mason wrote (concerning moderation)

    "One problem with that approach is that people with integrity don't feel comfortable filtering comments. They worry about unintended censorship and don't want to be seen as running from criticism. So you have to allow a certain amount of nonsense. Where do you draw the line in an objective and reasonable way?"

    I know that is difficult, and although I have never run a blog, I have helped to moderate a discussion forum online.

    The way I worked was to start by warning someone who overstepped the mark - which often worked.

    After that, I would block them for a period of time, to give them a chance to rethink their approach. After that I'd ban them for good.

    I was particularly cautious about banning someone who disagreed with me.

    I also avoided modifying what someone had written - I either removed it or let it stay intact.

    Sometimes, if someone seemed to have joined the forum simply to cause trouble, after I banned them, I also removed their previous contributions. I did this to deter people from coming back under a different name and continuing to cause trouble.

    I think internet forums are valuable, but moderation is essential. It is a bit like organising a dinner party - you know there are people who won't mix for a variety of reasons - so you do not invite them!

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  132. @Steven Mason: "If Wordpress is objectively better than other platforms,..."

    I never said anything about "better" let alone "objectively better." I'm not familar with publishing on other blog platforms to make any comparisons. I can only say that I've been quite happy with WP over eight years and 800-some blog posts, no complaints!

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  133. "PS I am a retired physicist. I was on the ZEUS and CDF collaborations, if people have heard of these."

    Yes, of course.

    "ANYWAY, I was denied access to the journals and the preprint server, presumably because I am not currently with an institution."

    I guess you mean arXiv when you write "preprint server". To their credit, arXiv tries to keep out the cranks, but sometimes they throw the baby out with the bathwater. They do have an endorsement system, which should help you, unless you want to publish crank stuff. Even having a Nobel Prize in physics doesn't help, if you want to publish crank stuff.

    Journals are a different matter. While there are some journals (shame on them!) don't even consider papers from authors without an institutional affiliation, many of the best journals do not have such a silly restriction. Of course, having an affiliation does not mean that the paper must be accepted.

    In both cases, did they give a reason? You write "presumably".

    "So I had to publish my theory on Amazon with all the other cranks and kooks!"

    This will probably hurt you much more than it helps.

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  134. Yes, I meant arXiv.

    The important thing to me is I have 'written it up'.
    People can check it out or not.

    It's not about me.

    It's all about the physics, man!

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  135. Jean Tate,

    "Are you saying that testing QM/QFT against observational and experimental results has yielded no consistency?

    I did not say that nor did I imply it. The examples you cite fall under the category predictions that can be compared to data (cat2). What I interpreted Greg Feild's, corresponds to reality (cat1), to refer to, are those theoretical entities and events that appear in a model and should correlate with entities and events in observed reality. (Greg feel free to clarify your meaning if it is otherwise).

    It is in that sense that it can be said that neither standard model corresponds to reality, since both models are replete with entities and events that do not appear in physical (observed) reality. The claim of the scientific academy is that the models, despite their inconsistency with cat1, nonetheless accurately represent physical reality because they are consistent with cat2.

    This argument is falsified by the historical example of Ptolemaic cosmology which was also consistent with cat2 but not with cat1. The standard models cannot be considered accurate representations of physical reality because of their cat1 inconsistencies. They simply do not resemble the reality that we observe.

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  136. Christian wrote: I use a simple automatic rule. You have to give your real name

    How are "real names" verified? Can't something that looks like a real name be an alias?

    Christian wrote: Because they created an environment that allowed Tim Berners-Lee to write the first HTML protocol and make in available for free.

    There are high school kids who write code for apps, using the resources at their schools. By all means, let's give credit to public schools. But for some reason, I feel more comfortable focusing the credit on the individuals.

    You mention open source, but that's a lot of people volunteering a lot of personal time, for the most part. Linus Torvalds created Linux, not so much because the "environment" at his university made it possible. It was more a matter of Torvalds wanting an operating system he could tinker with in order to pursue his studies. I think it was somewhat the same for Berners-Lee.

    If given half a chance, clever people like Berners-Lee and Linus Torvalds are going to do interesting things. Throughout their lives, they will necessarily be in various "environments," such as public schools and, later on, various companies and organizations. No matter where they are or what they're working on, they tend to work on all sorts of other stuff too. As we can see from the example of Einstein, he wrote all sorts of scientific papers while he worked at the patent office. We can acknowledge that the patent office played a role, but it wouldn't make a lot of sense to give a lot of credit to the patent office.

    A lot of clever people worked at CERN, so it's hardly surprising that some of them came up with clever things while working there. It would be more surprising if that wasn't the case. Arpanet came out of the US military. The internet, and HTML, would have happened sooner or later, even without any association with CERN or the US military.

    Christian wrote: The discussion should be about some sort of organised betting on physics projects.

    Yes, that is what this discussion is supposed to be about. But early on I said that such a discussion is impossible without details. We don't have any details from Robin Hanson. So here we are, enjoying a largely irrelevant conversation. :-)

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  137. David Bailey wrote: I was particularly cautious about banning someone who disagreed with me.

    It's much easier to overlook the flaws of people we agree with.

    David Bailey wrote: I also avoided modifying what someone had written - I either removed it or let it stay intact.

    That's perfectly sensible. The notion of "cleaning up" someone's comment seems noxious to me, which is why I don't envy Sarah Huckabee Sanders' job.

    David Bailey wrote: I think internet forums are valuable, but moderation is essential.

    Like some families, my family has a couple of "troublemakers" at holiday gatherings. A couple of the women in my family were forced to insist on the classic tool of "moderation": Absolutely no discussion of politics. :-)

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  138. Chris wrote: I never said anything about "better" let alone "objectively better."

    Since you recommend Wordpress, it's natural to think it might be partly based on objective comparisons. I assumed you wouldn't recommend Wordpress unless you thought it might be better than what Sabine is currently using.

    If I give a vote of confidence for a certain model and year of automobile, it would be completely useless if it wasn't based on comparisons to other automobiles. I personally could never recommend a blog platform or an automobile unless I had done a fair amount of comparison. I'm cautious about personal anecdotes. But that's just me.

    I'm not saying that personal anecdotes never have any value, but I'm sure you'd agree that they aren't as useful as more comprehensive and objective evaluations. In any case, thanks for clarifying that you were offering a personal anecdote.

    Of course, people who want blogs have differing expectations. Some want "real names," some don't care; some require an email address, some don't; some want conditional membership, some accept anybody; some want control and moderation over comments, some want a free-for-all.

    I've never had a blog, so I don't know about the mechanics. I assumed that most blog platforms more or less offered the same set of basic options. If I were looking to start a blog, I'd want a platform that allows me to set it up exactly as I wanted. Platforms with options that allow me to do that are, in my opinion, objectively better than platforms that don't allow me to do that.

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  139. @Steven Mason: "Since you recommend Wordpress, it's natural to think it might be partly based on objective comparisons. I assumed you wouldn't recommend Wordpress unless you thought it might be better than what Sabine is currently using."

    Natural for you, perhaps, but that's your analysis of what I implied, not what I actually said.

    To be honest, I don't quite understand why supporting something necessarily means condemning other things. I love waffles, and I'll always pick waffles over pancakes. But that's not in any way a condemnation of pancakes (which are fine if I can't get waffles).

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  140. Chris wrote: Natural for you, perhaps, but that's your analysis of what I implied, not what I actually said.

    Yes, I admit that. I've already acknowledged that your recommendation is a personal anecdote that isn't based on comparisons. I thanked you for the clarification.

    Chris wrote: To be honest, I don't quite understand why supporting something necessarily means condemning other things.

    Recommending a product doesn't necessarily mean condemning other products. It often comes down to pros and cons. Sometimes products really are bad and you might warn someone about it.

    Chris wrote: I love waffles, and I'll always pick waffles over pancakes.

    If I know you love waffles, I'd recommend some restaurants that, in my opinion, make great waffles. My opinion is based on my experience eating waffles at various restaurants. In other words, my opinion was formed by making comparisons.

    I happen to think that waffle quality ranges from bad to great, and relatively few restaurants make great waffles. For some people, especially kids, there's no such thing as a bad waffle. (But don't tell the kids on MasterChef Junior that there's no such thing as a bad waffle.)

    Pancakes are irrelevant. Even if I loved pancakes and detested waffles, it would be silly for me to condemn waffles. Likewise, if I recommend a great waffle at a particular restaurant, that doesn't mean I'm condemning any of the good or decent waffles at other restaurants.

    I don't think food is the best analogy for quality comparisons for products like blog platforms. Food involves a lot of subjective criteria.

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  141. "Economists tend to find it hard to grasp, but most people who stay in academia are not in for the money."

    This is actually a mistake or misunderstanding. Robin suggested to use prediction markets and make a betting a norm to increase accuracy of predictions, not because academics wanted to make money. When you make a norm to put your money where your mouth is. This is how markets work, prices transmit information where to invest money. They transmit information.

    Great paper about (prediction markets, not my point above) is here:
    https://mason.gmu.edu/~rhanson/PromisePredMkt.pdf

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  142. Ari,

    I understand this. I think you must have misread what I explained. I said that it'll be difficult to encourage academics to actually do the betting. They do not normally, as you phrase it, "put their money where their mouth is", hence I think any system that assumes they will do it is bound to fail.

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