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Archive for April, 2014

A modest proposal to fix science

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Here’s the proposal: separate hypothesis generation from hypothesis testing.

My inspiration is this great post  which demonstrates how remarkably easy it is for experimenters to produce results that support their hypothesis, regardless of whether their hypothesis is correct.

The idea: outsource all experimentation to special labs. You send them a hypothesis and a check, they send you a “disproved” or “could not disprove” paper; the lab signs, you sign, and it gets published in Nature.

Right now research professors both generate the theories and perform the experiments. In this world, they just generate the theories, and then use their grant money to pay other people to test them.

Also, companies and private individuals could use the labs as well. Which both democratizes and standardizes research.

The labs then become specialists in performing strictly controlled, statistically valid research at an efficient price-point. Since they become basically science factories, it’s much easier to audit to see if the experiments they are doing are valid, and because they’re doing thousands of similar experiments, should be able to drive price down… it’s more like running a McDonalds than running a research group.

Meanwhile, it frees up professors to actually focus on generating domain-specific insights, instead of forcing them to be experts on statistics and valid experimental techniques.


EDIT:  A couple people have pointed out that it’s the process of experimentation / getting into the nitty-gritty of things that leads to hypotheses.  Which is a great point.  So let me amend the above to say, professors and such can and should still do experimentation in their own labs.  But, if they want to then get a conclusion published in a peer-reviewed journal, they should outsource the official verification work to an external lab.


Written by jphaas

April 30th, 2014 at 2:40 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Freedom and (Sub)-Culture

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I’ve had the weird and lonely experience lately of peering into a lot of different sub-cultures while feeling like I don’t really belong to any of them. Some of this is through in-person friendships, some of this is me following various people on the internet, some is general cultural osmosis.

Here are, in no particular order, some of the cultures I’ve been observing:

  • The neo-Marxist Brooklyn literary scene (I read Full Stop), where talking about “class consciousness” and quoting Lenin is apparently still something one does.
  • The Singularity Institute, particularly their literary masterpiece (I say this mostly un-ironically) Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.
  • The Homestuck fandom (another literary masterpiece), and fandom culture in general, especially as it inhabits web comics and Tumblr.
  • The maker movement and 3d printing worlds
  • The technology startup world, including Paul Graham-ia, New York’s local VC culture, the hipster-fashion-tech scene (this is where my office is), and the lean startup movement
  • The feminist / social justice movement, which venn-diagrams with the Brooklyn literary scene, the tech startup world, and the fandom community.
  • The new age personal development world
  • The Ivy League alumni finance / consulting network (and my former employer Bridgewater which is a sub-culture in its own right).
  • The independent game developer community (or sub-section of, anyway), mostly because I started following the developer of Analogue: A Hate Story (lit. m.p.) on Twitter
  • The Brooklyn-based urban / literary exploration scene (such as Atlas Obscura)
  • The evidence-based athleticism-oriented (I’m making this phrase up, there might be a better one) fitness movement as embodied by Fitocracy
  • This guy, who maybe isn’t really a sub-culture, but his writing has been making me think about all of this and he doesn’t fit into any of the above, so he gets his own bullet point.

I’m attracted to at least some aspect of everything on this list (and turned-off by aspects of many of them as well). Weirdly, some of these sub-cultures virulently despise each other, such as the first two I mentioned. I find this confusing and kind of alarming.

Consensus reality? There’s no consensus. My universe does not have a paper of record.

I’ve been wrestling with a number of questions related to this situation:

  • How can I have a meaningful sense of community when I feel that every community embraces only a partial truth?
  • What will be the power relationship between these sub-cultures and the mainstream (people who read the New York Times, who know the names of celebrities, who can meaningfully identify with national politics)?
  • To what degree are sub-cultures mappable and legible, and how would one use tools like Twitter graph analysis, etc. to do so?

To put these questions into context, I think that mainstream western culture is dying. Its political institutions have lost the ability to legitimize; its cultural productions are banal; its economic health is uncertain at best, and its modes of production and consumption are ecologically unsustainable. In contrast, I think there’s incredible vitality in all the sub-cultures I listed, although I have no idea if that vitality is constructive or destructive (I guess the polite term for that ambiguity these days is “disruptive”).

So — this matters. I’ve picked my side, in a sense: I’m on Team Internet. I’m self-employed and starting a movement, vs taking a job at some mainstream institution. But I’m still pretty lost re: how I want to navigate this cultural landscape.

Anyway, when lost, make a map. I’m working on a General Theory of Sub-Culture, Values, and Agency. I have a couple rough-draft principles. But it’s bed-time, so I’ll save them for another blog post.

Written by jphaas

April 24th, 2014 at 4:17 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Build Your Own Tech

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New post by me on the Bubble blog:

So the real secret reason I started Bubble is because I wanted a better online to-do list.

Have you ever googled for “to-do software” before?

There’s a lot of it. Lots and lots and lots of to-do lists. I think there are entire countries where the whole population does nothing but make to-do list software.

Read the full post

Written by jphaas

April 22nd, 2014 at 12:17 am

Posted in Uncategorized