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That is a good observation of the state of things today, Bob. I'm not sure
it will hold for a long time. Efforts in the US Congress to
create constraints for political blogging, for one example, can
alter the at-will conditions for that activity. No, the US is
not The Web, but just as US patent models are now proposed in
Europe and resisted, many models are duplicated if a strong
enough polity wants them. However, I concede the power of
FOAF-like strategies. I also know they in no way are a
measure of truth; just belief: a useful metric but not
complete. It depends on the relationship of the assertion
to the response as to what metrics are adequate.
Townes, the co-inventor of the laser and maser endorsed
intelligent design. For every idea somewhere between science
and pseudo-science, there can be found an authority. Science
does not rest on authority; sciene is a method, but belief in
hypotheses can succumb to the fallacy of authority.
Belief is not repeatable experiment. A scientific theory is
not a street theory. The reason for citing the original article
was to determine what if any assertions about *the technologies*
were valid, not to determine if there are black helicopters
(there are: used by special ops, and there are unmarked transport
aircraft because they fly in and out of any major supply base: one
has to prove what they are used for, not that they exist.)
The principle of rationality is a weak predictor of human behavior,
because even given a Nash equilibrium the bet that other players won't
change their strategies is only a bet requiring perfect
knowledge, and because some games are of the form RPS
(rock paper scissors) and there is no winning strategy that
does not involve meta-strategy (psych out opponent). As
you say, don't bet on rationality.
One can cry for 'the people's power in democracy' but that like
any ideal pushed into absurdity of action has to be measured as
any student of the French Revolution can tell you. One can also
observe the 20th century history of the Poles to know where the
other extreme is and what can come of persistence in pursuit of
self-governance. No idea or hand alone turns the wheel; it can take
many revolutions and many hands.
So once again, we have to apply rigorous filters to any speech
act commensurate with the actions one might consider given any
instance of that act. Understanding these is likely to improve
our actions if not eliminate false or misleading signals.
Interesting thread, but not what I'd hoped for.
From: Bob Foster [mailto:email@example.com]
My basic reaction is that the web at large is not a meritocracy, but a
global marketplace of ideas and cheap thrills that is strongly resistant
to control of any kind, including quality control.
Yes, what makes scientific literature (and science itself) "work" is
peer review. But the fact that you are published in reviewed journals
does not mean that every stray thought you might blog is authoritative.
Linus Pauling won two Nobel prizes and was widely regarded as a
scientific genius but was something of a quack on the subject of vitamin
C. His pronouncements on the latter were much more widely known than his
scientific achievements. Does vitamin C prevent the common cold? Nope.
But a generation thought it did, based on Pauling's endorsement.
When the arena is political rather than scientific, peer review is a
dream worthy of Quixote. Political ideologies are remarkably resistant
to "facts", there are few repeatable experiments, etc. But I don't have
to descend to politics. Consider the dismal science, which at its most
objective studies the conformance of models to historical data and at
its least promulgates a set of faith-based assertions, like
"Unemployment rates below six percent are inflationary" and "Lowering
taxes stimulates investment" which, like dot-com stocks, are only
valuable to the extent they are believed to be valuable. No amount of
peer review can filter out the non-science in conventional wisdom.
Do you believe global warming is fact or fiction? There is a great deal
of evidence on both sides and both are guilty of cherry-picking the
evidence to support their preconceptions. Is Michael Chrighton right or
wrong on this subject? Should his ideas be filtered through the
scientific establishment? Do you really believe they could be?
The brilliance of the web is that it is (mostly) uncensored, even by
rationality. I don't expect this to change, and rather hope it won't.