22 Oct 2019


Potpourri 7 Comments

==> Two recent interviews at Lara-Murphy Report, one with Bill Peacock talking about Texas electricity markets, and with Rafael Acevedo on his experience as an economist (and father) in Venezuela.

==> The latest Bob Murphy Show interviews Richard Vedder on the problems with higher education.

==> Two seasteaders marked for death by Thai navy.

==> Are a lot of published math “theorems” wrong? What about theories of Dark Matter? (I personally have thought the latter is true, not sure about the former.)

7 Responses to “Potpourri”

  1. Tel says:

    In relation to the seasteading off the coast of Thailand, as the saying goes, “Ya need protection kid!”

    That really is the fundamental problem with the whole Libertarian concept … you can be doing your own thing, hurting no one, but if powerful people decide that you bother them (for whatever reason) they can take you out. They won’t be fair about it, or reasonable, because that’s the whole point of having military power … to avoid the need for being fair and reasonable.

  2. Harold says:

    On Maths theories. It seems possible that there are some accepted proofs that are not valid. It seems a good idea to try to get Lean (the automated theorem prover) to check Fermat’s last theorem proof, which the author “posits that no one actually completely understands it, or knows whether it’s true.”

    This is such a high profile theorem, that it might be possible to direct sufficient resources at it to get it formatted for input to Lean. I don’t know for sure, but I guess people could work on individual bits of the proof to get it into the right format, so a large cloud based collaboration may be possible.

    On the dark matter, she says “It’s admittedly an unsexy research topic. It’s technical and tedious and most physicists ignore it. ”

    This only makes sense if we assume that the results are going to confirm that the equations we use are OK after all. If someone could show they were wrong and explained dark matter away, that would be as sexy as it gets Physics. So the field is unsexy only because it is very likely to simply be confirmatory, and few people are prepared to put in years of work only to be told “yeah, great, but we all just assumed that was the case anyway.
    We sort of knew that already.”

    This reflects a larger problem in science – there is little reward for negative results or simple confirmation or replication. This leads to distorted understanding due to publication bias. In medicine it kills people and in psychology it is a crisis. It relates to the Maths article too, because few people are going to wade through the existing proofs to check they are OK.

    • Tel says:

      The negative opinion of negative results does tend to be pervasive. That’s related to the funding of science and how it has become a popularity contest … like sensationalist journalism sells papers also sensationalist science sells papers.

      However, if some math gets actually used for a regular purpose (for example cryptography, data compression, error correction, etc) then the theorem is re-tested each time it gets used. We have terabit per second undersea data cables constantly running through math, and if it failed then we would know about that pretty quick I think.

      For the case of some obscure math theorem that has no application and is largely useless other than for researchers to argue over … who really cares if it’s right or not?

    • Transformer says:

      Seems like in most fields proving something that had previously been an assumption especially relating to something as high profile as dark matter would be huge. Not clear to me why it would be seen as ‘unsexy’/

      • Harold says:

        I think it is because there is only a very small chance the conclusion won’t be “yes, it was exactly as we thought before.”

  3. Andrew in MD says:

    Dark matter reminds me of martian epicycles. It seems like a fudge factor we’ve added to our models/formulas in order to yield better predictions. But if we take our models and formulas to be indicative of reality rather than simply predictive heuristics, then the fudge factors have real-world implications. And so we’re forced to come up with physical explanations for why our fudge factor was necessary in the first place.

    There are two possibilities. Either there really is something similar to dark matter that justifies the fudging needed and the models are generally correct; or the fudging is actually indicative of our model somehow being fundamentally out of sync with physical reality even though we can make it behave well enough when we throw in a few hard-to-explain exceptions to the rules.

    We don’t know what we don’t know. That won’t stop future humans, 500 years after dark matter has been discredited, from laughing at how silly and backward we all were for ever believing such a thing. Such is the arc of history. Those post-dark-matter folks may be smug and self-satisfied at their living on the right side of human discovery; but they’re a sight better than those future dark matter truthers who irrationally cling to the antiquated dark matter theory in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

    • Harold says:

      “those future dark matter truthers who irrationally cling to the antiquated dark matter theory in spite of all evidence to the contrary.”

      So far there is not evidence to the contrary. If and when such evidence arrives then dark matter will be abandoned, since that is how science works. There may be one or two such truthers, but they will be left behind and become irrelevant, as those denying relativity very quickly became. Such is the arc of history.

      “It seems like a fudge factor we’ve added to our models/formulas in order to yield better predictions. ” Well, to explain observations, certainly. That is the job of science. Dark matter currently explains the movement of galaxies and does not contradict any established and accepted science, so is a reasonable front runner for the explanation. As the article reveals, there is also a hunt on for other explanations.

      In some ways it is a bit like epicycles. The difference is that the model they were clinging on to had almost no supporting evidence and was really just an assumption. The model current astrophysicists are clinging on to has a wealth of evidence. Maybe some genius will come up with a clever fix that explains both the movement of galaxies without dark matter and all the other observations that our current model fits. That has not happened and maybe never will.

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