nonsense

Ferdinand of Naples on the Importance of Uniforms

a field looking towards a flock of sheep, a second-growth deciduous forest, and a small town in a valley
In another October this field was full of angry Frenchmen and Prussians not white sheep. Looking south from the battlefield of Jena, October 2010. Photo by Sean Manning, October 2010.

Long ago I heard the story of the South Italian prince who interrupted a discussion about the army’s new uniforms with “dress them in red, blue, or yellow, they will run away all the same.” The story embodies a truth that there is a big difference between looking like an army and being an army (and that some types of reform have more of an impact than others). But where does it come from? Twentieth-century British writers like Bernard Cornwell love telling stories about European foreigners and their national deficiencies, and I grew up reading a lot of twentieth-century British and US writers.

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When Trust is Verified Badly

Now, we can observe many flaws in just this one passage, but it should be noted that Low has done her reading and cites widely. The problem is that the analyses on which she is working are themselves flawed and, without detailed study outside of her discipline, she and other academics are unlikely to realise this. This is a hard warning for those of us who wish to research that assumptions are pervasive and insidious.

Rob Runacres, “HEMA Research: false truths and wishful thinking,” Western Martial Arts Workshop, Racine WI,September 2017 https://www.renaissanceswordclub.com/2017/09/27/hemaresearch/

In an earlier post, I argued that science advances human knowledge through a network that tests claims before they become premises in bigger arguments, and then tests the structure of those arguments to make sure they can hold the weight placed upon them. Past the early days of a field of knowledge, understanding advances because of systems and communities not lone geniuses who do everything themselves. Communities can ask more and harder questions than any one person can. But anyone who follows science news knows that this does not always happen. How can this system of verified trust fail?

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Science as Verified Trust

“Ad faciendas cartas de pellibus caprinis more bononiense”: In this case I don’t have to trust: Reed’s Ancient Skins, Parchments, and Leathers (1972) p. 74 cites a chapter by “Theophilius” on making parchment in British Library MS. Harley 3915 fol. 128r, but the text cited is actually an anonymous text on fol. 148r of the same manuscript as Theophilius (British Library database, see them for image rights)

The higher you rise in any hierarchy, the harder it is to get accurate feedback about your decisions because people are afraid to tell you the truth. I’ve worked with several (US) presidents. All have made big blunders. I’ve also known and written about CEOs of big corporations who have made terrible mistakes. In every case, they had flawed systems for getting useful, accurate and reliable feedback.

Robert Reich (some kind of former political appointee from the USA) https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/apr/01/vladimir-putin-ukraine-truth-deniers-bad-decisions

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the role of trust in science or scholarship. Engineers such as Bill Nye and political propagandists throw around the phrase “trust the science”! On the other hand, the rationalists whom I mentioned last year brandish the Royal Society’s motto nullius in verba “Take nobody’s word for it” like a sword. I think both sides are working from some misconceptions about how science or scholarship work.

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Why Monster Talk is Important

As the emergency sirens howl, a handful of greasy people in shabby clothes are crawling around and assessing the damage. These people never got paid much for their work, and they were often opposed by institutions and ignored as they cried the alarm. These are people who look into weird stuff and the intersections between pop culture and pseudoscience such as Monster Talk podcast.

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When to Engage with Ideas You Don’t Think are Well Founded

In another place, some people got very upset that I would not engage in a discussion whether some populations have a hereditary difference in intelligence from other populations, and that I thought a famous professor who enthusiastically endorsed this idea had trusted some untrustworthy people. Doesn’t that make me a bad scientist who refuses to look at the data? Haven’t I talked about how I miss the rational argument culture of the early Net? Isn’t engaging with people a better way to convince them (and to convince onlookers) than implying that I think their ideas are silly? Am I just like those posturers on corporate social media who try to ban all dissent, or the lobby groups who try to ban research whose conclusions might harm their cause?

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Debunkers Beware, All Publicity is Good Publicity

if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you. The funny thing is that even a critical story, which may be hurtful personally, can be very valuable to your business. [When I announced my plans to build a huge new real estate development to the press], not all of them liked the idea of the world’s tallest building. But the point is that we got a lot of attention, and that alone creates value.

Tony Schwartz (under the name of a failed businessman with a gift for self-promotion), The Art of the Deal (1987) c/o https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/book-review-modi-a-political-biography

As my gentle readers have probably noticed, I like factual, cautious things. So its frustrating to read or hear things which spend more time rebutting some hurting wrong opinion than presenting facts. I never heard this opinion, and I am reading this book or listening to this talk because I want to see what the author thinks about the topic. They only have so much time to reach me, so why do they waste most of it telling me not to think something I don’t think?

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An Ajax or a Socrates?

A bust of Themistocles from the Roman empire, presumably based on a much earlier original. C/o Jona Lendering under a CC0 1.0 Universal license (original post: https://www.livius.org/pictures/italy/ostia/ostia-museum-pieces/ostia-themistocles/) My estimable colleague Jona Lendering recently expressed dismay that historians of the Macedonian Kingdom of Bactria tried to read kings’ personalities in their portraits on coins (here).  Since no literature from... Continue reading: An Ajax or a Socrates?