Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Science and Policy - Why should they pay attention to us?

Reading the latest CSAP (center for Science and Policy) report on "future Directions for Scientfic Advice in Whitehall" is quite frustrating if you are a geek.

Several behavioural weirdnesses define geeks, and these matter:

  1. geeks tend to read about anything whatever their core training is, whether climate science, social media analytics, psychology, behavioural economics, and XKCD
  2. notwithstanding Steve Hand's memorable pub rant[1], politics appears to be quite a lot simpler than a physics (Natural Sciences) or computer science or engineering degree, really.
  3. they witness many people in political decision making roles who are actually less qualified even in terms of soft (social) sciences (lets not rehearse the PPE pub rant again just yet [2])
So what does this lead to?

  1. incredulity when governments do not act on scientific advice (drugs, immigration, climate).
  2. frustration when governments offer explanations as to why they cannot act on said advice.
  3. strong inclination to walk away from bothering ever again to offer advice/evidence.
Far from this being something scientistcs should apoligise for, given the nature of the public's alienation with current western democratic policies (e.g. economics of austerity), it behoves politicians to rethnk how they react to public advice:

  1. scientists have a methodology (atually lots, but lets stick with Popperian classical Object Knowledge for now).
  2. Theories are falsifiable - the latest theory is "best of breed", that's all its merit is.
  3. We dismiss theories when new ones come along that meet the criteria (better fit, simpler, more elegant -- pick any).
  4. We change our minds
Indeed, there are honourable occasions (e.g. discovering that stomach ulcers were caused by bacteria, or the italians finding that their neutrinos did not go fast than the speed of light, or the cold fusion fail), when this is very public, but it happens every day on a finer granularity

I think the time has come for scientific method to be applied by politicians. Just as Jeanette Wing argued for computational thinking to be part of everyone's intellectual landscape, scientific method has already been embedded in everyone's subconscious for some time (e.g. since the Age of Enlightenment, aka Age of Reason)

Why not? As Oliver Cromwell said to one government (and remember what happened to them 

Think it possible you may be mistaken.

Thursday, August 14, 2014



All bar one of the suspects was ruled out through a rigorous process of logic
and fermentation.  Suspect B was never identified, although her love of Citrus
flavoured chewing gum inclined Devonshire to discount her on the basis of the
lack of scent in any of the crime scenes. The fine detective had the measure
of Napier, and deemed his extremely asymmetric length arms to put him beyond
the reach of the law.  The recent Turkish immigrant who went by the moniker Moosh had an alibi (waylaid in a public loo by a nearly terminal bizarre
kebab accident). The Polis had no beef with Professor Baron, who was in any
case too absent minded to remember who could be next o nthe serial killer
list. Ms Bath was in the Ale House, where she tended to hang out with other
birds in hand. Dr Burleigh was too gentle a character, despite being a well
known Arms dealer.  The reverend Carlton was left handed, whilst the
Carpenters were both right handed, which saw them in the clear.
Thomas Champion was in london rowing, on the  Thames that day, and indeed,
had turned a corner since leaving the county seat for town, and given up his
unnatural addiction to Dobblers. (Dobblers is that well known breakfast dish
that looks like a classic grill, but in fact is made from dog & pheasant
and isn't as illegal as it is unpleasant).

The Earls of Beaconsfield and Derby were both out at a shoot, and so the
inspector was shot of them, even before five bells. Indeed, he thought to him
self with a wry ha-ha, pigs might fly and his golden hind come in, before
they'd commit any such gross moral turpentine. Henry was OK, since he'd made
peace with his Armenian girlfriend Ishca over the proper use of feathers in

It was known that Milton was blind drunk, and waxing eloquent over some
jolly waterman about his time playing frag piano in old Orleans.
The chancellor was above suspicion, as were any of the occupant of the
Regent house. All five of the Irish brothers were known to react badly to the
men in blue, a red rag to a bull, but the inspector rose to the challenge, and
avoided a crowning.  Rupert Brooke was with Milton the whole day, according
to the sheep rustler known to everyone just as The Eagle, who had dropped in
after some wild spread betting.

Radegund's sainted aunt claimed he was down at Ally Pally, his Alma mater, and
the only anchor in his peripathetic life.
The inspector would give drink bakers dozen once the moon was over the yard
arm if that blackamoor's head was capable of such dark thoughts.
Devonshire asked his trusty sidekicks Argyle and Clarendon if they thought
there was anything in the rumour about the boats? Dr A saw on the
British Queen not, whilst det inspector C, smelling like a
brewery concurred. Devonshire looked at these two interchangeable chaps, like
peas in a pod - you couldn't tell if you swapped them, castle-to-castle like.
He hadn't graduated in the Jubilee year to waste time like this. He had other
buns in the shop to fry.

Back in  Cambridge feeling blue drinking a hog's head of big black cow and watching the
cricketers cut down another elm tree, failing to impress, as they fought
by George to keep the greyhounds and haymakers at bay, Inspector Devonshire
wondered if perhaps the evil genius artist, Geldart was behind it all.
Granted, he had the locomotive and was a man with a means, if not completely
in a pickerel. After all, he was known to have a predilection for chasing the
Green Dragon down King Street at quite a run. Many times, Dr Kingston had
tried to wean him off, but he would claim to be a master of the Marinade,
although everyone knew he was just driving them up the Maypole.

So summing up the first victim, Panton was found  bashed in by a
globe carved curiously with Fleur De Lys; the second, Portland,
rolled around a Fountain, pursued by a green manatee. The third,
Ms Parrot, crushed beneath a free press, like grapes, blood
spoiling all the nice mitred corners, pouring out like an old spring, only
attractive to the rats. The fourth, Salisbury trapped between the mill stone
and a rock, but curiously tied up with rope and twine. The fifth was drowned
regally when his ship ploughed into a dead end.

At six bells, listening to Bert Jansch playing
down by black Waterside on his iPod, the inspector suddenly remembers Arthur C Clark's story from Tales from the White Hart
(the one with all the violations of Sir Isaac Newton 3 laws of droog).
he lit a fine Unicorn cigar with a White Swan vesta matches, and decided to
see if the Wrestlers were still slugging it out over a bacon, lettuce and
tomato roll. As seven starts came out, the inspector took the last tram home
but fell asleep and landed up in the depot once again.