Theory vs. Scientific Theory

The video below has been around for a few years. It’s a great clip. The issue I have with it is that I think it supports people who already understand the scientific process, but it fails to fully explain the distinction between the casual and scientific uses of “theory”.

There is a critical distinction between a theory and a Scientific Theory. For example, I have a theory that a significant proportion of people react to headlines without digging into the content behind that headline.

Colloquially, that’s a theory. Scientifically, it’s a Hypothesis. If I do a study to test this Hypothesis and I get data that confirms it, then it’s a Valid Hypothesis. It’s still not a Theory. [Note that if I indeed were to do such a study and publish it, it’s likely to be reported as “Study Proves People Only Read Headlines”. That headline is bullshit. Which is why just reading headlines is dangerous.]

Now if a bunch of other people also do studies and get the same result, then it’s on its way to becoming a Theory. That’s where Evolutionary Theory is now. There are hundreds of thousands of experiments that not only prove that evolution is a fact, there are millions that depend on it being a fact.

Now it is true that sometimes science gets it wrong. Especially in life sciences. The attack on dietary fat that we’ve seen for the past 40 years or so is a prime example, but that’s starting to be corrected with new research. This is how the scientific method works. Science is still done by people, and people can get things wrong. Frequently science self-corrects fairly quickly, but sometimes it takes quite some time. When it’s wrong the contradictions eventually get exposed, and those contradictions lead to more focused research. Eventually the right answer emerges, even if it means contradicting previous conclusions. Evolutionary Theory has been around for over 150 years, and nobody has managed to invalidate it yet… and I’m sure many have tried. That’s the point the video makes well: there’s an overwhelming body of work that proves evolution is real. This proof is well beyond reasonable doubt.

So when you here the word “theory”, ask yourself which meaning the person is using. Is it “I have a theory that someone steals one of each pair of my socks” theory, or is it “Gravitational Theory says that gravitational attraction is proportional to the square of the distance between two massive bodies” theory. It’s a pretty important distinction.

Creative Downloads: Everything Is Not Free, at Least Not Yet

A few minutes ago I didn’t know Sara Madison existed. Until an author friend shared her brilliant post “Dear Broke Reader: Your Sense of Entitlement is Killing Me” on Facebook.

Readers of this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of open source. Be it software, designs, engineering, etc. There’s a huge body of work that I believe benefits from the open source movement. That belief is predicated around freedom. I strongly believe that people who use products should have the ability to control their destiny after they acquire a product, and the best way to do that is to give them the tools to recreate and modify the product.

But that doesn’t mean everything should be free. While it’s true that I have contributed to collaborative open source projects that give the code away, it is not an entirely altruistic endeavour, for at the same time I’ve taken advantage of similar efforts by hundreds of others to build things that I never could have built alone. The key thing here is that these projects are collaborative works where all the participants in a community benefit.

Individual creative works are another thing entirely. There’s no similar multiplier that gives a creator back a multiple of what they’ve contributed. Someone who illegally downloads a book by a small author isn’t gaining any freedom, they’re just getting a product for free. If you download one of my Creative Commons licensed low resolution photographs and use it to print a crappy large format print, you deserve to waste your money. Book authors don’t enjoy that ability to constrain the clarity of digital versions of their work.

At some point, as individual labour stops being the way most of us add value to the economy, we’ll have to transition to some form of guaranteed minimum income scheme. At that point, there might be a rationalization that goes along the line of “this author is already receiving enough to get by, so they’re getting enough”. While I can’t say I agree with that position, at least someone who is passionate about creating has the knowledge that they won’t starve to death in the process. But neither will they live comfortably, nor will they receive the value that others derive from reading their work. A survivable system still isn’t a sustainable system. But this is futurism. We’re not there yet, and until then, taking advantage of someone who needs the money to keep doing what they’re doing is outright theft.

Keeping the House Cool, Old School

Today I’m keeping the inside of our house cool using a method I picked up many years ago: it was pretty cool and comfortable overnight, so early in the morning I closed all the windows, and pulled the curtains on any windows that let in direct sun.

Then I thought about where I picked up that trick, and it brought back summer memories. My father passed away when I was very young, leaving my mom with no significant assets and a child to raise. Fortunately her Air Force service in WW2 gave her the ability to get tuition for a university degree, and she manged to leverage that and her office experience into a teaching position at a small town high school–this was back in the days when school administrators had vastly more leeway than they do now. Her first principal hired her more on character and need than on formal qualifications.

Mom spent several subsequent summers in Toronto, taking teaching courses to upgrade her qualifications. The result of that was that I spent those summers boarded with a variety of families for a eight weeks of the summer. In all but one case, mother chose hosts well, and my summers were quite enjoyable, even though she wasn’t around. It was only much later in life that I understood the effort and sacrifices she made to ensure that I was provided for.

One of my most pleasant summers was spent with an older couple who lived in a small log house, on a lot with many large trees. Upon my arrival, I was instructed in the procedure for keeping the house cool: open the windows when going to bed to let the cool air in, close them early in the morning and draw the curtains to keep it in, and don’t leave the door open. It worked like a charm. That house was an oasis of cool on a hot summer day.

My guess is that their log house was built no later than the 1940’s, so it was probably a sieve for energy. Our current house is built to the post Energy Crisis standards of the late 1970’s, with many upgrades, not the least of which was a major replacement of doors and windows. So while we might not meet current standards, we seem to be in pretty good shape.

So far it’s working. Mid-afternoon and it’s pushing 29C outside, while the inside is running a comfortable 22C. Although the real benefit is this flood of memories of that idyllic summer that have come rushing back to put a smile on my face.

What is Passion Worth?

When I ask this question, I’m not asking it in the general context of something like creating art, where an answer is truly elusive. Instead I’m asking in the context of business: what is the value of passion when looking for a business partner or hiring staff? (more…)

The Back of the Plane

I started sitting at the back of the plane because the probability of survival in a crash is significantly higher. To do this, I had to overcome considerable anxiety, since as it turns out I’m waaaaay out there on the Autism spectrum. What I found was a whole bunch of people who enjoy being alive way more than the folks in the front of the plane. I’m not on the same frequency as many of them, but if you want joy de vivre, it’s back there, and the harmonics are great.