Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


Reading Group

In Uncategorized on May 17, 2010 by bcnjake

Greetings, PhilSci Types!

(Or, as Josh would say, Gentle PhilSciers)

Josh, Lynn, and I are putting together a little reading group for those who might be interested.  We’re reading Woodward’s Making Things Happen and will be meeting on Mondays at 5:00 at Uprise.  If you’re interested in taking part, email one of us and we’ll pass along the relevant information (what we’re reading that week, what the game plan is, etc.).  If you’re only interested in part of Woodward or can’t make it every week, no worries!  We’re happy to have you even for a week.


Wading into Akaike again…

In Uncategorized on May 5, 2010 by Randy

Apologies to all about my stridency during the seminar. I regret that much of our normal discourse was stifled by the red herring that I threw into the room.

Having said that…

Let me tell you two short stories in which Akaike figures. A few years ago, I sat in on a highly rigorous doctoral seminar on psychometrics taught by one of the giants in the field, Roderick P. McDonald. Causal modeling (does this sound scary to a philosopher?) for analysis of complex social science data was the overt subject matter. McDonald described his objective as to get us to the point where we “were not a danger to ourselves nor an an annoyance to others”. He took us through BIC and AIC, as well as 16 other criteria for assessing model fit given parsimony, included and omitted variables, number of cases (“n”), and the characteristics of the raw data. Long story short, AIC and BIC are unstable with respect to parsimony (number of parameters between competing models) and “n”. He called these two criteria “useless nonsense”, as were all the others for various faults with respect to the core criterion for model fit: the noncentrality parameter.

He also told a story of a meeting in 1972 where Akaike shared the dais with Joreskog (developer of LISREL – the standard statistical package for doing the kinds of analyses I alluded to above) and a doctoral student in education from the University of Chicago, J.W. Keesling. Keesling presented his thesis paper on causal flow modeling. His design looks  like Joreskog’s LISREL model a few years later. Sometime in the 1990’s practitioners of causal modeling began calling the design the Keesling-Wiley-Joreskog model (including Keesling’s mentor, David Wiley). I suspect Rod McDonald was more than just a casual observer of this more complete attribution of the analytical design. And Akaike’s information criterion, discussed at the same symposium, became a default goodness-of-fit measure for LISREL and its knock-offs. Big-time meeting — ex post.

Grad students: guard your intellectual property! And be skeptical of received wisdom of from philosophers who discuss parsimony in the ether without looking in the dirt where the concept is a core feature of practice.


Teaching Game Theory

In Uncategorized on May 5, 2010 by Randy

Another blog pointed me to a site where an enterprising graduate student has compiled 26 You Tube videos to teach game theory. The collection includes the stag hunt, battle of the sexes, and others that you have dealt with in boring prose and tedious extended form diagrams.


Higher- and Lower-level Science

In Uncategorized on May 4, 2010 by Randy

Further to our discussion last week!


Philosophy of science humor

In Uncategorized on April 28, 2010 by Pete Abram

From some random website with which I am not familiar comes a great satirical article: – I figured I’d post this after Andre went on about how horrible it is to side with Kuhn. Even though I do side with Kuhn, please, please, please do not accuse me of siding the the “Insane Clown Posse”.

The Insane Clown Posse Are Sane Proponents of Thomas Kuhn’s Paradigm Theory.

The Insane Clown Posse video, ‘Miracles,’ was recently posted on YouTube and has since become an internet meme due to its seemingly ignorant lyrics, specifically the following excerpt:

Water, fire air and dirt–f*cking magnets, how do they work? An’ I don’t wanna talk to a scientist; y’all muthaf*ckas lyin’ and gettin’ me pissed.

Many claim that the ICP is extolling the tenets of the anti-science movement, first introduced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, specifically in his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences. This movement states that science can lead to moral corruption and arrogance. However, it seems that the ICP is not saying that science is worthless, but that truth is inherently unknowable. They are, it seems, students of the great sociologist Thomas Kuhn and his groundbreaking work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

Kuhn said that science, heretofore viewed as a progressive study, is in fact not progressive, but rather based on large-scale changes in thought and theory. For instance, Newton is one of the fathers of modern science, with his laws and equations still being taught in physics and calculus classes to this day. However, when Einstein theorized his relativistic physics, not only did his equations give better results than Newton’s, but by their mere existence showed that Newton’s equations were all wrong, merely approximations of the “truth.”

To put it simply, Kuhn stated that each one of these sets of beliefs was called a “paradigm.” And, when a paradigm exhibited enough anomalies, for instance the inability to apply Newtonian physics to sub-atomic motion, scientists would theorize a new paradigm to take the old one’s place. The upshot of this was that no paradigm in itself could be called truth. Rather, if the universe’s laws were a clock, a paradigm could only describe the motion of the hands; there was no way to see the gears themselves.

Joseph Bruce and Joseph Utsler AKA Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope are simply claiming this with their lyrics, “magnets, how do they work?” The truth is the theory of magnetism has changed wildly over the decades and is still veiled in a certain amount of mystery. Sure, scientists know how to use magnets, how to measure magnetic force, even how to chart magnetic fields, but to actually explain that force is to create a unified field theorem which remains the unfound Holy Grail in scientific research. Scientists themselves do not really know how magnets work. What they have now is simply a paradigmatic explanation of magnetism.

And in terms of scientists “lyin’,” here again the ICP is repeating their belief that scientists remain hard-headedly in support of a certain paradigm and it is often left to the next generation of scientists to have the flexibility of thought to accept a better fitting paradigm.

Although Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope may have never read Kuhn’s works, those who suggest that their raps are ignorant haven’t been properly educated in scientific theory and sociology. For, if they had been, they would know that the ICP is not ignorant. Far from it: they are keeping Thomas Kuhn’s theories alive and well.


Evolution Humor

In Uncategorized on April 28, 2010 by Peter G. Klein

From The Onion, of course:

Man At Very Top Of Food Chain Chooses Bugles
April 26, 2010 | ISSUE 46•17

SOUTH BEND, IN—Despite having no natural enemies and belonging to a species that completely dominates its ecosystem, local IT manager Reggie Atkinson opted to consume the processed corn snack Bugles Monday. “I was in the mood for something salty and crunchy, and it’s a little early for dinner,” said the ultimate predator, whose ancestors’ bipedal locomotion, toolmaking abilities, and advanced spatial recognition developments allowed them to hunt animals 10 times their size. “These are original, but the other flavors are pretty good, too.” Acting on an impulse from an incredibly complex forebrain that has evolved over millions of years, Atkinson then took note of the Bugles’ amusing conical shape and placed one on each of his opposable thumbs like little wizard hats.


Lawlessness and Miles Davis

In Uncategorized on April 26, 2010 by bcnjake

Brandon seems to be making a lot of hay over the fact that any distinctly biological generalizations are contingent and therefore not universally true.  If they’re not universally true (i.e. the “rules” can be broken), then they cannot be laws.  But suppose you’re a scientific anti-realist like Cartwright, van Frassen, etc.  At this point, the whole problem seems to dissolve, since anti-realists don’t expect laws to be true; obviously false but explanatory generalizations are extrapolated from a limited set of causal histories.  Obviously, one might take exception to the “laws don’t have to be true” criterion, but assume that you’re okay with this.  Is there any other reason to lose sleep over the contingency thesis?  I can’t think of one, but I’m also inclined to endorse anti-realism.