Archive for the ‘Parsimony’ Category

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Miracle Max

November 17, 2009

I’ve prefaced my comments in the past with disclaimers about my non-science background, but this one is too rich. Apparently, if you drill straight into a tree, you get really skinny tree rings, and if you drill sideways into that same tree, you get thicker tree rings. Moreover, if you drill all the way around a tree in a big circumferential loop, you get no fracking tree rings, which is pretty astounding, because dendrologists have asserted for quite some time that all trees exhibit a telltale tree-ring shape.

Given that this is the case, it stands to reason that if a tree is irregularly shaped — maybe due to some external pressure like, say, a giant ice monster crashing the hell up against it several thousand years ago — or if it is perfectly round, as if plucked from the fantasy-land of Plato’s forms, you will get different patterns of tree rings. Lordy. Nature is confounding!

Here’s another interesting factoid that I am wholly unqualified to assert (but will anyway): If you stick a needle into my bicep, you will be more likely to strike muscle than if you stick a needle in my skull. My skull, as it turns out, is mostly bone (or rock; hard to tell). Many doctors probably do not know this about my skull and my bicep, but it bears pointing out lest my doctors draw irrational conclusions about their breaking of needles on the top of my head.

More astonishing is that this peculiar topology is true for all people, except those who have led cosmically different lives: who have fantasized exactly 218 times about dining on chocolate for breakfast, who have swum with piranha, sung lullabies to sheep, eaten three micrograms more spinach than paneer, or been attacked by a thousand-year-old ice monster. And yet, this impudent institution loudly insists on extrapolating across a wide population of all humans, mindless of rampant data-collection errors, naive to the perils of individual variation, wholly reliant upon a flawed and out-dated statistical apparatus that can never account for individual difference because, when we look back over time, there is always another causal branch that has not been explored. Four micrograms of spinach, you say? Bullocks. Back to the drawing board. Audacious, then, to insist that we use their imprecise and flimsy analysis to protect our children against the nefarious pig disease that has been giving all manner of press-lackey conniptions since April.

Don’t get me wrong. I make no pretense to know the statistics. I have no interest in such voodoo. Nor am I interested in tree rings or muscle tissue. I’m interested, instead, in holding the highest standards for the sciences, in setting the truth bar so high that no possible methodology could hope to surmount it. There’s grace in sticking to one’s theoretical guns, you see, in insisting that researchers maintain an immeasurable degree of accuracy, that they hold fast to truth with a conceptual stringency only Moritz Schlick could love.

By my humble lights, far better to stick with math. This a posteriori drivel is a disaster.

Have fun storming the castle!