The Quick Draw Game – Part 2 – Exploration and Exploitation

In Quick Draw you don’t actually have five seconds to draw the chosen subject, because you have to use part of the five seconds to decide how you’re going to draw it. The most important skill in the game is deciding how much of the five seconds you spend thinking about what you’re going to draw, and how much you spend actually drawing. Making this decision involves solving a problem known as the exploration/exploitation tradeoff. Continue reading

Controversial Claims

When something is controversial, sometimes that means that mankind simply doesn’t have a complete understanding of the subject yet. Other times there isn’t a controversy because the knowledge doesn’t exist, but merely because there are some who don’t understand the current state of our knowledge. Continue reading

Communicating Science – Part 2

Science is able to answer questions about current issues that are important to the general public, but much of the public discourse is being dominated by sources who are either ignorant or who are intentionally misleading the public for their own purposes. The science being done isn’t trickling down to the general public, and much of the reason why has to do with the way the internet has changed the nature of journalism. Continue reading

Communicating Science – Part 1

The world is an enormously complicated and interconnected place. As we all searching for ways to know and understand it, there are lots of people who have answers for us: politicians, religious leaders, industry lobbyists, marketers, con men, cult leaders, and of course, scientists. Carl Safina wisely warns: if scientists don’t make their answers accessible to the public, someone else will. Continue reading

How To Disagree with an Expert

Appealing to an authority only carries weight to someone who doesn’t understand the reasoning behind the authority’s belief. If you know and understand the authority’s reasoning, then only that reasoning counts, and their authority no longer carries any weight of its own. Knowing and understanding someone’s argument undermines their authority. Continue reading

Knowledge and Confidence

Experts are experts precisely because they have more information, they’ve absorbed the relevant theories, and they’ve had their ideas critically analyzed by other experts. They have cultivated a deeper understanding than laypeople. Consequently, they are more entitled to their opinions than laypeople are. Continue reading

Fighting for Your Beliefs

When someone disagrees with you it can feel like they’re attacking you, so it’s a natural tendency for humans to think of debates as a conflict. This is a most unfortunate human tendency. If you think the goal of debate is to defeat the people who disagree with you, then debating is not an attempt to determine who is correct, but merely a contest of argumentative skill. Continue reading

Fake Science

To people who don’t understand English, fake English sounds just like real English. If you don’t understand Swahili, fake Swahili looks just like real Swahili. And just like fake languages, to people who don’t understand science, fake science sounds just like real science too. Continue reading

Belief and Expectation

Your beliefs are your mental model of the world. When you see something happen in the world, your beliefs can often give you a way to explain it. You see water droplets turn sunlight into a rainbow. But having a good mental model of the world isn’t just about being able to explain things. Just as important – perhaps more important – are the things your beliefs can’t explain. In other words, your beliefs should narrow down the list of possible things you expect to observe. Continue reading