Sunday, April 16, 2017

But Are You Sure You're Sure

Look carefully and tell me, what is this? Because it’s not what you think it is.
L’ange Du Foyeur, Max Ernst, 1937. Image source

Only because Hidden Scents presupposes that we are in the Age of Approximation do we pay attention to talk about certainty in science. The language of smell is anything but certain, and should make us second-guess what it means to “be sure” of something.  

Feb 2017,

Looking at 41,000 measurements of 3,200 quantities - from the mass of an electron to the carbon dating of a sample - Bailey found that anomalous observations happened up to 100,000 times more often than expected.

"The chance of large differences does not fall off exponentially as you'd expect in a normal bell curve," said Bailey.


"The study shows that researchers in many fields do a good job of estimating the size of typical errors in their measurements, but usually underestimate the chance of large errors," said Bailey, noting that the larger-than-expected frequency of large differences may be an almost inevitable consequence of the complex nature of scientific research.

"As measurements become more and more accurate, the smallest things matter more and more," Bailey said.


"These insights can be beneficial given the inherently complex nature of scientific research," says Bailey. "But the chance of avoiding being wrong in some way on some level is almost impossible."

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