06-12-2013 | Pardon the Interruption

Big Data Needs a Big Theory - Geoffrey "Complexity" West

Rethinking SETI - Centauri Dreams

David Brooks: The Last Stalinist - Corey Robin

Vague Justice Lite for Mau Mau Victims of UK Genocide - Al Jazeera (WikiContext, if you need it)


  1. re Big Data:

    There's been a similar problem with brain research. Data was collected according to different standards and with different protocols, much of it ended up being useless. Without a theory to go on we just end up with a big blob of data. Idan Segev has made this point repeatedly but offhand this is the only source I can find:

    "“I am a theoretician. The brain is a physical system, thus many physicists have come into the field of neuroscience. With the complexity of the brain and the many levels of descriptions from genes to electrical wiring connections, we needed a new multidisciplinary approach,” Segev says.

    “In the past, we didn’t have such an integrative attempt at understanding the brain – until Bert Sakmann [the German cell physiologist who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Erwin Neher in 1991 for their work on the function of single ion channels in cells] came and said he has plenty of anatomical and physiological data about the brain. But he didn’t know what to do with all this, how to connect it and make some functional sense of it. So it was a turning point for me when I was working on individual nerve cells – and thanks to him switched to the simulation of a cortical column in the mouse brain.”"

  2. re David Brooks, specifically:
    "This lens makes you more likely to share the distinct strands of libertarianism that are blossoming in this fragmenting age: the deep suspicion of authority, the strong belief that hierarchies and organizations are suspect, the fervent devotion to transparency, the assumption that individual preference should be supreme. You’re more likely to donate to the Ron Paul for president campaign, as Snowden did."

    "Perelman is quoted in an article in The New Yorker saying that he is disappointed with the ethical standards of the field of mathematics. The article implies that Perelman refers particularly to the efforts of Fields medalist Shing-Tung Yau to downplay Perelman's role in the proof and play up the work of Cao and Zhu. Perelman added, "I can't say I'm outraged. Other people do worse. Of course, there are many mathematicians who are more or less honest. But almost all of them are conformists. They are more or less honest, but they tolerate those who are not honest."[14] He has also said that "It is not people who break ethical standards who are regarded as aliens. It is people like me who are isolated."[14]
    This, combined with the possibility of being awarded a Fields medal, led him to quit professional mathematics. He has said that "As long as I was not conspicuous, I had a choice. Either to make some ugly thing or, if I didn't do this kind of thing, to be treated as a pet. Now, when I become a very conspicuous person, I cannot stay a pet and say nothing. That is why I had to quit." (The New Yorker authors explained Perelman's reference to "some ugly thing" as "a fuss" on Perelman's part about the ethical breaches he perceived).[33]"

    There have been in this century (as doubtless in other centuries past) a certain number of isolated men who
    seem to my eyes to be “new men”—men who appear to be “mutants” and who already today, in one way or another, prefigure the “man of tomorrow” embodied in the present; the man in the full sense of the word, who undoubtedly will emerge in the generations to come, in the course of the “post-herd” age, of which the dawn is very close and which they tacitly herald.

  3. Love the framing of "the deep suspicion of authority, the strong belief that hierarchies and organizations are suspect, the fervent devotion to transparency, the assumption that individual preference should be supreme."

    That last one is the poison pill: the whole point of transparency is so a society can effectively determine what's actually in their best interest.