Cataloging a year of social blogging

With almost all of January behind us, I want to share the final summary of 2018. The first summary was on cancer and fitness landscapes; the second was on metamodeling. This third summary continues the philosophical trend of the second, but focuses on analyzing the roles of science, philosophy, and related concepts in society.

There were only 10 posts on the societal aspects of science and philosophy in 2018, with one of them not on this blog. But I think it is the most important topic to examine. And I wish that I had more patience and expertise to do these examinations.

Pragmatism and Science without Truth

I try to be mindful of how the language of ‘truth’ and ‘facts’ is used in scientific and social discourse. In particular, its contrast with the language of ‘false’ or ‘useful’. I think the latter is very important, especially when dealing with misinformation. But it doesn’t always necessitate the former.

When something is recognized as false, it opens a discussion for what we should replace that falsehood with. But when something is recognized as ‘true’, it is usually seen as an end to discourse. Now, in some cases, it is clear that the discourse should be ended or should never have been had. But in many cases, this is not obvious. I tried to explore some of these themes in these posts.

  1. On the Falsehood of Philosophy: a skeptic’s pastiche of Schopenhauer (September 1st)
  2. On this blog, I usually write from my own voice. Mostly because it is easier and as a means to train my writing style. But sometimes, I find it fun to try to adopt exaggerated writing styles of various authors that I enjoy reading. In the above post, I re-purposed the opening of Schopenhauer’s On the Sufferings of the World into a presentation of my views on the role of Truth in philosophical discourse. It was a fun experiment. And although I did not aim to reflect a position that Schopenhauer would have endorsed, I think I might have inadvertently. Although to really please Schopenhauer, I would have had to spend some time bashing Hegel.

    The rest of the posts were from my own voice:

  3. Separating theory from nonsense via communication norms, not Truth (September 8th)
  4. It might seem impossible to do good scientific work without appeals to truth. But I think this is wrong. In the above post, I tried to make a case for how to separate science from pseudoscience based on communication norms rather than Truth. Although I have been thinking about this topic for a while, the post was finally realized due to a fruitful twitter disagreement with Brian Skinner. This post went on to be the 3rd most popular new post of 2018.

    The following post was also an old idea spurred on by current events. In this case old thoughts on the dangerous of systemic failure due to imperialism spurred by a Facebook security breach:

  5. Software monocultures, imperialism, and weapons of math destruction (September 29th)
  6. Models as maps and maps as interfaces (November 17th)
  7. Plato and the working mathematician on Truth and discourse (December 1st)
  8. Finally, the last two posts build on old ideas without connection to current events. With the first continuing my ongoing reflections on heuristic models and interface theories. And the second expanding on an old philosophy.SE answer.

Science and Philosophy in Society

Science, and the Academy more generally, is a major institution that shapes a lot of our political and social life. As scientists, we often try to claim neutrality and objectivity as a veil to hide our institutional interests. Worse yet, we often internalize this slight of hand and start to think of ourselves as actually neutral and objective. I think that this is dangerous.

As such, last year I tried to write about some of the roles that science plays in society. Given that there is far too much written about the positive roles of science — especially by scientists — I wanted to focus on some of the negative or ambiguous roles. And some of the ways we could minimize our negative impacts or channel them towards more positive ends.

    The first step is to actually start listening to the public, instead of just sharing our knowledge:

  1. As a scientist, don’t speak to the public. Listen to the public. (July 7th)
  2. Unity of knowing and doing in education and society (July 21st)
  3. Do I work for the Class that pays me? (August 27th) on Scientist Sees Squirrel
  4. Another important step might be critically examining whose interests we as academics serve. It is easy to think that we’re helping the whole world. But that seldom seems to be the case. Especially if we look at the world along class rather than geographic divisions. This was my only blog post elsewhere and sparked by an earlier comment I left on Stephen Heard’s Scientist Sees Squirrel. This was itself shaped heavily by reading Jeff Schmidt’s Disciplined Minds and Peter Broks’ Understanding Popular Science.

    Engaging with other blogs seems like a good way to get into new conversation. Another inspiration this year was podcasts. With the following post motivated by a discussion on the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps.

  5. Techne and Programming as Analytic Philosophy (September 15th)
  6. Blogging, open science and the public intellectual (November 24th)
  7. This last post was an analytic linkdex of other people’s writings on the social role of blogging, open science, and public intellectuals. These were mostly from 2016 and earlier, based on an old draft I had sitting around. Thus, if you want to read more on this topic, dear reader, that linkdex might be a good starting point.

As an ending tangent. This year in review post is actually the 299th post on TheEGG. Normally, I would use the 300th or 301th post to reflect on stats and themes over the last 150 posts. But I feel like that would be too much navel gazing all at once. Maybe it’s better to save that for post 333? Let me know, dear reader.


About Artem Kaznatcheev
From the Department of Computer Science at Oxford University and Department of Translational Hematology & Oncology Research at Cleveland Clinic, I marvel at the world through algorithmic lenses. My mind is drawn to evolutionary dynamics, theoretical computer science, mathematical oncology, computational learning theory, and philosophy of science. Previously I was at the Department of Integrated Mathematical Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center, and the School of Computer Science and Department of Psychology at McGill University. In a past life, I worried about quantum queries at the Institute for Quantum Computing and Department of Combinatorics & Optimization at University of Waterloo and as a visitor to the Centre for Quantum Technologies at National University of Singapore. Meander with me on Google+ and Twitter.

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