Friday links: quantifying Lakatos, tell me again what “relevant” research is, and more

Also this week: the last word (?) on the Notre Dame fire vs. environmentalism, AI vs. Darwin, the problem with a new study of academic productivity and institutional prestige, and more.

From Jeremy:

Andrew Hendry on how basic research on rapid evolution ended up being policy-relevant.

Manu Saunders with the last word on the Notre Dame fire vs. environmentalism (and the Met Gala vs. the IPBES global assessment).

Congratulations to Jim Elser, Nancy Grimm, Paul Turner, and Marlene Zuk on election to the US National Academy of Sciences, and to Marten Scheffer on election as a foreign associate.

Here’s a synopsis of a very interesting-looking new philosophy of science paper that just came out in Systematic Biology. Tries to actually measure which competing alternative hypotheses lead to productive research programs, and which just lead to wheel-spinning. Even if you don’t think of this approach as actually measuring scientific progress in Lakatos’ sense, it seems like a good way to structure a historical review of research on any topic. Needs better graphs, tho.

That new PNAS study of academic productivity and institutional prestige (which I’ve yet to read, BTW) has a serious technical flaw.

Here’s an online neural network that tries to complete snippets of text provided to it. I entertained myself for a few minutes asking it to complete famous passages from Darwin. The results were the AI equivalent of a dog walking on its hind legs.

See, this is why you should always read the footnotes. 🙂 (ht @dandrezner)

12 thoughts on “Friday links: quantifying Lakatos, tell me again what “relevant” research is, and more

  1. Ha ha – Transformer is a lot of fun – I put in “The thing about Dynamic Ecology is” and it generated:

    The thing about Dynamic Ecology is it allows you to create an idea that has been around a long time, that you could actually apply it in your own game. A lot of times, as writers, we will start an idea as the core, then we will move towards something else, and a lot of times these ideas will become like archetypes you can start with.

    • I put in a chunk of the first paragraph of my old “zombie ideas in ecology” post:

      “Ideas, especially if they are widely believed, are intuitively appealing, and lack equally-intuitive replacements, tend to persist. And they persist not just in spite of a single inconvenient fact, but in spite of repeated theoretical refutations and whole piles of contrary facts. They are not truly alive—because they are not true—but neither are they dead. They are undead. They are zombie ideas.”

      And got this back:

      “The most salient and persistent of Lovecraftian ideas—the idea that all things are connected and alive, if not even soul-sucking tentacles—is an idea we’ve seen repeated again and again in the literary culture that came after it. We’ve come to see it all over modern science and history—from ancient Greek to modern scientific theories (i.e., The Big Bang) and, eventually, to the most sophisticated scientific theories of all: the Hubble Space Telescope.”

      Not as amusing as I expected, actually. You can see the seams on that one. And calling the Hubble Space Telescope a scientific theory is a clunker.

      • I tried “Jeremy Fox is of the opinion that zombie ideas” and generated a great bit of text – I especially like the start of the last quote:

        Jeremy Fox is of the opinion that zombie ideas can be incredibly useful.

        “They’re often used in a more serious form,” Fox says, “or as a way to explore something without the danger of actually dying.” A key idea in The Walking Dead is that the main character’s life is at risk, so he must find a place to live, as the world’s undead are constantly trying to eat what remains of the humans they’ve killed. When he has a few spare days in the apocalypse, he uses them to look out for others.

        With zombies, Fox believes that what he’s seeing are a kind of visual metaphor, too, one that works well with video games, both for those who need visual cues and for those who need a metaphor to explore.

        “We have to have a little more imagination,” Fox says. “We have to find those situations in games that we don’t necessarily want to confront, because we have to be in the game”

      • Ok, the first couple of sentences are hilarious. Trolling, but hilarious. But the joke’s up once it segues to talking about The Walking Dead.

      • Yes, the AI seems to sort of lose the plot after a while and take the text off in directions that are further and further removed from the starting point. For some reason it thinks “Jeff Ollerton” is a “poster boy for college athletics”…..!

  2. Dr. Susan Alberts is also an excellent ecologist who was elected to the National Academy of Sciences this year! Her primary appointment is in the Biology and Evolutionary Anthropology department at Duke (so wouldn’t show up with an “ecology” search term), but she is a leading PI in Behavioral Ecology and in Duke’s Ecology program (we don’t have a department). I think she deserves a hearty congratulations from the ecology community as well!

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