I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.

That is, of course, the Late, Great, Richard Feynman.

And I have a very strong feeling that there\’s going to be an opportunity for me to prove this in the next few weeks. A book coming out that will be the opportunity for an extended essay: which will itself turn up as a Kindle I think.

What I intend to do is nail, once and forever, this idea that we\’re imminently going to run out of minerals and metals. And, although I\’ve not read the upcoming book yet (awaiting my review copy!) I\’m pretty sure that the author has made the one gross error that allows me to use it as a peg on which to hang my tale.

So, to you dear readers.

What should the price be? Does anyone know how to massage an Open Office text into Kindle format? Should I charge at all or just insert my PayPal address into the text?

I\’m told that having it free for the first couple of days boosts future sales: what say you?

Anyone actually got any useful ideas?

30 comments on “I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.

  1. I doubt I have any useful ideas, but surely Kindle is ideal for a Dutch auction? Sell it for 35 quid in July, 24 in August all the way down to 1.99 by next March.

    It depends if the expected return is serious mortgage money, or less serious beer money or just pin money. If the politics of the thing is more important than the cash, if you want to win, not to earn, give it away or sell it for a pittance.

  2. One note, however; scientists (/engineers/mathematicians) do at least usually have a structured and logical thought process, believe in the power of falsificationism, are not so emotionally invested that they will not consider alternative points of view, and are willing and able to analyse data.

  3. http://blog.rlcopple.com/?p=658

    This guys blog entry has a guide for creating Kindle docs using Calibre (which is a great piece of freebie software for messing around with e-book files) and OO.

    Tim adds: Thanks for that. I’m generally hopeless with technology bit I can understand at least some of that.

  4. Alex B

    scientists (/engineers/mathematicians) do at least usually have a structured and logical thought process, believe in the power of falsificationism, are not so emotionally invested that they will not consider alternative points of view, and are willing and able to analyse data.

    On the other hand their universe tends to be limited to the data. They are rarely able to consider anything outside it. All their training tells them that the data never lies. It never does in the world of science. If you get regular beeps from outer space that sounds just like an alien, the answer is a pulsar, not that the guy two cubicles down is playing a practical joke. Now if a plausible con artist comes along and sells them something that is logical and the evidence seems to support it, they will believe 100%, because they do not expect snake oil salesmen to be selling them snake oil.

    The advantage of history graduates is they tend to assume everyone is a con artist. Everything they study tells them everyone is.

    Hence so many scientists were Stalinists (and yes I am looking at Oppenheimer), or if they were German mathematicians, Nazis

  5. SMFS

    Fair point; “I don’t lie to myself or others, so why would anyone else lie to me?”

    Related to that, sometimes the government and mainstream media actually tells it straight, and sometimes the activist/independent media is technically ignorant, exaggerates things or blatantly lies to serve an ulterior agenda. Took me years to realise that, and it’s still difficult to tell when it actually applies or not…

  6. Something I was sort of thinking about the other day. Scientists tend to believe that you can reduce any problem to a small number of variables, write an equation, and get a precise result, or at least a result with calculable error bars.

    Which works extremely well in physics, but fails entirely in the study of human society, economics, etc. It’s the basic problem with Keynes. It’s not just that his arithmetic is in many places wrong. It’s that there is no correct arithmetic. The entire strategy doesn’t work. Which is why none of the arithmetical economic theories have any predictive power.

    It’s just impossible to get people to grasp this, and a large part of the reason why that is, I think, is that because we know it works very well in physics, engineering, etc, we think it really ought to work if we declare some aggregate variables (“GDP”, “unemployment”) and do the same thing with them.

    Hence, anyway. Scientists extremely bad at social problems, and generally drawn to lunatic ideologies as a consequence, as SMFS points out.

  7. Alex, by your definition climate scientists aren’t really scientists as they are extremely reluctant to even acknowledge that there might be alternative answers to why the weather is changing. But then I suspect most of us know that already as the great global warming, sorry climate change, campaign is just a scam to get more taxpayers money from governments to pay for pet projects.

  8. But then I suspect most of us know that already as the great global warming, sorry climate change, campaign is just a scam to get more taxpayers money from governments to pay for pet projects.

    I don’t think so. I think pretty much every warmist really believes in it. Most people just happen to prefer to believe the things that will benefit them.

  9. You’re quite right, Tim: in my experience there is a particular problem; physicists (especially perhaps mathematical physicists) have terrible trouble getting their heads round one of the consequences of supply and demand. The idea that a shrinking supply of, say, a metal, and a healthy demand for it, will lead either to new finds or to intelligent substitutions, is foreign to their thinking.

    Whether this also relates to the arrogance of physicists which was so evident in my youth (and which may still exist, even though the sexy science now is molecular biology) is hard to say – but it probably did explain the physicists’ disinclination to engage with non-physicists’ arguments.

    A word of advice: never waste an opportunity to sneer that physics has been stuck for decades – it’s true, and ought to be used to try to shame the buggers into a bit more intellectual humility.

  10. “I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.”

    Bollox. It’s the getout of highly educated practical idiots. “I’m a scientist, therefore I have trouble with tying my shoelaces”

    Tough shit sunshine. When politicians and scientist kill the grid and the western economies, the “dumb next guys” are going to be feeding off the corpses of over educated twats.

  11. Expanding slightly. On a field trip with NZ’s finest scientific minds, we lost the third vehicle in the train. About 90 minutes later we regouped around the lost van and found it stopped with a punctured trailer tyre. The spare tyre was attached to the trailer “A” frame, kept on by a pin coming up through the centre, a plate and a padlock to prevent the thieving kiwis stealing wheels.

    About 10 of New Zealands finest scientific minds had spent about 90 minutes contemplating the lock, when the problem was to replace the wheel. When I arrived it was less than 90 seconds to analyse and resolve the problem. Tippity tap with my geopick, the pin was bent, the plate dropped and the “thief proof” wheel was free.

    My point: “I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.”

    Feynman flatters himself. Scientists “looking at nonscientific problems” aren’t just dumb, they are fucking stupid.

  12. Dearieme-

    A word of advice: never waste an opportunity to sneer that physics has been stuck for decades

    …which seems to be a consequence of confusing ontology with epistemology, which has led them to the strange position of denying that there *is* an ontology. I can’t help but wonder whether the popularlty of idealist philosophy in Germany- and the German centre of mass of current physical theories- may have some connection.

    More generally on the issue here, it’s worth noting that physicists are generally aware that the three body problem can’t be solved. Yet, they seem to often think that economics can solve the seven billion body problem.

  13. I have found the free utility Aspose Words Express to be very useful. Using it does mean that the conversion is a 2-stage process, but it is still quick and easy. Aspose converts a variety of document formats to .epub format. Calibre (mentioned by a previous commenter) can then be used to convert the .epub doc to Kindle (.mobi) format.

    http://www.aspose.com/free-utilities-and-components.aspx

    Aspose Words Express sometimes gives one or more error messages. They can usually be ignored, successively, and it will still produce a usable document in epub format.

  14. SMFS: Interesting link, thanks. The only known case of anyone trying to smuggle coke into Peru, against the tsunami of the stuff going the other way, Scientific simpleton indeed.

  15. When Feynman looked at nonscientific problems, he was much less dumb than the next guy, of course,

  16. If you are going to use the normal free market arguments previously ably given by Julian Simon I hope you will also put in a last chapter about space industrialisation.

    Resources, both materials and energy, there are not only subject to the normal rule that when a resource becomes “scarce” the market will both use it more efficiently and find more, but in space they are literally unlimited as well.

    The age of humanity without limits to growth has barely dawned.

  17. I think that blanket statements like ‘scientists are crap at real world problems’ etc. are guilty of the reductionism that the scientists themselves are accused of in trying to describe everything with models. If there’s any truth to it, maybe it’s a scientist vs. engineer thing. My first degree is in physics, my second electronic engineering, and I like to think I’m pretty practical and empirical in my outlook. I write software for a living now, and a modern operating system is pretty good at disabusing one of the notion that any large system can be comprehended (or even rigorously categorised) by one individual.

    As for the scientist arrested in the drugs smuggling case: that beggared belief, but I suppose a bit of totty like the one in question is so effective a skeleton key into the male limbic system as to make any rational judgement superfluous. We only remark on what a chump he was because he’s a scientist, and we unreasonably expect them to be coolly rational in all things. This isn’t a case of ‘bloke who is a scientist gets conned’ but ‘scientist who is a bloke gets conned’.

  18. David Gillies-

    I think the part that beggars belief is that anyone would believe they were chatting with Denise Milani without considerable proof. This is a 419 level of gullibility.

    Reminds me of, ooh, about a decade ago, a usenet group I used to post to whose topic was British glamour models. One day one of the subject matter arrived. Nobody believed it was her until she’d post a “me holding today’s newspaper” photo.

    Denise Milani? Cripes.

  19. Feynman’s remark about experts being non-experts outside their own field inspires blog commentators to assert that they understand climate science better than climate scientists do, and that they understand financial mathematics better than Keynes did.

    That’s the internet for you.

  20. Well, Keynes didn’t understand mathematics at all, so pretty much anyone understands it better than Keynes did. That’s pompous Bloomsbury egoists for you.

  21. The part that really defies belief about that story is this:

    Before my arrest on January 23, I was convinced I was chatting with a ‘her’ and after a couple of weeks in prison, I realised it was a man, a criminal posing as this model.

    It took him two weeks in jail before he twigged?

  22. One of the things I’m going to teach my daughters when they’re old enough is to properly analyse the famous (and quite possibly made-up) Einstein quote:

    If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.

    Ask people what is the single most important thing about that quote, and almost no-one will reply “Einstein wasn’t an entomologist.” My daughters will.

  23. > Feynman’s remark about experts being non-experts outside their own field inspires blog commentators to assert that they understand climate science better than climate scientists do

    Personally, as an IT professional, I assert that climate scientists don’t understand the nature of software as well as I do. Feynman agreed with me on this, and the climatologists’ emails prove my point.

  24. PaulB at 10:26 am

    Feynman’s remark about experts being non-experts outside their own field inspires blog commentators to assert that they understand climate science better than climate scientists do, and that they understand financial mathematics better than Keynes did.

    It also inspires non scientists to call themselves climate scientists and pontificate that the world is about to end.

  25. The problem with preferring to consult with scientists on non-scientific problems is that it presents as an opportune moment for all manner of sufferers of autism-spectrum disorders to congregate around yet another Lutheran movement, based on the apparent incomprehensibility of the concept of the abstraction of analogy and an inconsistent amateurism in its application. For example, science apparently tells us about the sensible world. Yet the epistemology of subject-object dualism at the basis of this world-view is completely disregarded. This is what I think Worstall’s book will be about. Unfortunately it’s a waste of time. Science is now the Church of Science. Some people will try to explain it, others will try to fight it, and a minority will be astute enough to capitalize on it in the markets.

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