What I Am Worried About - Anti-Scientism

About 20 years ago, I read Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree, Tariq Ali.

A family sage telling us the story about the aftermath of the fall of Granada (the demolish of the Moorish culture). In short it's about the reverse of tolerance and intolerance. The Muslim community has been shaken by the burning of their books including the great Muslim writings on science, mathematics, optics, medicine, … It's end of 15th Century, final stages of the Reconquista.  The start of a dark age of Christianity (Inquisition …).

Dark ages - War on Science

Ironically enough, the fall of Granada was centuries after the Islamic golden age (that lasted from approx. 800 to 1200). In Lost Enlightenment, Frederick Starr chronicles the long tradition of scientists, mathematicians, engineers, .. in Central Asia (Iranian- and Turkish speaking regions). BTW, at that time the essentials of applied mathematics were invented.

But after this 4 centuries all went wrong. The region went into a downturn and the Islamic science with it. Maybe the conquest of the Mongols? Not really.

Starr argues that there were anti-science movements much earlier.  Part of the Muslim rulers told the rest: we see more and know it better - only faith, not rationalism and science, can  offer insight into the truths of the world.

(read more in Noah Smith's great post at BloombergView).

It's only one example of the war for Tribal Reality (putting positions of rulers, preachers, culture leaders, .. in concrete), and a "War on Science" in the large. There is more, also in the Western cultures - I am really worried about that.

War on science in the small?

Scientific Method? There is a better way?

About 25 years ago, I conducted a project for a renowned Austrian ski maker. The objective: create models that describe the dependencies of ski test scores on ski properties. Tests that are made on icy or powder snow piste, … for ladies, men, .... We took in particular geometric and related physical properties.

We applied multi-method machine learning, including the decision tree method ID3. From the set up it is a simple supervised learning scheme. We achieved some good results, but our methods at that time did not extract that a parabolic sidecut is essential for turns. Why? The system dis not "see" any ski samples that had significantly curved edges - they had only some slight sidecuts.

3 years later we had methods (like fuzzy ID3) that may have extracted the relation: precise in turns - significant sidecuts. A carving ski invented? How? Fuzzy decision trees are computational and you can calibrate fuzzy sets and membership functions ....

But to introduce fuzzy machine learning methods, you need fuzzy ordering and order relations. And finding a general framework for it you need to apply scientific method: have a hypothesis and test it.

The dark of the data salt mines

There are many contributions suggesting that scientific method is outdated - in the exabyte age data contain every information required?

But even with the best machine learning methods, can we really transform them into knowledge? With my over 25 years experience, no. Theories need models that ride the data waves.

Big data are (too) often dumb data.

The Big Joke of Big Data - I am also worried about.

Driver of modernity

The worrying possibility of all is that the public forgets about the central importance of science in golden ages and how quick the fall into dark ages may happen.

I am not a scientist, but I know that science and rationalism are driving modernity.