Imagine a world without facts

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Science  26 Oct 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6413, pp. 379
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav7494

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  • RE: Often Facts are Not So Clear and That is a Fact

    The Editor’s emphasis on facts certainly is a message to be underscored (Imagine a world without Facts, 26 October 2018). Now the media are considered to produce fake news and as part of a larger zeitgeist, scientific facts caught in that. The public is doubtful of scientific facts in many ways and view these as more about one’s political stance than something that has empirical support. We ought to do all we can to combat that. On the other hand, facts are not so clear, certainly from the standpoint of the public. One might say, for example, that it is a fact that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer. But it is also a fact that it does not. This is not something quantum like, despite how it sounds. Not everyone who smokes contracts any of the diseases for which smoking is known to predict. Facts in science (and in the world) can be highly qualified. They might be true under some circumstances but not others. A given effect or relation among variables might be restricted by all sorts of other conditions that seem to qualify the fact. From the science perspective, we recognize the complexities of interactions (statistical) and the role of multiple variables and how facts might be rather specific to some conditions. This makes it extremely difficult to communicate to the public and policy makers. “Is this a fact or not?” we might be asked. We can say yes, but then informed qualifications might be needed to clarify the circumstances and conditions under which tha...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: Truthsift is designed to solve the problems posed by Berg

    Jeremy Berg wrote a editorial entitled "imagine a world without facts" (1). Truthsift is a collaborative computational tool for establishing facts and for establishing what facts can be derived from those facts and for detecting when you are deluded about assertions, which happens a lot more than most people realize (2,3). On truthsift.com you may post a statement and a proof tree for it which are displayed graphically. Others may challenge any statement in your proof tree giving the reason why they don't believe it is established. You may then correct any errors and counter challenge explaining why they are wrong if you believe so. At the end of the day we are left with a proof tree that either rates the statements Frank as "tentatively established" if there is a valid proof tree for it, For which nobody has been able to defend a challenge. Or it rates it "tentatively refuted" if a consensual proof has not been possible. All of the evidence for subclaims and how arguments against them were refuted is laid out and you may challenge any step so long as you can state a rational reason why you're not persuaded. I urge people to come lay out what is true and why and to learn places they might be mistaken. Stating assertions in a form that you can actually rigorously defend is a very useful constraint on real-world statements as it is in mathematics. If truth sift gets into wide use it will address all the issues raised in the editorial...

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    Competing Interests: I have designed a platform and technology specifically to solve the problem posted by Prof. Berg, and I own the company developing the technology.
  • Science is based on replacing expired facts and evidences with new ones

    Jeremy Berg wrote an editorial entitled “Imagine a world without facts” (1). Jeremy Berg emphasizes a role of facts and evidence (1). However, all facts and evidences have their expiration date respectively. The expiration data can be determined by the advent of a new technology or discovery. For example, with the advent of a nanowire technology, we must update or change our common knowledge. The atomic scale all common knowledge about material properties becomes invalid (2). The Ohm’s Law (the resistance of a conductor scales proportional to its length) breaks down (2). Gold is a better conductor than lead by an order of magnitude, for conduction through a single atom, lead beats gold by a factor of three (2). We must know that facts and evidences hold only under certain conditions. In other words, Science is not based on a collection of facts and evidences (not like LEGO blocks), but based on replacing expired facts and evidences with new ones. We must understand which are expired facts and evidences.

    1. Jeremy Berg, Imagine a world without facts, Science 26 Oct 2018: Vol. 362, Issue 6413, pp. 379
    2. Nicolas Agrait et al., Quantum properties of atomic-sized conductors, Physics Reports 377 (2003) 81–279

    Competing Interests: None declared.

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