Monday, October 24, 2016

It is not Ptolemy

Statistician Andrew Gelman has done some good work debunking shoddy social science about the "power pose":

I don’t care about power pose. It’s just a silly fad. I do care about reality, and I care about science, which is one of the methods we have for learning about reality. The current system of scientific publication, in which a research team can get fame, fortune, and citations by p-hacking, and then even when later research groups fail to replicate the study, that even then there is the continuing push to credit the original work and to hypothesize mysterious interaction effects that would manage to preserve everyone’s reputation . . . it’s a problem.

It’s Ptolemy, man, that’s what it is. [No, it’s not Ptolemy; see Ethan’s comment below.]

Okay, I won't criticize him much, because he did correct himself. But obviously he was relying on a popular stereotype that equates Ptolemy with bad science.

A comment says:
Why the knock on Ptolemy? His epicicyle model made predictions verifiable with the measurement methods of his time. There will be no Kepler to update the power pose.

Epicyclical motion is used in the Antikythera mechanism, an ancient Greek astronomical device for > compensating for the elliptical orbit of the Moon, moving faster at perigee and slower at apogee than circular orbits would, using four gears, two of them engaged in an eccentric way that quite closely approximates Kepler’s second law.

As an indication of exactly how good the Ptolemaic model is, modern planetariums are built using gears and motors that essentially reproduce the Ptolemaic model for the appearance of the sky as viewed from a stationary Earth.
Mocking Ptolemy is like mocking modern planetariums. It shows a very bizarre view of what science is all about.

Ptolemy and Kepler were two of the greatest scientific geniuses of all time. A recent paper on Galileo (1564-1642) and Kepler (1571-1630):
the modern scientist and the mystic
points out that Kepler is also underrated, compared to Galileo.
Perhaps the most instructive example of a clash between Galileo's smooth "rational thinking" and Kepler's "mysticism" is provided by their different approaches to the theory of tides. In 1616 Galileo published (in Italian) his Discorso on the topic. In his view, it provided The decisive proof that the Earth moves [S], p. 224 (the idea having come to him in a flash on one of his frequent trips from Padua to Venice in a
large barge whose bottom contained a certain amount of water). Kepler had the right intuition that the tides are caused by the moon's attraction - a view confirmed and further elaborated by Newton and Laplace of the next generations.
Update: Gelman followed up with another strange attack on Ptolemy, referring to some faulty research:
I call this reasoning Ptolemaic because it’s an attempt to explain an entire pattern of data with an elaborate system of invisible mechanisms.
So I won't credit him for understanding his mistake.

Many outstanding theories of science, such as all field theories, rely on a system of invisible mechanisms. I thought that Gelman started out in Physics, but he badly misunderstands what theoretical science is all about.

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