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Reading with the Skeptics

  • Nov 19, 2012 · 7:00 PM
  • This location is shown only to members

UPDATE 2: I've changed the date of the meeting from Nov 12th to Nov 19th to accommodate several people schedules. I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Samuel Arbesman will still be joining us via video chat for the first hour of the meeting. So, please be on time and have some questions ready for him. Thanks!

UPDATE: The author, Samuel Arbesman, is schedule to join us via video chat! Please have some questions ready for him.

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This month we'll discuss The Half-life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date. See details below.

The skeptical book-club meets the second Monday of each month, during which we discuss fictional or non-fictional books of a skeptical, scientific or atheistic nature.

Please bring a simple snack or drink to share. Post a comment below indicating what you plan to bring.

Please email book suggestions to David Redmond.

 

Title: The Half-life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date

Author: Samuel Arbesman

Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, eBooks, Good Reads, Google Books

Description: Facts change all the time. Smoking has gone from doctor recommended to deadly. We used to think the Earth was the center of the universe and that Pluto was a planet. For decades, we were convinced that the brontosaurus was a real dinosaur. In short, what we know about the world is constantly changing.

But it turns out there’s an order to the state of knowledge, an explanation for how we know what we know. Samuel Arbesman is an expert in the field of scientometrics—literally the science of science. Knowledge in most fields evolves systematically and predictably, and this evolution unfolds in a fascinating way that can have a powerful impact on our lives.

Doctors with a rough idea of when their knowledge is likely to expire can be better equipped to keep up with the latest research. Companies and governments that understand how long new discoveries take to develop can improve decisions about allocating resources. And by tracing how and when language changes, each of us can better bridge generational gaps in slang and dialect.

Just as we know that a chunk of uranium can break down in a measurable amount of time—a radioactive half-life—so too any given field’s change in knowledge can be measured concretely. We can know when facts in aggregate are obsolete, the rate at which new facts are created, and even how facts spread.

Arbesman takes us through a wide variety of fields, including those that change quickly, over the course of a few years, or over the span of centuries. He shows that much of what we know consists of “mesofacts”—facts that change at a middle timescale, often over a single human lifetime. Throughout, he offers intriguing examples about the face of knowledge: what English majors can learn from a statistical analysis of The Canterbury Tales, why it’s so hard to measure a mountain, and why so many parents still tell kids to eat their spinach because it’s rich in iron.The Half-life of Facts is a riveting journey into the counterintuitive fabric of knowledge. It can help us find new ways to measure the world while accepting the limits of how much we can know with certainty.

 

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  • Jan R.

    For those interested, the 12/4/12 episode of the Point of Inquiry podcast has an interesting interview with Samuel Arbesman.

    December 12, 2012

  • Dave R.

    That dinosaur that was called brontosaurus had earlier been discovered and named apatosaurus. Basically the name "brontosaurus" was redundant and discarded once the error was identified.

    November 14, 2012

  • Kent M.

    Dave - what a coup! Absolutely, I'm down for rescheduling as needed to accommodate the author's schedule.

    October 29, 2012

  • Dave R.

    There is a possibility of having a video chat with the author of the book. I haven't inked it yet and would like to ask everyone if they have some flexibility in the scheduling of the meeting so as to make the video chat more likely. If it were necessary to change the date and/or time in order to have the video chat would everyone be agreeable with that? Thanks!

    October 29, 2012

  • Dave R.

    I had changed the book club to the second Monday of the month because having something both the first Sunday (discussion breakfast) and first Monday was a bit much. The event notice literally just went out a few minutes ago. I hesitate to change the details so quickly as doing so causes confusion. If nobody has any issues with changing the date, I'm OK with doing it for this event.

    October 9, 2012

  • Jan R.

    Oh darn, we are out of town this night. Can it be changed to Nov 5th? Just asking.....

    October 9, 2012

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