"System change is now inevitable. Either because we do something about it, or because we will be hit by climate change. '...

"We need to develop economic models that are fit for purpose. The current economic frameworks, the ones that dominate our governments, these frameworks... the current economic frameworks, the neoclassical, the market frameworks, can deal with small changes. It can tell you the difference, if a sock company puts up the price of socks, what the demand for socks will be. It cannot tell you about the sorts of system level changes we are talking about here. We would not use an understanding of laminar flow in fluid dynamics to understand turbulent flow. So why is it we are using marginal economics, small incremental change economics, to understand system level changes?"

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Words I'm Giving Up for the New Year


I'm going to say a word. You tell me the first thing that comes to mind. Ready?


What's that mean, "model"?

Did you hear the one about the software engineer, the climatologist, the psychologist, the statistician and the fashion photographer?

I am swearing off that word. It's got so many meanings. Any sentence with the word 'model' in it is likely to get you into trouble.

I'm giving the words "uncertainty" and "feedback" a very dubious eye as well. I am currently inclined to think they are also not usable in mixed company, but I'm not sure I can manage to go cold turkey on those. No, you shouldn't be too hard on yourself at New Year's.

Oh, and "error bars". What's up with that?

I never want to see those error bounds things again without a clear description of what you mean by it. "This is the manufacturer's spec on the measurement instrument" would be fine, but it's been a long time since I've seen one of those.

Does your error bar mean "that's how confused I think I am"?

I mean, seriously... Are you 100% sure that you're 75% sure of that? Rilly? What is that, an "imprimatur"? Do you guys get them from your spiritual leader or what? Because, you know, we don't get those.

Seriously, if I had some error bars I'd be slapping em on everything in sight; if you know how to detect a sure thing don't you think you should be out there making the most of it?

If science worked better, there would be a definition of the word "model" like that of the word "energy" which means something very specific in formal conversation, but there isn't such a definition. The word is a complete mess of vaguely associated concepts. I'm serious that dropping the word "model" from my vocabulary has greatly clarified my writing.

To climatologists looking askance at me here, the word you are probably casting about for is 'simulation'.


John Fleck said...

Michael -

The 8 November Nature had a review of a book that might interest you in this regard. The book's entitled "Science Without Laws", Duke University Press, edited by Angela Creager. The review made it sound like a fruitful exploration of the various ways "models" (loosely defined) are used in a variety of scientific settings.

EliRabett said...

Not simulation, because models can exist prior to the data and independent of data.