Risks pay off -sometimes. – [VIDEO]

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Peter Diamandis on risks and innovation:

Peter Diamandis:

ACCEPTING RISK:

Finally I’d like to address the issue of risk. In contrast to individuals who speak about reducing exposure to risk, I want to speak in favor of accepting more risk.

There is no question that there is risk involved in winning the X PRIZE, as well as risk in going to the moon or Mars or opening any portion of the space frontier. BUT, this is a risk worth taking!

As American many of us forget the debt we owe to early explorers. Tens-of- thousands of people risked their lives to open the ‘-new world’- or the American west. Thousands lost their lives and we are here today as a result of their courage.

Space is a frontier and frontiers are risky! As explorers and as Americans, we must have the right to take risks that we believe are worthwhile and significant. We owe it to ourselves and future generations. In a time when people are risking their lives in motor sports or bungee jumping, it seems a bit shallow to be concerned about the risk involved exploring space.

It is also critical that we take risk in our technology development and that we allow for failure. Without risk and without room for failure we can not have the very breakthroughs we so desperately need.

A breakthrough, by definition, is something that was considered a “-crazy idea”- the day before it became a breakthrough. If it wasn’t considered a crazy idea, then it really isn’t a breakthrough, is it? It would have simply been an incremental improvement.

Remember those immortal words, “-Failure is not an option?”- If we live and work in an environment where we cannot fail, than breakthroughs may not be an option either.

I urge both this Committee and NASA to take steps which will help the American people understand that space exploration is intrinsically risky, yet a risk worth taking. Let’-s make space explorers heroes once again.

The scientific consensus and the scientific minority

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Andrew Gelman’-s post (How do I form my attitudes about scientific questions?) got me attracted to this Wikipedia page:

In a standard application of the psychological principle of confirmation bias, scientific research which supports the existing scientific consensus is usually more favorably received than research which contradicts the existing consensus. In some cases, those who question the current paradigm are at times heavily criticized for their assessments. Research which questions a well supported scientific theory is usually more closely scrutinized in order to assess whether it is well researched and carefully documented. This caution and careful scrutiny is used to ensure that science is protected from a premature divergence away from ideas supported by extensive research and toward new ideas which have yet to stand the testing by extensive research. However, this often results in conflict between the supporters of new ideas and supporters of more dominant ideas, both in cases where the new idea is later accepted and in cases where it is later abandoned.

Thomas Kuhn in his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions discussed this problem in detail. Several examples of new concepts gaining acceptance when supported by accumulating evidence are present in the relatively recent history of science. For example:

* the theory of continental drift proposed by Alfred Wegener and supported by Alexander Du Toit and Arthur Holmes but soundly rejected by most geologists until indisputable evidence and an acceptable mechanism was presented after 50 years of rejection.
* the theory of symbiogenesis presented by Lynn Margulis and initially rejected by biologists but now generally accepted.
* the theory of punctuated equilibria proposed by Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge which is still debated but becoming more accepted in evolutionary theory.
* the theory of prions -proteinaceous infectious particles causing transmissible spongiform encephalopathy diseases- proposed by Stanley B. Prusiner and at first rejected because pathogenicity was believed to depend on nucleic acids now widely accepted due to accumulating evidence.
* the theory of Helicobacter pylori as the cause of stomach ulcers. This theory was first postulated in 1982 by Barry Marshall and Robin Warren however it was widely rejected by the medical community believing that no bacterium could survive for long in the acidic environment of the stomach. Marshall demonstrated his findings by drinking a brew of the bacteria and consequently developing ulcers, subsequently curing himself with antibiotic medication. In 2005, Warren and Marshall were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work on H. pylori.

For every new idea that has gained acceptance, there are far more examples of new ideas that were shown to be wrong. Two of the classics are N rays and polywater. However, most new ideas that have gained consesus were shown to be correct. This is because new ideas are typically being put forth by an individual and acceptance involves a great many individuals verifiying and/or duplicating scientific results.

In my view, climate science (which promoted global warming due to human production of CO2) is too young for us to trust the scientific consensus.

Previously: Climate Stats = Sausage Making

Robin Hanson: My best idea was prediction markets.

Robin Hanson‘s auto-biography (i.e., how Our Master Of All Universes views HimSelf):

robin-hanson-drink

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Robin Hanson:

Do you find it hard to summarize yourself in a few words? Me too.

But I love the above quote. I have a passion, a sacred quest, to understand everything, and to save the world. I am addicted to “viewquakes”, insights which dramatically change my world view. I loved science fiction as a child, and have studied physics, philosophy, artificial intelligence, economics, and political science — all fields full of such insights. Unfortunately, this also tempted me to leave subjects after mastering their major insights.

I also have a rather critical style. I beat hard on new ideas, seek out critics, and then pledge my allegiance only to those still left standing. In conversation, I prefer to identify a claim at issue, and then focus on analyzing it, rather than the usual quick tours past hundreds of issues. I have always asked questions, even when I was very young.

I have little patience with those whose thinking is sloppy, small, or devoid of abstraction. And I’m not a joiner; I rebel against groups with “our beliefs”, especially when members must keep criticisms private, so as not to give ammunition to “them.”  I love to argue one on one, and common beliefs are not important for friendship — instead I value honesty and passion.

In ‘77 I began college (UCI) in engineering, but switched to physics to really understand the equations.  Two years in, when physics repeated the same concepts with more math,  I studied physics on my own, skipping the homework but acing the exams.  To dig deeper, I did philosophy of science grad school (U Chicago), switched back to physics, and was then seduced to Silicon Valley.

By day I did artificial intelligence (Lockheed, NASA), and by night I studied on my own (Stanford) and hung with Xanadu’s libertarian web pioneers and futurists.  I had a hobby of institution design; my best idea was idea futures, now know as prediction markets. Feeling stuck without contacts and credentials, I went for a Ph.D. in social science (Caltech).

The physicist in me respected only econ experiments at first, but I was soon persuaded econ theory was full of insight, and did a theory thesis, and a bit of futurism on the side.  I landed a health policy postdoc, where I was shocked to learn of medicine’s impotency.  I finally landed a tenure-track job (GMU), and also found the wide-ranging intellectual conversations I’d lacked since Xanadu.

My Policy Analysis Market project hit the press shit fan in ‘03, burying me in media attention for a while, and helping to kickstart the prediction market industry, which continues to grow and for which I continue to consult.  The press flap also tipped me over the tenure edge in ‘05; my colleagues liked my being denounced by Senators. :)   Tenure allowed me to maintain my diverse research agenda, and to start blogging at Overcoming Bias in November ‘06, about the same time I became a research associate at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute.

My more professional bio is here.

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Robin Hanson is an associate professor of economics at George Mason University, and a research associate at the Future of Humanity Institute of Oxford University. After receiving his Ph.D. in social science from the California Institute of Technology in 1997, Robin was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation health policy scholar at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1984, Robin received a masters in physics and a masters in the philosophy of science from the University of Chicago, and afterward spent nine years researching artificial intelligence, Bayesian statistics, and hypertext publishing at Lockheed, NASA, and independently.

Robin has over 70 publications, including articles in Applied Optics, Business Week, CATO Journal, Communications of the ACM, Economics Letters, Econometrica, Economics of Governance, Extropy, Forbes, Foundations of Physics, IEEE Intelligent Systems, Information Systems Frontiers, Innovations, International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Journal of Evolution and Technology, Journal of Law Economics and Policy, Journal of Political Philosophy, Journal of Prediction Markets, Journal of Public Economics, Medical Hypotheses, Proceedings of the Royal Society, Public Choice, Social Epistemology, Social Philosophy and Policy, Theory and Decision, and Wired.

Robin has pioneered prediction markets, also known as information markets or idea futures, since 1988. He was the first to write in detail about people creating and subsidizing markets in order to gain better estimates on those topics. Robin was a principal architect of the first internal corporate markets, at Xanadu in 1990, of the first web markets, the Foresight Exchange since 1994, and of DARPA’s Policy Analysis Market, from 2001 to 2003. Robin has developed new technologies for conditional, combinatorial, and intermediated trading, and has studied insider trading, manipulation, and other foul play. Robin has written and spoken widely on the application of idea futures to business and policy, being mentioned in over one hundred press articles on the subject, and advising many ventures, including Consensus Point, GuessNow, Newsfutures, Particle Financial, Prophet Street, Trilogy Advisors, XPree, YooNew, and undisclosable defense research projects.

Robin has diverse research interests, with papers on spatial product competition, health incentive contracts, group insurance, product bans, evolutionary psychology and bioethics of health care, voter information incentives, incentives to fake expertize, Bayesian classification, agreeing to disagree, self-deception in disagreement, probability elicitation, wiretaps, image reconstruction, the history of science prizes, reversible computation, the origin of life, the survival of humanity, very long term economic growth, growth given machine intelligence, and interstellar colonization.

Terrorism Futures

No GravatarJustin Wolfers:

It is the accuracy of market-generated forecasts that led the Department of Defense to propose running prediction markets on geopolitical events. While political rhetoric about “-terrorism futures”- led the plug to be pulled on that particular experiment…-

Justin Wolfers’- dual statement is quite true. Andrew Gelman’-s subsequent remarks do not fly in my book.