Friday, December 29, 2017

The limits of expertise


Great article from Farnam Street":
The Generalized Specialist: How Shakespeare, Da Vinci, and Kepler Excelled

Understanding and staying within their circle of competence is even more important for specialists. A specialist who is outside of their circle of competence and doesn’t know it is incredibly dangerous.

Philip Tetlock performed an 18-year study to look at the quality of expert predictions. Could people who are considered specialists in a particular area forecast the future with greater accuracy than a generalist? Tetlock tracked 284 experts from a range of disciplines, recording the outcomes of 28,000 predictions.

The results were stark: predictions coming from generalist thinkers were more accurate. Experts who stuck to their specialized areas and ignored interdisciplinary knowledge faired worse. The specialists tended to be more confident in their erroneous predictions than the generalists. The specialists made definite assertions — which we know from probability theory to be a bad idea. It seems that generalists have an edge when it comes to Bayesian updating, recognizing probability distributions, and long-termism.
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As Tetlock’s research shows, for us to understand how the world works, it’s not enough to home in on one tiny area for decades. We need to pull ideas from everywhere, remaining open to having our minds changed, always looking for disconfirming evidence. Joseph Tussman put it this way: “If we do not let the world teach us, it teaches us a lesson.”

Related:

Half-blind experts and the straw men they create

The Hive mind revisited

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas



And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.


Luke 2:8-14

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Victorians at their best


Mark Pattison's name calls to mind a whole lost world of Victorian learning. Its locale ranged widely in character and location: from the great domed reading rooms of the British Museum, lined with its hundreds of calf-bound books, to James Murray's Scriptorium. lined with its thousands of paper slips bearing quotations. But its inhabitants were more uniform: the bald, bearded, energetic men of letters who founded literary societies, created workingmen's colleges, taught young women to row, edited arcane texts, and wrote essays for the common reader more learned than most of what appears in modern scholarly journals. We still batten upon the rich fruits of their industry: The New English Dictionary, the Dictionary of National Biography, and the eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Anthony Grafton, World Made of Words

Related:

We’d be better off if we were a little more Victorian




Saturday, December 16, 2017

The state of the war colleges


This episode of midrats looks at the current state of our various war colleges. Well worth a listen.
Episode 411: Making a Better War College 11/19 by Midrats | Military Podcasts:
What is the best way to hone the intellectual edge of the officers who will lead our Navy? How do we gather our best minds and ideas together to best prepare our Navy for the next war? How is our constellation of war colleges structured, how did it get to where it is today, and how do we modernize it to meet todays challenges? We've put together a small panel for today's show to address this and related issues.

Dr. James Holmes makes an interesting point about strategy: "Strategy is about forming good habits." Critically, in this he includes both "habits of mind" AND "habits of action." Clausewitz would probably agree. Business professor Michael Porter might not.

Waiting for our Clausewitz

Related:

Educating military leaders


“Wargaming in the Classroom”