Late last week a useful memo came down from the powers that be here at The Institute that I thought might prove informative regarding the inner workings of a powerful think tank, which The Institute most certainly is, in spades.
To: Personnel engaged in primarily predictive and related prognosticatory research
From: The PTB
Date: September 30, 2016
We wish, as always, to express our appreciation for the excellent, ongoing work that continues to move The Institute steadily forward, at roughly the cutting edge of science, or at least at the cutting edge of rough science. Accordingly, we take this opportunity to remind everyone of the basic tenets that have guided our various predictive activities in the past:
(1) Future events and event trajectories, notwithstanding our best efforts, continue to display an aggravating uncertainty, and it is remarkable just how easily this fact avoids taking up residence in our conscious minds.
(2) The future occupies a fairly large, and apparently non-diminishing, portion of the temporal spectrum.
(3) Given the above, it is incumbent upon us all to keep in mind the following:
(a) Phrasing article titles with undue certainty, given the actual knowledge of system behavior, while understandable from a science culture perspective, may be counter-productive in a larger context. Fortunately, many non-scientists tend to seize upon such titles and, lacking proper restraint, make them even worse, often proclaiming future event x to be a virtual certainty. Without the ability to re-direct attention to these exaggerations, often originating from the press and various activist groups, undue attention to our own excesses, for which we have no readily available excuse, could become noticeably more uncomfortable. This possibility is not in the best interest of either science or The Institute.
(b) Science doesn’t actually “prove” anything, proof being a rather archaic and overly harsh concept–a “bar too high” if you like. Rather, science is in the business of “suggesting” that certain things “may” happen somewhere “down the road”. Science, when you boil it right down to nails, is really nothing but a massive pile of suggestions of what might happen. The pile is the thing really and our goal is to contribute to it. Popper is entitled to his opinion but frankly, The Institute is not so arrogant as to assume the right of making judgments on this, that or the other members of said scientific pile.
(c) It is hoped that the relation of points (a) and (b) above do not require elaboration.
This is an excellent reminder and I have, personally, tacked this memo to the wall in front of my workstation, with intent to glance at it every now and then before tacking something else over top of it.