The memo from above

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.

4 thoughts on “The memo from above

  1. Yes – tacking on top. Have a very similar habit myself (putting up important/interesting things by the ol’ workstation… and also please note that important isn’t always interesting… interesting not always important, but I digress).

    The metric I use for just how interesting (or important, if you must) is how long a period transpires before something else gets tacked over it. While in grad school and taking a plant pathology class I had Koch’s Postulates hanging by the desk lamp for months. It was superseded by a list my advisor gave me of the ten dumbest comments made in a rough draft of my thesis (not so interesting, but definitely important).

    But I should get back to the meat of the piece… the content of the PTB memo above does seem to possess certain stylistic flourishes that while very professional, insightful, and wholly correct from my vantage point, sound as though they might have been penned by someone we know. And Patrick Henry is not who I’m going with this time.

    • You only had ten dumb comments in your thesis? My advisor said he “appreciated my efforts” but that I owed him $7.49 for a new pack of red pens and bottle of Advil, and that the Department had new paper recycling containers.

      BTW, yet another instance of WP holding a comment in the queue instead of posting it automatically as it’s supposed to. I’ve asked for my money back.

    • My thesis?? Had far more than ten dumb comments… but the man was kind enough to pull out the ten worst (a top ten list if you will). All the other mistakes, errors, lame sentences, and mishmash were pointed out on the manuscript copy. Grad school was such a good time. To this day I can’t fathom why there aren’t long lines of folk applying to get into graduate degree programs so they too can get in on the fun. And it might help with the general understanding of what science is and is NOT… but we should invest in red ink before the hordes descend đŸ™‚

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