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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The strange phenomenon of the cult of facts: three case studies

By Masimo Pigliucci
Scientia Salon
Originally published March 30, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Moreover, as a fellow Bayesian, Silver ought to know that his own analogy is ironically flawed: in Bayesian analysis you always begin with priors, and the whole point is to revise those priors as new data comes in. That is, embedded in the very fabric of the Bayesian approach [4] is that you start with beliefs, you add data (collected on the basis of your beliefs!), and end up with (likely modified) beliefs. You just can’t take the belief components out of the analysis, it’s integral to it, and it’s both affected by the data one gathers and determines which bits of information “out there” actually get to count as data.

As Wieseltier astutely observes, “Silver wishes to impugn not only the quality of opinion journalism, he wishes to impugn also its legitimacy. The new technology, which produces numbers the way plants produce oxygen, has inspired a new positivism, and he is one of its princes. He dignifies only facts … He does not recognize the calling of, or grasp the need for, public reason.”

The entire story is here.
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