Sunday, July 24, 2011

Kiss My Grits

If you get the reference, you're seasoned and old enough to skip this post (one hopes). This is for all you angsty youngsters out there.

I have a small tip that perhaps no one in your life has told you. How do I know that there are some of you who haven't heard of this? Because of all of the older, more experienced people in the world who seem not to know it. Clearly, some of them reproduced. So, if you're the offspring of such people, it's good you found me when you did!

The other day I wrote about sexism in science, and I was none too kind about the article which sought to bring to our attention this travesty.  Apparently, I'm not the only person who can call bullshit on certain eggheaded journalists online writer people.  Well, it would appear that Omelet is less than transparent in her publications.  And less than an honest broker.

Buffy points out that without certitude things don't appear in his/her blog.  Fair enough. I'm less exacting not because I care less about what's true; rather, it's because of the things about which I commonly write:  my opinion on what I've seen/read/heard/noticed/imagined/hallucinated/whatever.  Now, this doesn't provide me with immunity against being outrageously wrong or anything. It's just that with respect to certain issues I address here there doesn't exist a right answer. Or an obviously right one.

But what I don't do is represent my opinion in such matters as an assertion of fact.  Because that imposes a high standard of knowledge and fastidious detail work. I'm unafraid of it, but it's not strictly always something I care to be involved with on my blog.  But to the extent that I'm mentioning something as a fact, I have a burden to take care that I'm right on the money.

But I get things wrong from time to time. I don't have a reviewer who checks over my work to make sure each hyperlink is correct, that the dates and times are correct. Being an imperfect person, I will undoubtedly screw the pooch and misstate something that is false as being true.  It happens, and I hate that it does.  But it does and will happen.

You can trawl through my blogs and see some examples of things I've had to go back and correct. Do you know how to spot them?  You look for the big fucking red or pink edit tag at the top of the page and then follow that to the relevant, color coded area of the blog.

Red means I'm correcting an error. I leave the original error in, but do this to it so that you'll know it's the jacked up wrong stuff and then I put the correct stuff beside it. And then at the bottom will be a full explanation as to what was wrong about it, why I screwed up, how I could have avoided the mistake, and what I should to do make sure that I don't replicate a similar error in the future.

Pink means that I'm adding information that wasn't available at the time I wrote the blog. Like, say I write an article and then someone responds to it, I'll edit in a link to them - with notice.  Or if it's an ongoing story, I try to back through and link from that post to its most related other post and other things along the lines. With notification.

Why notification?  So that you'll know at a glance what it originally looked like - errors and all. And then see what the status is now.  It's called integrity. Don't ninja edit your shit. That's deceptive. It's dishonest. It sent Martha Stewart to jail (well, ok, it didn't, but that's the story anyway).

Being wrong isn't a sin. Being ignorant isn't a sin. Being free from error isn't a human property.  It's not freewheeling permission to just make shit up, but everyone understands that at some point, you're going to be wrong.
I happen to be wrong quite a lot. All mathematicians and scientists are wrong. All the time. Like daily. Like a whole lot. Why? Well, most of the universe is opaque to us, so we have to make a lot of guesses about the unknown based on what we do know.  Hopefully, our guesses and intuitions will be informed and be in the neighborhood of right.  Sometimes this even happens. There really aren't many Eureka moments. Most of it's a laborious trial and error, retrial and error process.  The trick is to make new mistakes all the time instead of the same one over and again.

The biggest thing is to be an honest broker about it.  You don't get to go back and edit your life. Own your mistakes. Make them known. Help others not to make them by pointing out how they come up.

Feynman explains the process quite nicely:

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