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The Half-life of Facts

The Half-Life of Facts

 

I enjoyed this book and I believe it provides an important insight. It fits well with Thinking, fast and slow (Kahneman) The  author starts with a deliberately fuzzy/loose pragmatic definition of  “fact” and proceeds to explore the quantitative aspects of evolution (or temporal characteristics) of knowledge and information. He uses mathematical and statistical tools to explore patterns, suggesting common or universal mechanisms. In addition, the pitfalls and biases of  dissemination of knowledge, the persistence of misinformation and the inertia for “changing our minds, when the facts change” are also explored.

I learned a lot from this book. However, I found the repetition of the statement  underlying regularity not an argument.  I felt that the underlying potential mechanisms that lead to these regularities were tantalizingly suggested but not explored. The patterns, which I agree we do not usually consider for information/knowledge, are important but I would have liked more discussion of types of growth,  graph theory (metrics and their uses), self-organized criticality,  data mining etc. These are all discussed and I accept that a taste of the  “unreasonable effectiveness of Mathematics” in explaining the world rather than a Mathematical book per se. This is a minor point. It reflects more my expectations than anything else.  I would have liked more plots demonstrating the relationships of interest but the tables and plots did merge well with the text.

Finally, I enjoyed the cover design of the dust jacket with “FACTS” created by particles  with the particles  disassembling and strewn on the rest of the jacket, much as sand being blown by the “winds of change”, suggesting the fragile nature of  facts.   This was on the  background of grid lines reminiscent of graph pads from school days: a reference to Mathematics facility for understanding these changes.

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