The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date

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Overview


New insights from the science of science
 
Facts change all the time. Smoking has gone from doctor recommended to deadly. We used to think the Earth was the center of the universe and that the brontosaurus was a real dinosaur. In short, what we know about the world is constantly changing.
 
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The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date

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Overview


New insights from the science of science
 
Facts change all the time. Smoking has gone from doctor recommended to deadly. We used to think the Earth was the center of the universe and that the brontosaurus was a real dinosaur. In short, what we know about the world is constantly changing.
 
Samuel Arbesman shows us how knowledge in most fields evolves systematically and predictably, and how this evolution unfolds in a fascinating way that can have a powerful impact on our lives.
 
He takes us through a wide variety of fields, including those that change quickly, over the course of a few years, or over the span of centuries.
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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Absorbing and approachable treatise on the nature of facts: what they are, how and why they change and how they sometimes don't (despite being wrong). Facts matter. But when they change--as they seem today to do with alarming frequency, we begin to lose that control. In his debut, Arbesman, a research fellow at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard, advises us not to worry: While we can't stop facts from changing, we can recognize that what we know "changes in understandable and systematic ways." Since it is often surprisingly predictable, we can get a handle on change. "Facts, in the aggregate," he writes, "have half-lives: We can measure the amount of time for half of a subject's knowledge to be overturned." With this, he introduces "scientometrics," the science of science. With scientometrics, we can measure the exponential growth of facts, how long it will take, exponentially, for knowledge in any field to be disproved--say, 45 years for medical knowledge. We can understand predictably how the spread of knowledge (even incorrect knowledge) occurs, and we can understand that those abrupt disconcerting changes that seem to stand the world on its head aren't really all that surprising. Some readers may lose interest as Arbesman discusses such esoteric topics as logistic curves, linked S-curve theory, semantic and associative data processing and actuarial escape velocity. But like a good college professor, Arbesman's enthusiasm and humor maintains our interest in subjects many readers may not have encountered before. Does what popular science should do--both engages and entertains.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591846512
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 8/27/2013
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 631,793
  • Product dimensions: 5.56 (w) x 8.45 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Meet the Author


Samuel Arbesman is an applied mathematician and network scientist. He is a Senior Scholar at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and a fellow at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic, Wired, New Scientist and the Boston Globe. He lives in Kansas City.
 
Visit www.arbesman.net
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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 The Half-life of Facts 1

Chapter 2 The Pace of Discovery 9

Chapter 3 The Asymptote of Truth 26

Chapter 4 Moore's Law of Everything 40

Chapter 5 The Spread of Facts 66

Chapter 6 Hidden Knowledge 96

Chapter 7 Fact Phase Transitions 121

Chapter 8 Mount Everest and the Discovery of Error 140

Chapter 9 The Human Side of Facts 171

Chapter 10 At the Edge of What We Know 200

Acknowledgments 211

Notes 215

Index 235

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2012

    Good for non-science readers

    This book had about enough information for ten or fifteen pages, with the rest examples and filler. I would highly recommend this to someone who reads very few science books as a good meta-introduction to the field, but I think the content is highly intuitive to people who have experience with popular science literature or science work in general.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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