Kevin Simler’s “Going Critical”

Link post

An in­ter­ac­tive blog­post by Kevin Sim­ler on net­work dy­nam­ics, with a fi­nal sec­tion on academia and in­tel­lec­tual progress. I gen­er­ally think care­ful ex­plo­ra­tion of small-scale simu­la­tions like this can help quite well with un­der­stand­ing difficult top­ics, and this post seems like a quite good ex­e­cu­tion of that ap­proach.

Also some in­ter­est­ing com­ments on in­tel­lec­tual progress and academia (though I recom­mend read­ing the whole post):


For years I’ve been fairly dis­mis­sive of academia. A short stint as a PhD stu­dent left a bad taste in my mouth. But now, when I step back and think about it (and ab­stract away all my per­sonal is­sues), I have to con­clude that academia is still ex­tremely­im­por­tant.
Aca­demic so­cial net­works (e.g., sci­en­tific re­search com­mu­ni­ties) are some of the most re­fined and valuable struc­tures our civ­i­liza­tion has pro­duced. Nowhere have we amassed a greater con­cen­tra­tion of spe­cial­ists fo­cused full-time on knowl­edge pro­duc­tion. Nowhere have peo­ple de­vel­oped a greater abil­ity to un­der­stand and cri­tique each other’s ideas. This is the beat­ing heart of progress. It’s in these net­works that the fire of the En­light­en­ment burns hottest.
But we can’t take progress for granted. If the re­pro­ducibil­ity crisis has taught us any­thing, it’s that sci­ence can have sys­temic prob­lems. And one way to look at those prob­lems is net­work degra­da­tion.
Sup­pose we dis­t­in­guish two ways of prac­tic­ing sci­ence: Real Science vs. ca­reerist sci­ence. Real Science is what­ever habits and prac­tices re­li­ably pro­duce knowl­edge. It’s mo­ti­vated by cu­ri­os­ity and char­ac­ter­ized by hon­esty. (Feyn­man: “I just have to un­der­stand the world, you see.”) Ca­reerist sci­ence, in con­trast, is mo­ti­vated by pro­fes­sional am­bi­tion, and char­ac­ter­ized by play­ing poli­tics and tak­ing sci­en­tific short­cuts. It may look and act like sci­ence, but it doesn’t pro­duce re­li­able knowl­edge.
(Yes this is an ex­ag­ger­ated di­chotomy. It’s a thought ex­er­cise. Bear with me.)
Point is, when ca­reerists take up space in a Real Science re­search com­mu­nity, they gum up the works. They an­gle to pro­mote them­selves while the rest of the com­mu­nity is try­ing to learn and share what’s true. In­stead of striv­ing for clar­ity, they com­pli­cate and obfus­cate in or­der to sound more im­pres­sive. They en­gage in (what Harry Frank­furt might call) sci­en­tific bul­lshit. And con­se­quently, we might model them as dead nodes, im­mune to the good-faith in­for­ma­tion ex­changes nec­es­sary for the growth of knowl­edge: