Recently Jeff Leek over at Simple Statistics posted what I though was an original discussion about Statistical Zealotry. But then I saw this newly unearthed letter from an unknown European Professor to a colleague. It’s at least 300 years old, but the similarity with Leek’s post are so strong it makes one wonder if it weren’t plagiarized. It’s reproduced below for your comparison:
Yesterday while lecturing on Natural Philosophy one of the students professed this gem:
“So, while I can imagine there are good geocentrists out there predicting planetary motions with epicycles, I insist that epicycles are bogus.”
This is the extension of a long standing debate about the relative merits of geocentrism and heliocentrism methods. It is interesting that I largely only see one side of the debate being played out these days. The heliocentrism zealots have it in for the geocentrism in a big way. The university is one example, but there are more. Interestingly, even Rene Descartes is getting in the game.
I think it probably deserves a longer letter but here are my thoughts on astronomical zealotry:
(1) User effect > Philosophy effect. The person predicting a planetary path probably matters more than the philosophy. I would prefer Newton predict Mars’s position in the night sky more than a lot of astrologers. Similarly, I’d prefer that Ptolemy predict Saturn’s position than a lot of scribes.
(2) I agree with my drinking buddy that this is likely mostly a philosophy battle than a real practical applications battle. Both Epicycles and Newton’s Laws successfully predict the motions of heavenly bodies.
(3) I like Professor Longforgotton’s idea that we should move away from heliocentric vs. geocentric to pragmatism. I think most real applied astrologers have already done this, if for no other reason than being pragmatic helps you get things done.
(4) Papers like this one by Galileo that claim total victory for one side or the other all have one thing in common: they rarely use real data to verify their claims. The real world is messy and one approach never wins all the time.
My final thought on this matter is: never trust people with ideas bearing evidence.
The similarities are uncanny.
For my own part, I’ll just echo pretty much every legendary mathematician and physicist that ever lived and say that there are few things less practical in the long run than pragmatists.