Mini review: The Half-Life of Facts (Audiobook)

This is an excellent book, looking at facts – how long they are relevant for and how they spread – and in particular the importance of …

• technology

• population (both growth and its skills)

• social networks

• the combining of existing knowledge in new ways

• the benefits that come from cities

• the importance of measurement

• human biases

It discusses scientometrics – the science of measuring and analysing science.  This was new to me.

It features the clearest explanations that I have so far heard of Moore’s Law, exponential growth and logistic curves (these tie in with very long term technological growth.)

Maybe it is a side effect of reading the audiobook version, but I wonder if the printed book provides the evidence behind the assertions that facts in particular areas of study follow certain mathematical rules.  I believe the author but I’d like to see that evidence.

There are a number of “light bulb” moments along the way.

It covers some of the same ground as What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly, but in a much more straight-forward way.  Definitely read this book first.

On a personal note, it is reassuring for me to hear some of the stories around hidden knowledge.  One of the possibilities now is the ability to provide large amounts of data to a computer program and it will autonomously try to find connections.  These connections could lead to theories and new facts.  There are companies now doing this.  This is an area that I am very interested in – it has led to me studying courses at the Open University, including (and especially) my current one: Analysing Data.  It confirms some of the ideas that featured in a Wired article that originally sparked my interest:  The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete.  Also try this: Automated science, deep data and the paradox of information.

A comment on the reading of the book as this is the audiobook version: this has one of the best (American) readers I have heard.  Measured, clear, very easy to listen to.  The only issue:  there are short periods where it sounds like there is another reader, just for a sentence or two.  It sounds like the producers have gone back and touched up the recording (badly). Hardly a big deal, but noticeable.

Finally: who knew that a Brontosaurus doesn’t exist?


• Wired: Paradox of Hoaxes: How Errors Persist, Even When Corrected

• Better Thinking: The Spinach, Popeye, Iron, Decimal Error Myth is Finally Busted


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