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Thread: there was a pretty impressive backlash against today's long read in the guardian about the idea that by studying large, long term trends in human history one may identify patterns in human societies. Patterns that may hold for the future. 1/…
I'm highly enthusiastic about this idea (and especially the formal modelling element). In particular, I see it as a counterbalance against history as "one damn thing after another". I thought it may be interesting to debate some of the criticisms I saw today and in the past.
"The data is just not good enough". Sure its highly fragmented and biased in many ways. I'm not buying this one unless someone formally demonstrates it. Even with just one thermometer taking measurements once a week for a year you could show the existence of seasons in Europe.
Obviously, research questions need to be adjusted to the granularity of data and if new or better data comes along and changes the patterns then hey! C'est la vie. We will need to change what is the most plausible model given the new evidence. No hard feelings. 4/
But can anyone tell me what is the alternative? Waiting for "enough" data to show up? How are we going to know what's enough if we don't do this kind of work first. 5/
"You cannot talk about big complex societal changes with such flimsy evidence as a few pots." it's funny how we do it all the time in prehistory where the data is most scarce and nobody complains (maybe a bit). Human evolution, the origins of agriculture, first cities... 6/
"The data used is just a colonial, eurocentric, male biased and generally one sided." Sure, and I think we can all agree that the eurocentric views should be beaten out of existence out of every single one of us (me included). There's still quite a way to go. 7/
Without a doubt a lot of consideration should be given to ensuring we're comparing likes to likes across cultures. And what is being compared is important. But are we really to give up comparing different human groups all together? Ever? 8/
When one reads any "watch out it looked like this before and then bad things happened" it's almost always with an European example. Most of the time of the period prior to one of the world wars. Surely looking at many different societies across the globe is a better idea. 9/
"There is a mistake in Seshat, the whole thing is rubbish." the data is open access, correct what needs correcting and carry on. If you disagree with how things were interpreted you can do it yourself and see whether the result will change. 10/
If the reported results of an analysis are sensitive to one data point and it proves contentious then fair game, they need to change. However, usually the pattern needs to be visible from the moon to be reported so a few data points are unlikely to make a difference.
"Peter Turchin made a mistake, that proves it! you cannot model human history." I mean, seriously... If Greta Thunberg goes on holiday in a private jet we cancel this whole climate change thing? 12/
"This will never work." Fair enough you don't think it's the right approach. There were many approaches people were doubtful about. Some of them worked, some of them didn't. The safe course of action is "let's wait and see". 13/
"You cannot predict the future." Well, you kind of can. Look at me: in exactly 8 months the temperature will be hotter than today's. Bang. Sure, I cannot say what temperatur it will be in 8 months but it is possible to provide likely ranges. 14/
"The idea that societies go through cycles is preposterous." Maybe, I haven't seen the data so I don't know. But even if they don't, it's just one possible model. If it's wrong it doesn't mean we cannot study global trends in human societies. 15/
"You cannot model humans, they are inherently too complex and messy" This one makes my blood boil. You definitely can and different disciplines do it all the time. I could do a whole threat just about this pompous self centered belief. We're not that special. 16/
"History teaches us only that people never learn anything from history." This without a doubt is the view taken by funding bodies. Perhaps we could focus our anger on those who believe our work is not very useful instead of bashing each other? 17/
Just to round off, I'll leave here a highly inspiring post by Andre Costopulous about complexity science and what it can teach us. /fin…
And just to say sorry for making this so long and thanks to those who made it this far. As its usually the case the onion nailed it first:…
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