Sunday, March 21, 2010

Does Science hold all the answers?

One of the essential features of scientific method is "repeatability" - which means that a scientist can repeat an experiment and get the same result. This result is called 'scientific knowledge', said to be the most reliable form of knowledge. But soil carbon seems to exclude itself from "scientific' status because it can't be repeated. It won't stay still. Dr Chan et al., in "A Farmer's Guide..." reported that soil organic carbon levels in a 40m x 40m area varied between 2.72% and 1.44%. A total of 20 soil samples were taken to 5cm deep*. This phenomenon is called "Spatial Variation" and it means trouble for pure science. The researchers say this 'large field variability tends to mask any small real difference in SOC due to management practice...' They go on to say this mask could be the reason why they couldn't detect differences between management techniques.

Could it be that it is time to call in the actuaries? We have a dataset. Actuaries can see patterns in data others can't.
Could it be time to call in the market economists, the innovators and inventors?

It is natural for scientists to believe that highest possible degrees of accuracy in measurement are needed for trading. Indeed, to believe trade could not take place without it. In fact, the opposite is the case. We are faced with finding an acceptable way to "generalise" the data.

* Chan, YN, Oates, A., Lui, DL., Li, GD., Prangnell, R., Poile, G., and Conyers, MK. (2010). "A farmer's guide to increasing soil organic carbon under pastures", NSW Industry & Investment, Wagga Wagga, NSW

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