We must learn to love uncertainty and failure, say leading thinkers

24. January 2011

   Date: 15-01-2011
 Source: The Guardian

Planet’s biggest brains answer this year’s Edge question: ‘What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?’

Edge of reason: Doubt and uncertainty are essential elements of the scientific process. Photograph: Getty Images

Being comfortable with uncertainty, knowing the limits of what science can tell us, and understanding the worth of failure are all valuable tools that would improve people’s lives, according to some of the world’s leading thinkers.

The ideas were submitted as part of an annual exercise by the web magazine Edge, which invites scientists, philosophers and artists to opine on a major question of the moment. This year it was, “What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?”

The magazine called for “shorthand abstractions” – a way of encapsulating an idea or scientific concept into a short description that could be used as a component of bigger questions. The responses were published online today.

Many responses pointed out that the public often misunderstands the scientific process and the nature of scientific doubt. This can fuel public rows over the significance of disagreements between scientists about controversial issues such as climate change and vaccine safety.

Carlo Rovelli, a physicist at the University of Aix-Marseille, emphasised the uselessness of certainty. He said that the idea of something being “scientifically proven” was practically an oxymoron and that the very foundation of science is to keep the door open to doubt.

“A good scientist is never ‘certain’. Read the rest of this entry »

The tussle for talent

8. January 2011

  Date: 07-01-2011
 Source: The Economist: Schumpeter

PLATO believed that men are divided into three classes: gold, silver and bronze. Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, argued that “the vital few” account for most progress. Such sentiments are taboo today in public life. Politicians talk of a “leadership class” or “the vital few” at their peril. Schools abhor picking winners. Universities welcome the masses: more people now teach at British ones than attended them in the 1950s.

In the private sector things could hardly be more different. The world’s best companies struggle relentlessly to find and keep the vital few. They offer them fat pay packets, extra training, powerful mentors and more challenging assignments. If anything, businesses are becoming more obsessed with ability. Read the rest of this entry »

10 Websites to watch in 2011

6. January 2011

There are more than a trillion URLs in Google’s index. Yes, that’s a one with twelve zeros after it. And Google crossed that milestone two and a half years ago. With so many sites on the web in 2011, how do you know which to pay attention to?

Mashable’s(Mashable) editors haven’t quite visited a trillion pages, but we’ve checked out a lot in the past year, and we’ve compiled a list of 10 websites we think are poised to have big years in 2011. Some of these are relatively new sites we think will catch the mainstream’s attention next year and others are older sites that we think will finally hit the big time in 2011.