Are Experiments Possible?

By [redacted]

Abstract: Randomized controlled experiments are a cornerstone of many fields, especially when trying to establish a cause-effect relation. Conversely, the quality of evidence arising from natural experiments and observational data is often called into question, to the point that the motto no causation without manipulation was coined. This presupposes a distinction between the experimenter E and the system S being manipulated, which is lost if the system under consideration is extended to E + S, to include the experimenter. Seen from the outside, deliberate manipulation is just one of the many phenomena that occur naturally in E + S. The question then becomes: what are the characteristics that a (closed) dynamical system must possess for it to give rise to natural randomized experiments? Are randomized experiments even possible e.g. in a deterministic system ruled by Hamiltonian mechanics? Here I engage with this issue in an extremely simplified setting, with the hope of setting the stage for more general work on the subject.

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Seeds of Science is a new journal (funded through Scott Alexander's ACX grants program) that publishes speculative or non-traditional articles on diverse scientific topics. Peer review is conducted through community-based voting and commenting by a diverse network of reviewers (or "gardeners" as we call them). 

We just sent out an article for review - "Are Experiments Possible?" - that may be of interest to those in the LW community with expertise in physics so I wanted to see if anyone would be interested in joining us a gardener and reviewing the article. It is free to join and anyone is welcome (we currently have gardeners from all levels of academia and outside of it). Participation is entirely voluntary - we send you submitted articles and you can choose to vote/comment or abstain without notification (so it's no worries if you don't plan on reviewing very often but just want to take a look here and there at what kinds of articles people are submitting). Another unique feature of the journal is that comments are published along with the article after the main text. 

To register, you can fill out this google form. From there, it's pretty self-explanatory - I will add you to the mailing list and send you an email that includes the manuscript, our publication criteria, and a simple review form for recording votes/comments.

Happy to answer any questions about the journal through email or in the comments below. Here is the abstract for the article. 

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