Alt-rockers They Might Be Giants explain/advocate empiricism in a record aimed at young children.

Don't believe it 'cos they say it's so

If it's not true you have a right to know --

Put it to the test!

No, it's not quite Bayesian. The bridge ("A fact is just a fantasy, unless it can be checked") is more or less simply wrong. Still, I find the fact that the Ancient Art of Rationality is getting play at all pretty exciting. What do you all think? And what can we do to get more rationalist -- or even proto-rationalist -- ideas to youngsters?

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I was wondering whether I should write a review of that album here, and whether it would be on-topic - I ended up deciding against it because it's such old news. Of note to the interested:

The main theme of the album (aside from "science is cool") is skepticism.

The first song, "Science Is Real", replaces their usual kids' album first track (singing the name of the album), which was instead relegated to near the last position on the disc. "Science is Real" emphasizes that one should do science (actually look at the world) in order to arrive at knowledge. It became briefly reviled amongst the anti-science folks for its "angels, unicorns, and elves" line.

They reprise their popular cover of "Why Does the Sun Shine?" in a completely new style, but realized that it has some factual errors. And so they wrote a new song, "Why Does the Sun Really Shine?", in which they address some of them, with catchy phrase like "That thesis has been rendered invalid!" It's an interesting juxtaposition intended to show that everything is up for revision.

"Put It to the Test" suggests that you shouldn't believe anyone's say-so if there's any reason to doubt them, and every claim demands empirical evidence.

From the TMBG wiki:

The original "Why Does the Sun Shine?" was recorded in the 1950s and based on encyclopedic facts from the time, which were later discovered to be incorrect; rather than being made of gas, the sun exists mostly in the fourth state of matter—plasma. By the time the album's fact-checker, Eric Siegel, pointed this out to the band, they had already recorded the song and the accompanying video was already in the works. Not wanting to drop the fan-favorite song from the album but also not wanting to perpetuate incorrect information, the band was faced with a conundrum. While discussing the problem in the studio one day, one of the recording engineers, Jon Altschuler, suggested the band write an "answer song" called "The Sun Is A Miasma Of Incandescent Plasma," which is exactly what they did.

But the way you explain it, it's actually great how the Sun songs turned out. Because the first one was wrong on a technicality, now we get to see a scientific statement being revised.

They reprise their popular cover of "Why Does the Sun Shine?" in a completely new style

Actually this recording is quite similar to the live performance on Severe Tire Damage -- still my favorite recording of this song.

As everyone knows, the sun's not a mass of incandescent gas, it's a miasma of incandescent plasma.

But it is a gigantic nuclear furnace, where hydrogen is built into helium.

At a temperature of millions of degrees, no less.

No, it's not quite Bayesian.

Somehow I feel like we've hashed over this before, but should "Bayesian" be normative? The word seems to have a rather idiosyncratic usage around these parts, and its choice as the name for Doing Rationality Right seems to come from a silly historical accident (Eliezer happened to have a silly conversation with someone about probability, and thus associated wrong thinking with "frequentist").

The use may be somewhat idiosyncratic, but the point stands. Bayes' rule is correct, provable from basic axioms of probability.

The "naive" scientific method (advocated in the clip) doesn't account for probabilistic evidence. Even the slightly more sophisticated "statistical significance"/hypothesis testing method doesn't do it right.

"Bayesian" is normative in the sense that if you think that plausibility assessments should follow Cox's assumptions, then they ought to be isomorphic to probabilities and updated using Bayes' Rule.

(Note that Cox's argument requires an unintuitive mathematical assumption (as discussed by Halpern, references at the Wikipedia link). Frank J. Tipler of Omega Point infamy has a paper on the arXiv claiming to avoid this assumption.)

Would kids these days even recognize the old 8-bit graphics?

Does it matter? What was once a constraint of existing technology is now a vibrant style of its own.

I think so. Pixelly graphics are a bit of an universal symbol for video games, the same way that the steam locomotive is the standard symbol for drawing a train in countries that haven't used them for a long time.

On a lot of game-related websites you'll find old-style pixel art used for decoration, especially those space invader aliens.

The bridge ("A fact is just a fantasy, unless it can be checked") is more or less simply wrong.

I read that line as saying, "you should have evidence for an claim in order to believe it". Which makes me think of, for example, the "chocolate cake in the asteroid belt" claim where we don't believe the claim, because we have no evidence for it.

right, but it seems to strongly imply that "there is no chocolate cake in the asteroid belt" is a fantasy as well, since it cannot be checked.

We do have evidence that there is no chocolate cake in the asteroid belt -- we have evidence that it would be very improbable for a cake of any flavor to generate spontaneously, and we have evidence that the special conditions that result in cake here on Earth are not present in the asteroid belt. And we can 'check' this evidence..

Is there a more definitive example of why it's not true that "A fact is just a fantasy, unless it can be checked"?


I'm worried this might devolve into semantics: is the string of words under discussion on Our Side or not -- we must know!

Still, my intuitive interpretation would be to say that while we can 'check' each of those pieces of evidence, we still cannot 'check' whether there's chocolate cake, which seems to me to be what's meant by "unless it can be checked"

I'm worried this might devolve into semantics:

No worries, we agree. If by 'check' they meant 'check directly', then I agree the statement isn't right.

Another alternative reading is "can theoretically be checked". Obviously, this is strictly weaker, but still covers a large number of logical failures (e.g. creationism).

Belief in things that cannot be theoretically checked are fantasies. Do you think such beliefs are 'logical failures'?