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From att!CHARON.arc.nasa.gov!Hanson Tue Jun  5 23:36:20 1990
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From: Robin Hanson <>
Subject: Re: Science Court
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In <>, Thomas Donaldson writes:

>I've actually been skeptical of science courts for a long time. The hard
>essence of science is that it is decided by the REAL WORLD, not by a court.
>If someone wants to have a debate, then that would be a good thing. It
>would of course stylize what happens now in an ongoing way.

>Some people think of science courts as judging social issues. I do not think

>I would cease to work for cryonics because a group of people calling themselves
>a "court" decided that it was somehow socially harmful.

I am confused by Thomas's skepticism regarding science courts.  Does he
 A) not think they are useful for achieving their intended aims, or 
 B) not think those intended aims are important?

OF COURSE the real world decides what is really "true", but how does that help
us in the task of finding social institutions to help us to estimate what is
true?  This issue is very important in general, and of special relevance to

On most science questions, such as the technical feasibility of cryonics, most
people do not have the time to research the subject themselves in depth.
Unless they happen to know someone they trust who has studied it, they must
trust the output of some social institution of their choosing, or perhaps
combine the results of several. (Note this is consistent with Thomas
continuing to work on cryonics no matter what anyone says, as he considers
himself an expert.)

The problem people face is to find or create social institutions whose
estimates they can trust.  If there were enough data, they could choose the
institutions that are right more often, but usually they must choose based on
whether the institutional process looks sound.  Participants should have clear
incentives to be honest, careful, and well-studied when they contribute to the
institution's estimates of truth.  Hyperbole, fashion, and politics should not

The existing dominant social institutions of science, centered around
peer-review of publications and grants, have many failings, documented in a
growing literature (see books "Profscam", "Intellectual Compromise").  In
particular, the apparent consensus estimate the public sees on the question of
the technical feasibility of cryonics is extremely biased, in my opinion.

Science courts are an attempt to develop alternative science institutions by
drawing on successful institutions in law, emphasising cross-examination and
documenting areas of agreement.  Various concepts in hypertext publishing can
be thought of as other alternatives.  I myself am working on a market-based
alternative, called "Idea Futures".  (I have a paper on this should anyone be
interested.)  And there is room for more ideas.

But however we do it, we need to develop better social institutions of science.
Fans of cryonics, which has been treated particularly unfairly by the present
institutions, should be particularly interested in and supportive of this

Robin Hanson   (or )
415-604-3361  MS244-17, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA 94035
415-651-7483  47164 Male Terrace, Fremont, CA  94539-7921 

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