Be Open To Change: Samuel Arbesman In The Economist
"One thing we have seen is that the social sciences have a much faster rate of decay than the physical sciences," he says, "because in the social sciences there is a lot more 'noise' at the experimental level." When you are dealing with parabolas, for example, you can research with few outside distractions influencing your data. However, he says that dealing with people is much messier as humans respond to a variety of factors, which means that the results tend to be less streamlined—thus making them more easily overturned in the future. He also says that facts in medicine tend to decay far faster than facts in mathematics because, once again, dealing with humans tends to have more uncontrollable variables.
Understanding first that knowledge changes, and then having an idea of how it changes and how fast, is important to knowing how to navigate a rapidly evolving world. "We constantly have to make an effort to explore the world anew," Arbesman advises, and "recognise that most of the stuff [we] learned when [we] were younger is not at the cutting edge." When he's not researching at the Kauffman Foundation or studying scientometrics, Arbesman is a contributor to Wired.com, the New York Times, The Atlantic, and the Boston Globe. In his writing and on the stage the scientist speaks to the importance of understanding how empirical facts are overturned so that you may not only be prepared for new changes, but be able to anticipate them and stay one step ahead.