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Monday, May 27, 2013

The RQ Test

Jack is looking at Anne, but Anne is looking at George. Jack is married but George is not. Is a married person looking at an unmarried person?" Is the answer yes or no, or can the answer not be determined?

If Anne is unmarried, Jack looking at Anne is a married person looking at an unmarried person.

If Anne is married, Anne looking at George is a married person looking at an unmarried person.

The answer is yes. Without knowing Annes marital status we can come up with a definitive answer.

In this HuffPo article, "Uncommon Sense, Toward an RQ Test", Wray Herbert discusses the work of University of Toronto psychological scientist Keith Stanovich. Dr. Stanovich has coined the term"dysrationalia," to describe a cognitive deficit held by people considered to be highly intelligent but not very smart. The big question is What is rationality and how can it be measured? I believe that this is what Feynman was talking about here:
But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school. We never explicitly say what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation.

He hoped that the graduating students listening to his Cargo Cult Science speech had learned how to berational critical thinkers. It appears that Dr. Stanovich is going to try and further the cause of explicitly saying what is missing in cargo cult science. 

I have a couple examples of cargo cult science in action. I think we learn from the good and the bad 
sciences. The first example comes from a Neurobiology post doc. She had obtained her PhD but did not catch on to "the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school." There came a 
point in her laboratory work where she needed to dialyze a solution. We showed her how to use the 
slide-alizer dialysis cassette. 

In this picture you see the orange cassette suspended in solute via the white foam floatation sponge. 

The next morning we found her cassette spinning above the dialysis solution. She had somehow 
balanced the cassette on top of the white foam floatation sponge where it could not interact with the 
dialysis solute. She had painstakingly kept her solution from coming into contact with the beaker full of solute. She had no doubt learned about osmosis but she missing a mechanical rationality.

The married/unmarried question was probability. If you have 3 boxes you can put either an M or a U 
into, you have 2 (M or U) to the third (3 boxes) power (2e3) or 8 options. 2 x 2 x 2 = 8
  1. MMM 
  2. MMU 
  3. MUM
  4. MUU
  5. UUM
  6. UMM
  7. MUM
  8. UMU
If you only get to look at options with M in the first box and U in the last you have only two 
The only box that changes is the middle box. You have 2 (M or U) to the first (1 box) power. 2e1 or 2.
This can be taught in a math course but rationality comes into play when the probability question is worded in the way of the married/unmarried person. Will you recognize this as a math question that was in your education? You paid for the knowledge, can you now apply it to come up with the truth?
Another biotech example. In this example you have 7 boxes with the possibility of putting any of the 
20 amino acids into each box. You now have 20 (amino acids) to the 7th (7 boxes) power. 20e7 or 
1.28 billion possible arrangements.
Marina Biotech, Inc. (NASDAQ: MRNA), a leading nucleic acid-based drug discovery and development company, today announced that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has issued a Notice of Allowance for patent application U.S. 11/955,207 with claims that cover a library of over 1×10(15) novel peptides.
The reporters got the story wrong. "Novel" peptides refers to the 1.28e9 number. The 1e15 number is an insignificant number that refers to the total number on hand at a specific time. Knowing the difference requires the same logic one would apply to the married/unmarried question.
The Cargo Cult Science rationality dysfunction however took place at the biotech company. They failed to understand the system of phage display, just as the Neurobiology post doc failed to understand the system of dialysis. Dialysis is a system and it works. Phage display is a system and it works. The question is whether or not the user can make it work. Does the user understand the mechanics, math, proper processes and the limitations? If it doesn't work, can you figure out the problem? In both the dialysis and the peptide library example, failure was the outcome. Dialysis did not take place nor did the peptide library produce the promised results. Somewhere within the systems, the users took a wrong turn. They went Cargo Cult. 

Rationality is not an easy subject to pin down. Something so subjective will be hard to identify, let alone quantify. I've been trying for years.


agreeable to reasonreasonable; sensible: a rational plan foreconomic development.
having or exercising reason, sound judgment, or good sense: acalm and rational negotiator.
being in or characterized by full possession of one's reason;sane; lucidThe patient appeared perfectly rational.
endowed with the faculty of reason: rational beings.
of, pertaining to, or constituting reasoning powers: the rationalfaculty.


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