Friends of Semantic Compositions

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February 03, 2004



I entirely agree that Nature is to be trusted as top source when you yourself don't know what to think or who to trust, which is virtually all of the time on every subject.

For language itself, however, as a linguist I would defer to the experts who answer on Linguist List. Several controversial articles have appeared in Nature or Science where the reaction of the linguist community has been restrained incredulity; and I have known enough of the subject to see why.

Semantic Compositions

I'm certainly not saying that Nature or Science get things right all the time. There isn't a journal out there that hasn't committed an egregious howler before, and they'll all do so again. But unless I know to go to the equivalent of the Linguist List in every other field, I'm not likely to be able to spend the effort needed to figure out whether an article I've read is actually a fair representation of the subject. Which, given your point about recognizing errors in linguistics coverage, is cause for believing that maybe we're all walking around with heads full of mistaken "facts".


The most rational thing to do is to believe the best experts you can find: I'm not advising scepticism. However, the science magazines don't present facts, and we shouldn't be trying to get knowledge from them; rather they're new experimental results, increasing our confidence in belief or opening up new possible beliefs. The error of almost all journalism _about_ science (i.e. the rubbish reported in newspapers) is to present science as if the scientists have stated some new fact, discovered some new theory, disproved something previously known: this is not what current work in science does. It's critical and provisional -- as are good blogs.

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