The good CDR posted regarding one of our first forays into Optimal Manning. The report of the experience that the crew of the MILIUS had with optimal manning didn’t jive with what SURFPAC thought of the results. This is not surprising, similar things have happened for generations–even in science,
I knew, of course, the most widely accepted answer to my problem: that science is distinguished from pseudoscience—or from “metaphysics”—by its empirical method, which is essentially inductive, proceeding from observation or experiment. But this did not satisfy me. On the contrary, I often formulated my problem as one of distinguishing between a genuinely empirical method and a non-empirical or even pseudo-empirical method — that is to say, a method which, although it appeals to observation and experiment, nevertheless does not come up to scientific standards. The latter method may be exemplified by astrology, with its stupendous mass of empirical evidence based on observation — on horoscopes and on biographies.
Those words were spoken by Sir Karl Popper, in an attempt to understand “When should a theory be ranked as scientific?” or “Is there a criterion for the scientific character or status of a theory?”
Everything we do in the military is theory. There are precious few facts for us to use in deciding how to win wars. In deciding how to win, we also make all the other decisions: Proper manning levels, armament for ships, training for crews and so on. Because everything we do is theoretical, we really must treat every new initiative with a critical eye. A critical eye Sir Popper calls “Falsification”. Contemporaries of Popper were among the first to really take to the theories and ideas of Freud, Marx and Adler. He remarks that the admirers of those men were impressed by “a number of points common to these theories, and especially by their apparent explanatory power. These theories appear to be able to explain practically everything that happened within the fields to which they referred”. The supporters of those theories found ‘proof’ of the theories in everything.
The most characteristic element in this situation seemed to me the incessant stream of confirmations, of observations which “verified” the theories in question; and this point was constantly emphasize by their adherents. A Marxist could not open a newspaper without finding on every page confirming evidence for his interpretation of history; not only in the news, but also in its presentation — which revealed the class bias of the paper — and especially of course what the paper did not say. The Freudian analysts emphasized that their theories were constantly verified by their “clinical observations.” As for Adler, I was much impressed by a personal experience. Once, in 1919, I reported to him a case which to me did not seem particularly Adlerian, but which he found no difficulty in analyzing in terms of his theory of inferiority feelings, Although he had not even seen the child. Slightly shocked, I asked him how he could be so sure. “Because of my thousandfold experience,” he replied; whereupon I could not help saying: “And with this new case, I suppose, your experience has become thousand-and-one-fold.”
Real analysis, real scientific analysis looks for how the theory is false, where it errs, what doesn’t it explain. Indeed, Popper came to this conclusion: “It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verifications, for nearly every theory — if we look for confirmations”. Everything we do as a military needs to be focused on with this rigor of looking for what is false, wrong, not the right thing, not a panacea. To do otherwise finds us in the place we are today. We will not know if anything we decide to do works until the next war we fight at sea, or the next objective we must meet for our Country. With so much uncertainty, we cannot go forward if in every new theory we only look for it to work–force it to work. Rather we must look at these new theories and ask ourselves how it will fail, and why it will fail. If we can’t find something to (easily) fail, then we know we’ve found the best theory to use.
- The Virtue of Being a Generalist, Part 3: Viper and the Pitfalls of ‘Good Enough’
- Midrats 21 Sept 14 – Episode 246: “When the short snappy war goes long, with Chris Dougherty”
- The Virtue of Being a Generalist, Part 2: Are All Nuggets Created Equal?
- Back to Basics: Restoring the United States Merchant Marine
- On Midrats 14 Sep 14: Episode 245: “The Carrier as Capital Ship” with RADM Thomas Moore, USN, PEO CVN