Mark's Thoughts on the Forum

Congratulations Dr. Swamidass on getting tenure!

Looks like this conversation is off to a great start. I will look more closely at both Swamidass’s and Marshall’s posts tonight or this weekend. This forum seems very unusual in that some high profile people post on it and pay attention to it like Dr. Jack Collins. It’s nice to be part of a forum that gets noticed.


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As a very quick thought,

Dr. Swamidass,

Why should biologists insist on using the word “random” when perhaps it’s the word itself that needs stamped out? What is your objection to using a word like Ergotic (Marshall’s suggestion) instead? It might make for easier interdisciplinary conversations.

Although I am curious if Marshall would call the different patterns in white, pink, and brown noise ergotic. Marshall, if you’re seeing this, since there IS a distinction between these, is random or ergotic a better word for these “noises”?

“Random” works well enough. As with most terms, you need to understand the context within which a term is used.

“Ergotic” to a biologist, would suggest something having do with ‘ergot’, a grain fungus. Maybe you meant ‘ergodic’? I’m not sure why ‘ergodic’ would be preferable, particularly if one didn’t know whether an event conforms to that.

“Stochastic” is probably closest to the way that ‘random’ is most often used in chemistry and biology.


You’re right, I misspelled. I meant ergodic.

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I has been nice to see it grow. I hope it can be a place were thoughtful interdisciplinary conversation can happen.

No, it doesn’t work that way. Biologists have autonomy to use language how they like, just like everyone else. Jargon develops everywhere, and in this case they are just using the language of probability and statistics. Good luck stamping out the word “random” there.

A better way forward is learn how to translate jargon between fields. For example, random in statistics, does not mean ontological or epicurean randomness. There is no reason to think it does. In addition to biologist poorly communicating, I wonder if some of this is people wanting to miss hear us too, because they want evolution to be conflict with theology.