Samuel Arbesman - The Half-Life of Facts

December 3, 2012

Host: Indre Viskontas

Because we live in an uncertain world, we arm ourselves with facts to gain a sense of control and therefore some modicum of comfort. We know that the sun will rise tomorrow even though it disappears tonight. But what happens when facts, those bits of information that we believed captured some fundamental truth about our world, are shown to be no longer true? With the exponential rise in our knowledge about our universe comes a tsunami of data overturning what we once thought we knew with complete certainty. Are there patterns that emerge from this wasteland of myths that once were accepted facts.

One tried and true solution is to apply math to the problem, and network scientist and author Samuel Arbesman has done just that in his recently published book on the Half-life of Facts.

Samuel Arbesman is an applied mathematician and network scientist. He is a Senior Scholar at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and a fellow at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University. In addition, he blogs at, and his essays about math and science have appeared in such places as the New York Times, The Atlantic, and the Ideas section of the Boston Globe. Prior to joining the Kauffman Foundation, Arbesman was a research fellow in the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School, where he used network science and applied mathematics to study innovation, scientific discovery, and prosocial behavior. He completed a PhD in computational biology at Cornell University in 2008, and earned a BA in computer science and biology at Brandeis University in 2004. He has also coined a new word, named an asteroid, and created an eponymous constant and the Milky Way Transit Authority subway map.


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