The Half-Life of Facts

Title: The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date
Author: Samuel Arbseman
Author's Background: PhD in Computational Biology from Cornell, Scientist in Resident at Lux Capital



Imagine a small group of randomly chosen people stranded on a desert island. Not only would they have just a small subset of the knowledge necessary to re-create modern civilization—assuming Gilligan’s professor wasn’t included—but only a tiny fraction of the required skills could be done by each person. Much like the economic concept of division of labor, even if we each have two or three skills, to perform all of them adeptly, and also pass them along to our descendants, is a difficult proposition. The maintenance and creation of cultural knowledge are much more easily done with large groups of people; each person can specialize and be responsible for a smaller area of knowledge.

Bad information can spread fast. And a first-mover advantage in information often has a pernicious effect. Whatever fact first appears in print, whether true or not, is very difficult to dislodge.