The Black Swan

Searching for anomalies is central to our approach

The ASR logo is the Black Swan.

The reasons behind ASR adopting the Black Swan as our corporate motif lie less in the popular and influential work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb and more in the work of Karl Popper and his theory of scientific falsification.

In his Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959) Popper used a "black swan" to show how scientific ideas can never be proven true, regardless of how many observations appear to support it. However, a single contrary result can prove a theory to be false.

The philosopher Bryan Magee elegantly summarises the argument in his book on Popper thus:

"[Popper] begins by pointing to a logical asymmetry between verification and falsification. To express it in terms of the logic of statements: although no number of observation statements reporting observations of white swans allows us to derive the universal statement 'All swans are white', reporting one single observation of a black swan, allows us to logically derive the statement 'Not all swans are white.' In this important logical sense empirical generalizations, though not verifiable, are falsifiable. This means that scientific laws are testable in spite of being unprovable, they can be tested by systematic attempts to refute them." (Magee,Popper.Routledge.1974.pp 22)

Until the end of the 17th Century Europeans had held a strong conviction that all swans were white. They had seen them in the local village pond, and in the village close by. As they explored further afield they still found only white swans. However, the first reported sighting of a black swan by a European (the Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh) in 1697, undermined this notion that "All swans are white". No matter how many white swans had previously been seen, that Black Swan undermined the thousands of false positives. At that point the world knew NOT all swans are white!

This is why searching for anomalies is so crucial to the research philosophy of ASR.