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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Samuelson Is Naked

According to this critic of neoclassical economics in Scientific American. His claims about mainstream economics are vaguely correct; on a Listserv we all wondered who the heck "Maria Edgeworth" was: we think the author surely meant Francis Edgeworth.

You know, I am getting a little fed up with this use of the word "scientific" as if it's synonymous with "true." They are different concepts. This guy keeps accusing mainstream economics of being based on "unscientific" assumptions. Now if you go and look at them, it's not stuff like, "Pareto thought the charge on an electron was such-and-such, but physicists now know that..."

On the contrary, this guy's issues are much broader and big picture. He is free to say the mainstream assumptions are false or even absurd or a good old-fashioned stupid, but "unscientific" doesn't really sound right to me.

11 comments:

  1. Bob,

    This sounds an awful lot like it is coming from original writing of Hayek and Rothbard. Keep in mind the sub-title to Hayek's book, The Counter-Revolution of Science, is "Studies on the Abuse of Reason", which sounds to me even harsher than 'unscientific'.

    Also, I have found myself a supporter (with long legs)who's a mathematician and former World Bank consultant:

    http://nationaleconomist.com/blog/2008/05/27/an-inside-opinion-on-the-world-bank/

    ReplyDelete
  2. Robert,

    The writer said the assumptions were unscientific, not that the enterprise was unscientific. It's not that the mainstream economists got their assumptions by consulting the stars, as opposed to running double-blind experiments.

    So all that writer really means is that the assumptions are false.

    And your link is cut off, at least in my browser.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You are right, Bob: e.g., Ptolemaic astronomy was not unscientific, it was just wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It's not that the mainstream economists got their assumptions by consulting the stars, as opposed to running double-blind experiments.

    But, this IS Hayek's point that double-blind experiments in economics are the same as "consulting the stars"--actually even worse.

    If I build a model on an assumption that falling rocks are angry, is this just a false assumption or unscientific?

    Here's the Miss Long Legs link, again:

    http://nationaleconomist.com/blog/2008/05/27/an-inside-opinion-on-the-world-bank/

    ReplyDelete
  5. What the heck is your point, Wegner? Do you agree with me that the word "scientific" doesn't mean the exact same thing as "true"? If I think so, am I committed to getting mad at anyone who ever uses the term "unscientific"?

    If the Sc. American guy said, "Mainstream economists claim to be scientific because they model their equations on physics, but actually that is a bad analogy and plus those equations are obsolete in physics nowadays," I would have no problem. If he then said, "They are actually being unscientific" I would still have no problem.

    But he said, "The following assumptions are unscientific," when clearly all he meant was, "The following are false and so why should we trust their conclusions?"

    I still can't click on that link. Can you embed it in a word as a hyperlink or something? Can other people click on his link? In my browser the last letters are the an-ins...

    ReplyDelete
  6. Bob,

    According to dictionary.com, the definition of unscientific by Heritage dictionary is:

    "Not knowledgeable about science or the scientific method."

    Altough the assumption made is false, I think the author is viewing the methodology resulting in the assumption as being "unscientific". Thus, the assumption the author attacks is wrong on two levels.

    Thus, I think we are both right:)

    As for the link, just copy and paste:

    http://nationaleconomist.com/blog/2008/05/27/an-inside-opinion-on-the-world-bank/

    ReplyDelete
  7. Robert,

    I understand how to use a link; I'm not unscientific. :) I'm saying though that I can't see all of the letters that you are pasting, because it's running off the right edge off the available window (at least in my browser).

    So both to make it outright possible for me, and also more convenient for anyone else, it would be better if you did the h ref technique.

    ReplyDelete
  8. LOL. Sorry, I didn't realize your browser was cutting off the link.

    In the future I will use the "href technique", though I do have some problems with those who use the term technique. Isn't "href format" more appropriate?

    ReplyDelete
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