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View Diary: The algebra formula that saved an industry (258 comments)

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  •  Yes, exactly! (2+ / 0-)
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    ER Doc, Larsstephens

    The error of the Chicago economists was that they actually assumed they'd stumbled onto something with the "rational consumer"—it fit an ideology, as well as making for a pretty model—despite the fact that anyone with a background in marketing could have taken them aside and told them that it's actually a bit more complicated than that.

    Also, the results of competently executed models—e.g., of hurricanes—are checked for conformance against actual data. But condescending article after condescending article in the press told us that they'd figured out the way markets really work on their supercomputers, and the people pointing out nonconformance with observed reality were just bitter Keynesians.

    Government is not instituted for the good of the governor, but of the governed; and power is not an advantage, but a burden. -Algernon Sidney

    by James Robinson on Mon Apr 19, 2010 at 01:24:36 PM PDT

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    •  ... (4+ / 0-)
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      ER Doc, kurt, Larsstephens, James Robinson

      Another issue is the structure of incentives in academia itself.  A graduate student facing a tough job market or a young professor looking toward tenure needs to rack up publications.  The best way to do this is to use established methods on tractable problems, not to try to publish contrarian views.  Now, I don't mean to give a general critique of peer review.  There's good reason that it's harder to publish contrarian views because it helps weed out cranks.  However, especially in highly theoretical fields without much empirical contact it can reinforce group think.  Furthermore reviewers are often very busy with their own teaching and research, so that non-crank contrarianism has a hard time getting a thorough fair read.  In my opinion economics is a discipline (along with philosophy--in which I'm a grad student) in which fewer, better articles ought to be written.  But Deans around the country have pushed "quantitative metrics" like number of publications as the standard for assessment and it's created a culture of publish-or-perish that discourages critical work and risk taking.  Maybe one way that this self corrects is that philosophy of science moves in to play a more critical role.  As philosophers look for more places to publish and topics to publish on there's been an increase in work on the special epistemological and metaphysical problems of the social sciences, especially economics.  However, economists don't read philosophers so I'm not sure that outside criticism is going to do the trick.  Hearteningly, it does seem that academic economists are in the process of re-evaluating some of their assumptions and of looking at the social epistemology of their discipline.  Maybe some will even bother to pay attention to the gadflies.  Or maybe in 5 years the crisis will be down the memory hole and the publication factory will be churning out groupthink again.

      Passive renunciation is not the whole of wisdom.

      by play jurist on Mon Apr 19, 2010 at 01:40:14 PM PDT

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      •  I'd like to see some more cross-pollination (3+ / 0-)
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        play jurist, ER Doc, Larsstephens

        as painful as that might be in certain instances, e.g., the book on Feng Shui I was gifted that starts out with the increasingly common spiel that "quantum mechanics proves that everything is energy!" There's a considerable value in having a fresh pair of eyes to look at something, and more value in having to leave the comfort of your professional jargon and its unspoken tenets to explain what you're thinking to someone in plain English. The best way to learn is, in fact, to teach.

        And the process you describe to weed out cranks works exactly the way that damming a river works to stop floods: It smooths out the little ones, but it makes the big ones much worse than they would otherwise be (e.g., turns out the department chair is the crank. Whoops!).

        I'm 100% with you concerning the impact of "quantitative metrics" on academia. People should publish when they have something to say. I wish there was more fact-checking by publishers, as well. I know for a fact that some novels have been more rigorously fact-checked than a great many non-fiction books.

        Government is not instituted for the good of the governor, but of the governed; and power is not an advantage, but a burden. -Algernon Sidney

        by James Robinson on Mon Apr 19, 2010 at 01:58:51 PM PDT

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