November 10, 2016

It is better to be precisely right than roughly wrong

Comment on Lars Syll on ‘Why it is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong’


Scientists know it but economists do not: “The chief demerit is inconsistency, including inconsistency with the results of experiments that a competing theory can explain.” (Popper, 1994)

Scientists know it but economists do not: “Research is in fact a continuous discussion of the consistency of theories: formal consistency insofar as the discussion relates to the logical cohesion of what is asserted in joint theories; material consistency insofar as the agreement of observations with theories is concerned.” (Klant, 1994)

So, science is about formal AND material consistency ― BOTH simultaneously, NOT either/or. It is all simple and clear.

But in all walks of life there is always the original and a lookalike. Accordingly, there is science and cargo cult science. Feynman characterized the lookalikes: “they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential.”

What is missing is an understanding of what science is all about. Science is digital = binary = true/false and NOTHING in between. There is NO such thing in science as roughly right or roughly wrong, there is only materially/formally true/false. All the rest is storytelling, gossip, sitcom.

Vague blather, untestable wish-wash, inconclusive either-or and storytelling has always been the hallmark of political economists. Political economics is the lookalike of theoretical economics. Walrasianism, Keynesianism, Marxianism, Austrianism is political economics.

So, there are the hard rocks of true and false and the bottomless swamp between them where “nothing is clear and everything is possible” (Keynes). The swamp is the natural habitat of morons, agenda pushers, confused confusers,* trolls, and incompetent scientists.

Economists are natural born swampies. This explains why economics is a failed science. Walrasianism, Keynesianism, Marxianism, Austrianism are mutually contradictory and the proponents fight each other. But this does not go very deep and it never goes to the final refutation of one approach or the other. Every swampie respects the other swampie’s wish to fool around in the swamp.

In marked contrast, scientists drive the question under discussion to the point of a clear-cut decision between true and false. And they do not touch questions that cannot be decided by the accepted means, that is, by logic and testing.

The Brotherhood of Swampies has no genuine interest in a definite true/false outcome but seeks to stay, for whatever reasons, in the status quo swamp. Swampies subscribe to a common methodoligcal core: it is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong, anything goes, truth is subjective and relative, reality is a social construct, nobody has the truth with a big T, everybody has some truth with a small t, and finally, to the pluralism of false theories. Swampies have produced the gigantic heap of toxic scientific waste that is called economics.

Swampies simply do not understand what science is all about. As Feynman put it: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself ― and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.”

Neither orthodox nor heterodox economists fit this description of a scientist. But BOTH orthodox and heterodox economists fit the description of lookalike scientists, political agenda pushers and self-foolers. And this is exactly why it is best to throw BOTH now speedily out of the scientific community.

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

* See ‘Confused Confusers: How to Stop Thinking Like an Economist and Start Thinking Like a Scientist

Related 'There is NO such thing as an economic expert' and 'The father of modern economics and his imbecile kids' and 'How Keynes got macro wrong and Allais got it right' and 'From false micro to true macro: the new economic paradigm'