April 19, 2017

How Heterodoxy became the venue for science’s scum

Comment on Edward Fullbrook on ‘Why a global disaster that could easily have been prevented took place’


The key message of Heterodoxy is that orthodox/mainstream economics is false. This is correct but curiously, since Veblen’s fundamental critique of Orthodoxy, Heterodoxy has never come up with the true theory: “As will become evident, there is more agreement on the defects of orthodox theory than there is on what theory is to replace it: but all agreed that the point of the criticism is to clear the ground for construction.” (Nell)

Construction, though, never happened. Instead of following the scientific protocol and performing the necessary paradigm shift Heterodoxy advocates pluralism: “The first distinction you draw is that the old paradigm (OPE) is anti-pluralist (as in classical physics), while the new paradigm (NPE) is pluralist (as in modern physics).” (Fullbrook, see intro)

This statement is proof of the utter scientific incompetence of traditional Heterodoxy. The first thing to notice is that Edward Fullbrook does NOT understand the elementary difference between hypothesis and theory. Most people don’t and this why the worst misnomer of all ‘conspiracy theory’ became popular. The correct designation for what is actually meant is ‘conspiracy hypothesis’. To confound hypothesis and theory is a sure indicator of idiocy.

Scientific research STARTS with a speculative idea, a possible explanation, a hypothesis. A hypothesis is an open invitation for discussion and a challenge to come forward with a better hypothesis. There are no restrictions for a hypothesis: “It does not matter that moos and goos cannot appear in the guess. You can have as much junk in the guess as you like, provided that the consequences can be compared with experiment. (Feynman)

Scientific research ENDS with a theory. A materially/formally consistent theory is the best mental representation of reality that is humanly possible. Science is binary, i.e. true/false with nothing in between. The ultimate goal of science is the true theory. The pluralism of hypotheses or opinions is only a transitory state: “That the settlement of opinion is the sole end of inquiry is a very important proposition.” (Peirce)

It is exactly the same in criminology. The statement 'A has murdered B' is either true or false. But every criminal investigation starts with the pluralism of hypotheses and suspects. Now, as Sherlock Holmes already taught, the very task of the detective is to eliminate hypotheses: “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” Hypothesis is plural and temporary, truth is singular and final.

Fullbrook’s example of the kidnapping case is entirely beside the point because he confounds hypothesis with paradigm. To switch in the course of an investigation between different and contradictory hypotheses is NOT the same as a paradigm shift.

More often than not, the argumentation becomes nutty when economists cite physics as an example. Edward Fullbrook is no exception: “Many, and probably most, of the wonderful advancements of modern science have, as Einstein and other greats so deeply appreciated, came about in a similar way, that is by altering the ‘focus’ or ‘theory’ or conceptual framework through which a particular realm of the real-world is viewed.”

This is true but thoroughly misleading. Einstein appreciated paradigm shifts BUT NOT the pluralism of theories, just the opposite: “They [Einstein and Dirac] agreed that science was fundamentally about explaining more and more phenomena in terms of fewer and fewer theories, a view they had read in Mill’s A System of Logic.” (Farmelo)

No physicist regarded the state of the 1920s/1930s with relativity theory on the one hand and quantum theory on the other as satisfactory. The challenge is the Grand Unified Theory. Feynman put it thus: “Some day, when physics is complete and we know all the laws, we may be able to start with some axioms, and no doubt somebody will figure out a particular way of doing it so that everything else can be deduced.”

To compare the proto-scientific state of economics with the advanced state of physics and then to characterize the manifest confusion and scientific incompetence of economists as “pluralist (as in modern physics)” is self-delusional or worse.

Both, relativity theory and quantum theory satisfy the scientific criteria of material and formal consistency. In economics, the four main approaches ― Walrasianism, Keynesianism, Marxianism, Austrianism ― are axiomatically false, materially/formally inconsistent and all got the pivotal economic concept profit wrong. Neither orthodox nor heterodox economists understand the pivotal concept of their subject matter. This is like a physicist who does not understand the elementary concept of force or mass.

By advocating the pluralism of false theories, Heterodoxy is attempting to lower scientific standards to the point of anything-goes. Nobody talks more nonsense about methodology than Edward Fullbrook, Lars Syll, and Asad Zaman. What has to be realized is: either economics satisfies the well-defined scientific criteria of material and formal consistency or economics is OUT of science.#1 At the moment BOTH Orthodoxy and traditional Heterodoxy are out of science.

The task of Heterodoxy is to fully replace the current Orthodoxy and to become the new and better Orthodoxy. This requires the development of a superior theory. Traditional Heterodoxy has failed at this task.#2 This explains the attempts to lower scientific standards and the propagation of the pluralism of false theories: “If you believe in the correctness of your ideas, you do not want pluralism; you want your ideas to win out because they are correct.” (Colander et al.)#3

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

#1 See also ‘Science does NOT predict the future
#2 For details see cross-references Heterodoxy
#3 For details about Constructive Heterodoxy see cross-references Paradigm shift

Related 'How economists shoot themselves non-stop in the methodological foot' and 'Redefining economics' and 'From the pluralism of false models to the true economic theory' and 'Economists and the destructive power of stupidity'

COPY of George McKee's post

April 18, 2017 at 7:42 pm
This post is unfortunately like too much of economics, in that it preferences stories that support its preconceived conclusions over observed facts. Physics is in fact not pluralist at all: there’s only one theory of physics that matches the facts, and that theory is the standard model of quantum field theory. In this astounding theory there are eighteen quantum fields which span all of space and time, and that is the whole of reality. Everything else is consequences of the interactions of those fields at larger and larger and larger …and larger scales. This theory isn’t perfect by any means, and there are many proposals to fix its problems, but the key distinction from what’s described the post here is that no physicist is happy with the plurality of different proposals. For physicists, pluralism is a problem to be fixed, not a heterodox paradigm to be advocated. And all physicists agree on the way to fix the problem, which is to conduct experiments and adjust the theory so that it predicts the data. Sometimes it takes 50 years to validate a theoretical construct, as it took 50 years between Peter Higgs’ proposal of the mechanism that carries his name and its confirmation by two different kinds of detectors in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.
Physicists are persistent in their commitment to the experimental method, while far too many economists have little commitment to reality. They are committed to their pet theories, or to their opposition to some other economist’s pet theories, and if the world doesn’t act that way, well that’s the world’s problem, not economics’ or economists’ problem. This is a shame.
Econnomists who want to make comparisons to physics should stop referring to the archaic ideas of Einstein that are now more than 100 years old, and look at 21st century thinking. Sean Carrol’s book “The Big Picture” has an up to date perspective and has many videos on youtube aimed at general audiences. David Tong has a nice lecture on youtube with the same modern approach.