January 18, 2016

Lousy scientists

Comment on Lars Syll on ‘Wren-Lewis and the Rodrik smorgasbord view of economic models’

Blog-Reference and Blog-Reference

The underlying binary code of criminal proceedings is guilty/not-guilty. The accused has an interest in a clear-cut not-guilty outcome if he is indeed not the wrongdoer. On the other hand, the accused, if he is indeed the wrongdoer, has the interest to arrive somewhere in the middle between guilty/not-guilty. Therefore, what he applies is a stratagem, that is, he blurs and obstructs the underlying binary distinction in all possible ways.

The situation is analogous in science where the underlying binary code is true/false. The genuine scientist tries to sharpen the issue at hand in order to eventually arrive at a clear-cut true/false answer. Everything in-between is scientifically worthless. The cargo cult scientist (Feynman’s term), on the other hand, tries everything to keep the issue safely in the no-mans-land between true/false, where “nothing is clear and everything is possible.” (Keynes)

The term ‘conventionalist stratagem’ has been introduced into methodology by Popper (see here). Boiled down to essentials it amounts to the application of all possible communicative means in order to prevent a clear-cut true/false outcome.

As a matter of fact, the stratagem issue goes back to the origin of science. Plato had been confronted by the Sophists whose selling proposition has been that they could win the client’s case no matter whether they were de facto right or wrong.

“Plato’s main concern with the Sophists is that their rhetoric does not provide an adequate view of justice
  • Doxa – public opinion: Sophistic manipulation of doxa is aimed at persuasion only,
  • Episteme – true knowledge: Plato’s goal beyond persuasion is to discover epistemic truth.” (see here)
By proudly advertising that they have a model for every season, Wren-Lewis and Rodrik fall back methodologically to the proto-scientific position of the Sophists.

There is no better empirical proof of scientific incompetence than to apply proto-scientific stratagems. To be sure, this holds for both orthodox and heterodox economists in equal measure. Wren-Lewis and Rodrik are not the exceptions but the rule. And this is why economics is a failed science.

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke