May 11, 2017

What is so great about cargo cult science? or, How economists learned to stop worrying about failure

Comment on David Glasner on ‘What’s so Great about Science? or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Metaphysics’

Blog-Reference and Blog-Reference

Everybody who has ever used knife and fork or a wheelbarrow or a cooking spoon somehow understands the concept of the lever and can apply it successfully in everyday situations. Science, though, goes beyond the endless multitude of concrete instantiations of the lever and tries to figure out the common denominator of ALL variants of levers past, present, and future. Science abstracts from the superficial reality of the Here and Now and tries to figure out the underlying fundamental reality, which has been found to be Fb/Fa=a/b: “This is the law of the lever, which was proven by Archimedes using geometric reasoning.” (Wikipedia)#1

The characteristic of the Law of the Lever is that it is abstract and universal. The fact is that about ninety-nine percent of people simply cannot go beyond the concrete and space-time particular. For an explanation of what happens in the world around them, they are perfectly satisfied with a plausible story and cannot understand the fuss about generality, rigor, and proof. All the more so, because it happened, again and again, that science demonstrated the absurdity of common-sense intuition.#2 For the ninety-nine percenters, science produces only cognitive dissonance.

Clearly, for all practical purposes between cradle and grave, nobody needs to know the Law of the Lever. Strictly speaking, the criterion of usefulness does NOT apply at all to science: “True science is distinctively the study of useless things. For the useful things will get studied without the aid of scientific men. To employ these rare minds on such work is like running a steam engine by burning diamonds.” (Peirce)

A second misunderstanding relates to the concept of prediction. Since time immemorial prediction has been used either for decision making under uncertainty or for religious/ political brain-washing. Against widespread commonsensical preconceptions, it has, therefore, to be emphasized that science does NOT predict the future.#3

Although the results of scientific research can be useful and have indeed been useful beyond the wildest dreams, this is NOT the criterion to judge the results of scientific research. The SOLE criterion to judge a theory, which is the embodiment of scientific knowledge, is the binary true/false with truth defined as material and formal consistency.#4 This is known for 2300+ years ― except among economists.

Economics is a failed science. The fact is that the major approaches ― Walrasianism, Keynesianism, Marxianism, Austrianism ― are mutually contradictory, axiomatically false, materially/formally inconsistent and ALL got the pivotal economic concept profit wrong. After 200+ years economics is still at the level of a proto-science or what Feynman called a cargo cult science.#5

However, from Adam Smith to the Faux Nobel economists consistently claimed to do science.#6 So, there is a blatant contradiction between the claim and the definitive failure after 200+ years. To paper over the contradiction economists habitually resort to J. S. Mill’s characterization of economics as ‘inexact and separate’ science. To be sure, there is NO such thing, there are only science and non-science.

Science is binary true/false and NOTHING in between. Non-science is the swamp between true and false where ‘nothing is clear and everything is possible’ (Keynes). The distinction between science and non-science corresponds to the ancient Greek’s distinction between episteme (= knowledge) and doxa (= opinion).

The fact is that about ninety-nine percent of people are satisfied with opinion and only one percent is devoted to episteme. Economists do NOT belong to the latter group. Economics is a cargo cult science and economists are fake scientists.

The state of economics is this: there is political economics and theoretical economics. The founding fathers called themselves political economists, that is, they left no doubt that their main business was agenda pushing. Economists never got out of political economics. In other words, theoretical economics (= science) ultimately could not emancipate itself from political economics (= agenda-pushing). This is why economics never rose above the level of a proto- or cargo cult science.

There are the hard rocks of true or false and the swamp between them. The swamp is the natural habitat of morons, agenda pushers, confused confusers, incompetent scientists, political economists, status-quo inertionalists, commonsensers, and anti-scientists.

Political economists are natural-born swampies. In marked contrast to scientists who drive the question under discussion to the point of a clear-cut decision between true or false, neither the orthodox nor the heterodox swampy has a genuine interest in a definite outcome but seeks to keep matters in the swamp of inconclusiveness.

Swampiness is what Popper called an immunizing stratagem because: “Another thing I must point out is that you cannot prove a vague theory wrong.” (Feynman) Therefore, the cargo cult scientist is mainly occupied with producing a methodological smoke screen that consists of vague concepts,#7 anything-goes, pluralism of false theories, alleged complexity, ontological uncertainty, unreliable data, faux humility, the post-modern replacement of true theory by political narrative, and a veritable artillery barrage of silly excuses.#8 The beauty of the swamp is that logical and empirical failure is inconsequential.

David Glasner argues “… there is almost nobody out there that is openly and explicitly campaigning against science.” True, but this is NOT the problem. What is out there is cargo cult science and cargo cult science is much worse than anti-science.

The major approaches ― Walrasianism, Keynesianism, Marxianism, Austrianism ― are provably false, i.e. materially/formally inconsistent. Whoever calls himself a Walrasian, Keynesian, Marxian, Austrian, or Pluralist is either an incompetent scientist or a political fraudster.#9

David Glasner asks: What’s so great about science? What is so great about science is that it satisfies the well-defined criteria of scientific truth for 2300+ years. What is so pathetic about economics is that the dull creatures who call themselves economists sell their sitcom garbage for 200+ years in the bluff package of science.

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

#1 How to look at reality
#2 Economics, too, has been almost ruined by the bigots of common sense
#3 Science does NOT predict the future
#4 No trade-off, Kant said
#5 “They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. ... But it doesn’t work. ... So I call these things cargo cult science because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential.”
#6 Economics’ lack of scientific legitimacy
#7 The political economist and incompetent scientist Keynes was one of the loudest defenders of conceptual vagueness: “Another danger is that you may ‘precise everything away’ and be left with only a comparative poverty of meaning. ... Such a problem was avoided, said Keynes, by Marshall who used loose definitions but allowed the reader to infer his meaning from ‘the richness of context’.” (Coates)
#8 Economists and their silly excuses
#9 Feynman Integrity, fake science, and the econblogosphere

Related 'Economics has arrived at the bottom of the proto-scientific shithole' and 'Beware of the moralizing economist'. For details of the big picture see cross-references Failed/Fake Scientists and cross-references Scientific Incompetence.

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