Sunday, June 24, 2012

Don't Take The Money

As I've stated before, I do not believe economics is a real science.  It appears at least one Political Scientists believes the same of his discipline.  From Political Scientists Are Lousy Forecasters:
It’s an open secret in my discipline: in terms of accurate political predictions (the field’s benchmark for what counts as science), my colleagues have failed spectacularly and wasted colossal amounts of time and money. The most obvious example may be political scientists’ insistence, during the cold war, that the Soviet Union would persist as a nuclear threat to the United States. In 1993, in the journal International Security, for example, the cold war historian John Lewis Gaddis wrote that the demise of the Soviet Union was “of such importance that no approach to the study of international relations claiming both foresight and competence should have failed to see it coming.” And yet, he noted, “None actually did so.” Careers were made, prizes awarded and millions of research dollars distributed to international relations experts, even though Nancy Reagan’s astrologer may have had superior forecasting skills.
When first reading the above paragraph, my initial reaction was such lousy forecasting is the result of a combination of telling politicians etc. what they want to hear, because they are paying the bills, and intellectual inbreeding.  The author appears to agree (although not in those words):
Alas, little has changed. Did any prominent N.S.F.-financed researchers predict that an organization like Al Qaeda would change global and domestic politics for at least a generation? Nope. Or that the Arab Spring would overthrow leaders in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia? No, again. What about proposals for research into questions that might favor Democratic politics and that political scientists seeking N.S.F. financing do not ask — perhaps, one colleague suggests, because N.S.F. program officers discourage them? Why are my colleagues kowtowing to Congress for research money that comes with ideological strings attached?
This sounds much like what has occurred in the field of economics (although I would be shocked to hear a economist admit it).   The N.S.F. may stop giving grants to political scientists, and this is a good thing.  If a practitioner desires to develop a real science, then there is a price: to be intellectually free, do not take the money.  As pointed out later in the op-ed piece:
These results wouldn’t surprise the guru of the scientific method, Karl Popper, whose 1934 book “The Logic of Scientific Discovery” remains the cornerstone of the scientific method. Yet Mr. Popper himself scoffed at the pretensions of the social sciences: “Long-term prophecies can be derived from scientific conditional predictions only if they apply to systems which can be described as well-isolated, stationary, and recurrent. These systems are very rare in nature; and modern society is not one of them.”
Stop trying to be something you are not; maybe then political science (or economics) can become a real science.

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