Coyote Blog | Warren Meyer | Krugman Unintended Irony: Anyone Who Does Not Unquestioningly Believe Authorities is Anti-ScienceI think Krugman's position of automatically deferring to scientists and determining truth by head-count is extremely foolish. And I think that specifically because I am a scientist.
It’s a wonder how, when over “97 percent to 98 percent” of scientific authorities accepted the Ptolomeic view of the solar system that we ever got past that. Though I could certainly understand why in the current economy a die-hard Keynesian might be urging an appeal to authority rather than thinking for oneself.
When, by the way, did the children of the sixties not only lose, but reverse their anti-authoritarian streak?
Postscript: I have always really hated the nose-counting approach to measuring the accuracy of a scientific hypothesis. If we want to label something as anti-science, how about using straw polls of scientists as a substitute for fact-based arguments?
I was at a small conference last week and I had to stand up in front of the room and give a talk, and one of the points motivating that talk is that a giant in my field is wrong about something. His view in incomplete, and his techniques are flawed. His works gets hundreds, sometimes thousands of citations. It is widely accepted. Mine is hardly read. But his work is flawed, and I think I can show how. No one in the room said "how dare you question this eminent researcher, and the legion of people who agree with him?" They heard me out, and I think I convinced at least some of them my point has merit.
I was not the only one doing this. There were several other talks whose focus was errors in the work of our colleagues. One man's whole thesis was that the consensus -- yes, consensus -- about n-back training is incorrect. He couldn't replicate any of it. He thinks the statistics are sloppy and the methods are erroneous. He spoke for an hour about this, forcefully. It undermined the work of a lot of people in that room. But we all heard him out rather than shouting "But you're going against the accepted consensus! You're anti-Science!" And we heard him out specifically because we are scientists, and we listen to dissenting opinions rather than crouching behind a shield of popularity. That's fine for pundits and columnists and talking heads, but in the lab that kind of behavior is unacceptable.
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PS Even if consensus was the end of the story, it matter a lot who the consensus is among. "Scientists" isn't helpful, because most scientists don't know a damn thing about the climate. If I signed my name to an open letter saying I believe the Higgs boson exists you shouldn't care, because I don't know anything about particle physics. That's the situation with much of the AGW "consensus." Most of the people throwing their name onto the scales don't have any expertise in climatology or computational modeling or related fields. Sociologists and geographers and geneticists are fine people, but how they feel about computational predictions of complex climactic systems is beyond irrelevant.
I think a lot of these signatories to "The Consensus" are suffering from some sort of blind spot bias. If I stumbled into some debate on protein folding the proteomicists would have no trouble recognizing me as unqualified to support either side, even if I was trying to lend my weight to the popular one. Hell, if most microbiologists stumbled into that debate the proteomicists would recognize them as being unqualified. But they're more than happy to weigh in on something outside their own wheelhouse, for reasons which are both dubious and numerous.
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PPS From Krugman's column:
Pay no attention to “fancy theories” that conflict with “common sense,” the Journal tells us. Because why should anyone imagine that you need more than gut feelings to analyze things like financial crises and recessions?He has absolutely GOT to be shitting me. Does he have no recollection of writing this?
Europe’s economic success should be obvious even without statistics. For those Americans who have visited Paris: did it look poor and backward? What about Frankfurt or London? You should always bear in mind that when the question is which to believe — official economic statistics or your own lying eyes — the eyes have it.I tore that statement apart, if I do say so myself, back when he made it. It's one of my favorite posts, because Krugman is always so much fun to plane.