Category Archives: History of Science

Crystal Balls and Econometrics

The growth of economic knowledge over the past 200 years compares quite favourably with the growth of physical science in any arbitrary 200 year stretch of the dark ages or medieval period. But one is reminded of Mark Twain: “it ain’t what people don’t know that’s the problem; it’s what they know that just ain’t so.” Along with the accumulation of knowledge there has been a proliferation of abstract theorizing that is only too easy to misapply or apply to situations where it is inappropriate. The low power of empirical tests and indifference of too many people to empirical testing has allowed useless models to persist too. Ideology also plays a bigger part than it does in most sciences, especially in macroeconomics. So it is easy to point to cases where economists offered terrible advice. No reason to despair. Smith, Marx, Keynes, Kalecki, Simon and Minsky all advanced understanding somewhat while Marshall, Hicks and others clarified and formalized concepts. Macroeconomics took a wrong path and a sharp turn for the worse in the1970s and we are barely emerging now. Still, what is 50 years in the eye of history?

— Gerald Holtham on RWER Blog

The modern forecasting field, which emerged in the early twentieth century, had many points of origin in the previous century: in the field credit rating agencies, in the financial press, and in the blossoming fields of science—including meteorology, thermodynamics, and physics. The possibilities of scientific discovery and invention generated unbounded optimism among Victorian-era Americans. Scientific discoveries of all sorts, from the invention of the internal combustion engine to the insights of Darwin and Freud, seemed to promise a new and illuminating age just out of reach. (Friedman 2014, ix)

But forecasting also had deeper roots in the inherent wish of human beings to find certainty in life by knowing the future: What will I be when I grow up? Where will I live? What kind of work will I do? Will it be fulfilling? Will I marry? What will happen to my parents and other family members? To my country, to my job? To the economy in which I live? Forecasting addresses not just business issues but the deep-seated human wish to divine the future. It is the story of the near universal compulsion to avoid ambiguity and doubt and the refusal of the realities of life to satisfy that impulse. (Friedman 2014, ix)

Economic forecasting arose when it did because while the effort to introduce rationality—in the form of the scientific method—was emerging, the insatiable human longing for predictability persisted in the industrializing economy. Indeed, the early twentieth century saw a curious enlistment of science in a range of efforts to temper the uncertainty of the future. Reform movements, including good, bad, and ugly ones (like labor laws, Prohibition, and eugenics), envisioned a future improved through the application of science. So, too, forecasting attracted a spectrum of visionaries. Here were “seers,” such as the popular prophet Roger Babson, Wall Street entrepreneurs, like John Moody, and genuine academic scientists, such as Irving Fisher of Yale and Charles Jesse Bullock and Warren Persons of Harvard. (Friedman 2014, ix)

Customers of the new forecasting services often took these statistics-based predictions on faith. They wanted forecasts, John Moody noted, not discourses on the methods that produced them. Readers did not seek out detailed information on the accuracy of economic predictions, as long as forecasters proved to be right at least a portion of the time. The desire for any information that would illuminate the future was overwhelming, and subscribers to forecasting newsletters were willing to suspend reasoned judgment to gain comfort. This blend of rationality and anxiety, measurement and intuition, optimism and fear is the broad frame of the story and, not incidentally, why forecasters who were repeatedly proved mistaken, as all ultimately must be given enough time, still commanded attention and fee-paying clients. (Friedman 2014, x)

(….) Forecaster’s reliance on science and statistics as methods for accessing the future aligns their story with conventional narratives of modernity. The German sociologist Max Weber, for instance, argued that a key component of the modern worldview was a marked “disenchantment of the world,” as scientific rationality displaced older, magical, and “irrational” ways of understanding. Indeed, the forecasters … certainly saw themselves as systematic empiricists and logicians who promised to rescue the science of prediction from quacks and psychics. They sought, in the words of historian Jackson Lears, to “stabilize the sorcery of the market.” (Friedman 2014, 5)

The relationship between the forecasting industry and modernity was an ambivalent one, though. On the one hand, the early forecasters helped build key institutions (including Moody’s Investors Service and the National Bureau of Economic Research) and popularize new statistical tools, like leading indicators and indexes of industrial production. On the other hand, though all forecasters dressed their predictions in the garb of rationality (with graphs, numbers, and equations), their predictive accuracy was no more certain than a crystal ball. Moreover, despite efforts of forecasters to distance themselves from astrologers and popular conjurers, the emergence of scientific forecasting went hand in hand with rising popular interest in all manner of prediction. The general public, anxious for insights into an uncertain future, consumed forecasts indiscriminately. (Friedman 2014, 5)

Sack the Economists

And Disband the Departments of The Walking Dead

In 1994 Paul Ormerod published a book called The Death of Economics. He argued economists don’t know what they’re talking about. In 2001 Steve Keen published a book called Debunking Economics: the naked emperor of the social sciences, with a second edition in 2011 subtitled The naked emperor dethroned?. Keen also argued economists don’t know what they’re talking about. (Davies 2015, 1)

Neither of these books, nor quite a few others, has had the desired effect. Mainstream economics has sailed serenely on its way, declaiming, advising, berating, sternly lecturing, deciding, teaching, pontificating. Meanwhile half of Europe and many regions and groups in the United States are in depression, and fascism is making a comeback. The last big depression spawned Hitler. This one is promoting Golden Dawn in Greece and similar extremist movements elsewhere. In the anglophone world a fundamentalist right-wing ideology is enforcing an increasingly narrow political correctness centred on “free” markets and the right of the rich to do and say whatever they like. “Freedom”, but only for some, and without responsibility. (Davies 2015, 1-2)

Evidently Ormerod and Keen were too subtle. It’s true their books also get a bit technical at times, especially Keen’s, but then they were addressing the profession, trying to bring it to its senses, to reform it from the inside. That seems to have been their other mistake. They produced example after example of how mainstream ideas fail, but still they had no effect. I think the message was addressed to the wrong audience, and was just too subtle. Economics is naked and dead, but never mind the stink, just prop up the corpse and carry on. (Davies 2015, 2)

Oh, but look! The corpse is moving. It’s getting up and walking. Time to call in John Quiggin, author of Zombie Economics: how dead ideas still walk among us. Perhaps he’ll show us how to shoot it in the head, or whatever it takes to finally stop a zombie. (Davies 2015, 2)

Well, I think it’s clear we can’t be too subtle. We need to speak in plain English, to everyone, and get straight to the point. Economists don’t know what they’re talking about. We should remove economists from positions of power and influence. Get them out of treasuries, central banks, media, universities, where ever they spread their baleful ignorance. (Davies 2015, 2)

Economists don’t know how businesses work, they don’t know how financial markets work, they can’t begin to do elementary accounting, they don’t know where money comes from nor how banks work, they think private debt has no effect on the economy, their favourite theory is a laughably irrelevant abstraction and they never learnt that mathematics on its own is not science. They ignore well-known evidence that clearly contradicts their theories. (Davies 2015, 2-3)

Other academics should look into this discipline called economics that lurks in their midst. Practitioners of proper academic rigour, like historians, ecologists, physicists, psychologists, systems scientists, engineers, even lawyers, will be shocked. Academic economics is an incoherent grab bag of mathematical abstraction, assertion, failure to heed observations, misrepresentation of history and sources, rationalisation of archaic money-lending practices, and wishful thinking. It missed the computational boat that liberated other fields from old analytical mathematics and overly-restrictive assumptions. It is ignorant of major fields of modern knowledge in biology, ecology, psychology, anthropology, physics and systems science. (Davies 2015, 3)

Though many economists themselves may not realise it, economics is an ideology rationalised by a dog’s breakfast of superficial arguments and defended by dense thickets of jargon and arcane mathematics. The ideology is an old one: the rich and powerful know best, the rest of us are here to serve them. (Davies 2015, 3)

Origin of Animal Body Plans

Whether you can observe a thing or not depends on the theory which you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed.

— Albert Einstein, 1926

[Gold reminds us we must not forget] … the striking reformation of evolutionary theory implied by the well-documented genetic and developmental homologies alone. De Robertis expresses this key argument in the final line of his 1997 article on the ancestry of segmentation: “The realization that all Bilateria are derived from a complex ancestor represents a major change in evolutionary thinking, suggesting that the constraints imposed by the previous history of species played a greater role in the outcome of animal evolution than anyone would have predicted until recently.” (Gould 2002: 1152) [De Robertis, E.M. 1997. The ancestory of segmentation. Nature 387: 25-26. See also, De Robertis, E.M., G. Oliver, and C.V.E. Wright. 1990. Homeobox genes and the vertebrate body plan. Scientific American, July, pp. 46-52; De Robertis, E.M., and Y. Sasai. 1996. A common plan for dorsoventral patterning in Bilateria. Nature 380: 37-40.]

(….) Hughes (2000, p. 65) has expressed this cardinal discovery of evo-devo in phyletic and paleontological terms: “It is hard to escape the suspicion that what we witness in the Cambrian is mainly tinkering with developmental systems already firmly established by the time these Cambrian beasts showed up.” (Gould 2002: 1155) [Hughes, N.C. 2000. The rocky road to Mendel’s play. Evol. and Develop. 2: 63-66.]

Gould, Stephen J. The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press; 2002; p. 1152; 1155.

As it turns out, the miracle of complex life is more amazing, yet ironically simpler, than anyone ever expected. Researchers now know that life’s building materials are few, and they were “invented” near the dawn of animals. More specifically, a surprisingly small number of genes—”tool kit genes”—are the primary components for building all animals, and these genes emerged at a time before the Cambrian Explosion, some 600 million years ago. Thus the amazing diversity of the animal kingdom is the result of the flexibility of a small number of building blocks that have existed for eons.

This means, for example, that the gene that controls the formation of an arm on a human is the same gene that controls the formation of a wing on a bird, a fin on a fish, and a leg on a centipede, and that this gene has been around since the first animals grew the first appendage of any kind. Some prominent scientists have argued that if we could rewind the tape of life and start over again, the result would be a totally different world from that which exists today. They are wrong. Tool kit genes conserve the essence of animals, and they react to ecological cues in very consistent ways [emphasis added].

Carroll, Sean B. Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo. New York: Norton; 2005: Inside Dustjacket.

We now need to confront the question of whether the biological community or at least the large proportion of it has come to accept a theory of evolution that is based on a broadly parallel error. Our case studies on the action of natural selection all involve microevolutionary changes occurring within particular lineages hundreds of millions of years after the origin of the major body plans of which the species concerned represent variations. Many of these case-studies are well known, especially the evolution of industrial melanism in Biston (Bishop and Cook 1980), the evolution of pigmentation patterns in Cepaea (Jones, Leith and Rawlings 1977) and the evolution of Batesian mimicry in several lepidopterans (Turner 1977). Many paleontological case studies are also restricted to particular lineages, with studies on the horse (Simpson 1951; MacFadden 1992) and the mollusks of Lake Turkana (Williamson 1981) being among the best known. While such studies are usually transspecific, and therefore in the realm of ‘macroevolution’, they are only a very short distance in that direction from an origin-of-body-plans perspective. (Simpson (1944) used the term ‘mega-evolution’ for the biggest-scale evolutionary events such as body plan origins, but this term has not become widely adopted.)

So, this book is starting with an exhortation to the reader to believe that current evolutionary theory, based on natural selection and adaptation in present-day lineages is, at the very least, incomplete; and this exhortation is based on the drawing of a parallel between the processes of development and evolution. (Arthur 1997: 2-3)

(….) Regardless of timing of early [Cambrian] divergences, it appears that no phylum-level body plans have arisen in the animal kingdom in the last 500 my. This contrasts with the situation in plants, where teh angiosperm body plan arose relatively recently (probably about 130 my ago: see Hickey and Doyle 1977; Crane, Friis and Pederson 1995). Perhaps this difference relates to a difference in developmental-genetic control mechanisms in the two kingdoms, with some genes controlling the determination of animal body axes and other key processes of early ontogeny being more ‘generatively entrenched’ (Wimsatt 1986) than their nearest equivalents in plants. (Arthur 1997: 7)

(….) [O]ur current (neo-Darwinian) theory of evolution is incomplete…. In fact, neo-Darwinian theory is incomplete even when assessed against its own criteria. The essence of the neo-Darwinian view is that the evolutionary process is of a two-fold nature, involving the production of organismic novelties (of whatever sort) ultimately by mutation and the sieving of these by natural selection. (Arthur 1997: 9)

(….) The main problem with neo-Darwinism in its current form is that its theoretical structure is extremely lopsided. There has been sustained development of quantitative models of the action of selection, from the pioneering work of Fisher (1930), Haldane (1932) and Wright (1931) up to recent work such as that of Charlesworth (1994); while the mutational and developmental production of the variants being sieved by selection has continued to be treated by too many evolutionists as a ‘black box’, despite the numerous advances that have been made in developmental genetics in recent years. Essentially, the individual and population levels have been treated as quasi-independent. The fitness of mutant genotypes have been considered to be crucially important in models of selection, while the ways in which fitness effects are produced … have been largely disregarded. (Arthur 1997: 9-10)

This situation should of course be considered undesirable by all evolutionary biologists, including the strictest of neo-Darwinians, but how serious a problem the lack of a mutational/developmental component of evolutionary theory is perceived to be depends on the extent to which the ‘perceiver’ is a gradualist. If, despite the views put forward herein, all evolution proceeds through the accumulation of very minor variations — an extreme view popularized by Dawkins (1986) — then it may not be too much of a deficiency in the theory to simply assume that mutation perpetually generates morphologies that are slight variants on the existing form. But to anyone proposing the existence of one or more radical morphogenetic phases in evolution, the need for an adequate picture of the genetic architecture of development and of the ways in which this is altered by mutation becomes compelling. Hence the feelings of dissatisfaction that many evolutionary developmental biologists have with neo-Darwinism. There is nothing wrong with elaborate models of selection, but a detailed quantitative statement of how existing types are sorted and selectively eliminated (or held in a state of stable equilibrium) cannot pretend to be a complete theory. (Arthur 1997: 10)

Ironically, most of the alternative approaches to evolution that have proliferated in the last few decades have allowed the focus on destructive rather than creative forces to persist. The neutral theory of molecular evolution (Kimura 1983) — arguably within a broad neo-Darwinian world view — concentrates on the stochastic loss of neutral and nearly neutral alleles produced in an unspecified way by mutation. Punctuated equilibrium (Eldredge and Gould 1972) is a pattern, not a process, and may simply be a geological reflection of the standard neo-Darwinian mechanism of allopatric speciation, although some authors (e.g. Williamson 1981) have suggested otherwise…. (Arthur 1997: 10)

(….) The only approach [as of 1997, at the time of this writing] to evolution that has attempted to focus on creative forces has been that of Evolutionary Developmental Biology. I use this label (… Hall 1992) to cover the work of a heterogeneous group of biologists including, among others, von Baer (1828), Thompson (1917), de Beer (1930), Goldschmidt (1940), Waddington (1957), Gould (1977b [2002]), Raff and Kaufman (1983), Buss (1987), Arthur (1988), Thomson (1988) and Raff (1996). (Arthur 1997: 11)

A Work in Progress

[E]volutionary economics is a work in progress…. The term “evolutionary economics” has been used to denote a wide range of economic research and writing…. [T]he authors, believe that the value of a broad theoretical perspective, such as that of evolutionary economics, should be judged in terms of the strength and quality of the understanding of empirical phenomena and the illumination of policy questions provided by research oriented by that perspective. We believe that the research done over the last thirty years oriented by evolutionary economic theory has amply demonstrated the value of that theory, and we want to increase the number of scholars who appreciate that. (Nelson et. al. 2018)

(….) At the root of the difference between evolutionary economics and economics of the sort presented in today’s standard textbooks is the conviction of evolutionary economists that continuing change, largely driven by innovation, is a central characteristic of modern capitalist economies, and that this fact ought to be built into the core of basic economic theory. Economies are always changing, new elements are always being introduced and old ones disappearing. Of course economic activities and economic sectors differ in the pace and character of change. In many parts of the economy innovation is rapid and continuing, and the context for economic action taking is almost always shifting and providing new opportunities and challenges. And while in some activities and sectors the rate of innovation is more limited, attempts at doing something new are going on almost everywhere in the economy, and so too change that can make obsolete old ways of doing things. Neoclassical theory, which is a significant influence on how most professionally trained economists think, represses this. (Nelson et. al. 2018)

[To be continued … but don’t hold your breath …]

Social Science as Sorcery

There are four chief obstacles to grasping truth, which hinder every man, however learned, and scarcely allow anyone to win a clear title to knowledge; namely, submission to faulty and unworthy authority, influence of custom, popular prejudice, and concealment of our own ignorance accompanied by an ostentatious display of our knowledge.

— Roger Bacon cited in Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery

[W]hat we have to deal with in the study of society and culture, indicates its purely intellectual difficulties, and shows how much easier are physics, chemistry or even biology. Even this, however, is not the whole story: for imagine how sorry would be the plight of the natural scientist if the objects of his inquiry were in a habit of reacting to what he says about them: if the substances could read or hear what the chemist writes or says about them, and were likely to jump out of their containers and burn him if they did not like what they saw on the blackboard or in his notebook. And imagine the difficulty of testing the validity of chemical formulae if, by repeating them long enough or persuasively enough, the chemist could induce the substances to behave in accordance with them — with the danger, however, that they might decide to spite him by doing exactly the opposite. Under such circumstances our chemist would not only have a hard time trying to discover firm regularities in his objects’ behaviour but would have to be very guarded in what he said lest the substances take offense and attack him. His task would be even more hopeless if the chemicals could see through his tactics, organize themselves to guard their secrets, and devise counter-measures to his maneouvres — which would be parallel to what the student of human affairs has to face. (Andreski 1973, 20-21, in Social Sciences as Sorcery)

There is no reason to deny the existence of phenomena known to us only through introspection; and a number of philosophers have pointed out the impossibility of carrying out Carnap’s programme (accepted as a dogma by the behaviourists) of translating all statements about mental states into what he calls the physicalist language. I would go even further and agrue that physics itself cannot be expressed in the physicalist langauge alone because it is an empirical science only insofar as it includes an assertion that its theories are corroborated by the evidence of the senses; and we can assign no meaning to the latter term without entailing a concept of self…. Thus you cannot give an account of the evidential foundations of physics without hearing and uttering ‘I’. And what kind of meaning can you attach to this word without using the knowledge obtained through introspection; and without postulating the existence of other minds within which processes are taking place which are similar to those which you alone can observe? (Andreski 1973, 21-22, in Social Sciences as Sorcery)

At this point let me say a few words about the often debated question whether any of the social sciences is a ‘real’ science. As often happens with such debates the arguments for as well as against omit the obvious truth that the answer to this question will depend on what we mean by science. If we mean exact science like physics or chemistry, then neither economics nor psychology nor sociology nor any other kind of research into human conduct is a science [, which obviously includes economics]. But if we agree to affix this honorific label to any kind of systematic study which aims at providing careful descriptions, substantiated explanations and factually supported generalizations, then we can say that the above mentioned branches of learning are sciences — although the propriety of this appellation will depend on whether we decide on the basis of aspirations or actual performance, and whether we look at the average or at the highest achievements. (Andreski 1973, 22-23, in Social Sciences as Sorcery)

Though formidable enough, the methodological difficulties appear trivial in comparison with the fundamental obstacles to the development of an exact science of soceity which puts it on an entirely differnt plane from the natural sciences: namely the fact that human beings react to what is said about them. More than that of his colleagues in the natural sciences, the position of an ‘expert’ in the study of human behaviour resembles that of a sorcerer who can make the crops come up or the rain fall by uttering an incantation. And because the facts with which he deals are seldom veifiable, his customers are able to demand to be told what they like to hear, and will punish the court physicians for failing to cure them. Moreover, as people want to achieve their ends by influencing others, they will always try to cajole, bully or bribe the witch-doctor into using his powers for their benefit and uttering the needed incantation … or at least telling them something pleasing. And why should he resist threats and tempations when in his specialty it is so difficult to prove or disprove anything, that he can with impunity indulge his fancy, pander to his listeners’ loves and hates or even peddle conscious lies. His dilemma, however, stems from the difficulty of retracing his steps; because very soon he passes the point of no return after which it becomes too painful to confess that he has been taking advantage of the public’s gullibility. So, to allay his gnawing doubts, anxieties and guilt, he is compelled to take the line of least resistance by spinning more and more intricate webs of fiction and falsehood, while paying ever more ardent lip-service to the ideas of objectivity and the pursuit of truth. (Andreski 1973, 24, in Social Sciences as Sorcery)

So to examine the validity of the claim that these are highly useful branches of knowledge, let us ask what their contribution to mankind’s welfare is supposed to be. To judge by the cues from training courses and textbooks, the practical usefulness of psychology consists of helping people to find their niche in society, to adapt themselves to it painlessly, and to dwell therein contentedly and in harmony with their companions. [We can ask the same question about economics.] So, we should find that in countries, regions, institutions or sectors where services or psychologists [and economists] are widely used, families are more enduring, bonds between spouses, siblings, parents and children stronger and warmer, relations between colleagues more harmonious, the treatment of recipients of aid better, vandals, criminals and drug addicts fewer, than in places or groups which do not avail themselves of the psychologists’ skills. On this basis we could infer that the blessed country of harmony and peace is of course the United States; and that it ought to have been becoming more and more so during the last quarter of the century in step with the growth in numbers of sociologists, psychologists [, economists] and political scientists. (Andreski 1973, 26, in Social Sciences as Sorcery)

The self-fulfilling prophecy constitutes only one (and fairly narrow) manifestation of the much more general disposition of human beings to be influenced by what is said about them and their environment. On the individual plane everybody knows that one can make a person discontented by deploring the circumstances under which he lives, encourage his endeavour by praise, or discourage it by sarcasm…. [I]f we show that the idea that ‘honesty is the best policy’ is groundless we remove an important incentive to honesty. (Andreski 1973, 31, in Social Sciences as Sorcery)

Even such purely academic theories as interpretations of human nature have profound practical consequences if disseminated widely enough. If we impress upon people that science has discovered that human beings are motivated only by the desire for material advantage, they will tend to live up to this expectation, and we shall have undermined their readiness to moved by impersonal ideals. By propagating the opposite view we might succeed in producing a larger number of idealists, but also help cynical exploiters to find easy victims. This specific issue, incidentally, is of immense actual importance, because it seems that the moral disorientation and fanatic nihilism which afflict modern youth have been stimulated by the popular brands of sociology and psychology [and economics] with their bias for overlooking the more inspiring achievements and focusing on the dismal average or even the subnormal. When, fraudulently basking in the glory of the exact sciences, the psychologists [, theoretical economists, etc.,] refuse to study anything but the most mechanical forms of behavior often so mechanical that even rats have no chance to show their higher faculties and then present their mostly trivial findings as the true picture of the human mind, they prompt people to regard themselves and others as automata, devoid of responsibility or worth, which can hardly remain without effect upon the tenor of social life. (Andreski 1973, 33-34, in Social Sciences as Sorcery)

Abstrusiveness need not impair a doctrine’s aptness for inducing or fortifying certain attitudes, as it may in fact help to inspire awe and obedience by ‘blinding people with science’. (Andreski 1973, 35)

If the rank and file come to be convinced that the leaders are crooks, cowards or fools, their actions will differ radically from what would be, were they convinced that the leaders are dedicated men of great courage and intelligence. Conversely, the leaders’ behaviour will to some extent depend on the popular image of their office, which will determine whether the latter carries with it the dignity which they are expected to live up to, or whether they will have no reputation to preserve. (Andreski 1973, 36, in Social Sciences as Sorcery)

The difficulty of verifying assertions about human relations gives wide scope to ulterior motives, and provides immunity for the purveyors of false information. (Andreski 1973, 38, in Social Sciences as Sorcery)

If you listen to the practitioners of social and economic research talking informally, you will easily find that not only are they very well aware of the aforementioned [social status and economic gain] pressures, but also that they fully take them into account in making plans and arrangements about what to study, to write, or to say. This, however, happens on the everyday bread-and-butter level, while neither their pronouncements ex cathedra nor their publications ever mention that these pressures might make a difference to the trustworthiness of the results of social research, and to the prospects of its ever attaining the level of objectivity and reliability of the natural sciences. (Andreski 1973, 39, in Social Sciences as Sorcery)

To summarize: the propensity of human objects of inquiry to react to what is said about them creates three kinds of obstacles to the development of the social sciences. The first is of a methodological nature and consists of the difficulties surrounding the task of verifying propositions which can influence the happenings which they purport merely to describe or analyse. The second kind of impediment stems from the presures upon the direction of the inquiry and the dissemination of its results, motivated firstly by the awareness that what is said might influence what will happen; and secondly by the desire … to hear what pleases them. The disarray wrought by the operation of the two aforementioned factors prduces the third kind of impairment in the shape of ample opportunities for getting away with falsehoods and crypto-propaganda. (Andreski 1973, 39-40, in Social Sciences as Sorcery)

Once an activity becomes a profession — this is, a way of making a living — the dedicated amateurs tend to fall into second place, greatly outnumbered by the practitioners guided primarily (if not soley) by the normal motives of the market place — which commonly boil down to the desire to get the most at the least cost to themselves. In other words, as soon as it becomes apparent that there is money in it, the saleability of goods rather than their intrinsic excellence becomes the dominant criterion. (Andreski 1973, 43, in Social Sciences as Sorcery) [i.e., literature-only economics; see Payson 2017.]

If everything is wonderfully dovetailed and adjusted, then we should leave things alone. More insidiously than nineteenth century organicism, functionalism propagates a conservative ideology in the name of science; while, for those things its practitioners do not like, they have the aforementioned epithet ‘dysfunctional’, which enables them to insinuate a condemnation without openly saying so, and to enlist the authority of science for their ideologies or personal preferences. For if somebody says that something is good or bad, he might be asked: for what?, or for whom?, or why? So he might be obliged to take off the mask of objective omniscience and to reveal, firstly, his values and, secondly, the reasons for his assumptions about the likely consequences of various arrangements or courses of action; whereas by using ‘functional’ and ‘dysfunctional’ instead of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, a functionalist can hide behind a façade of objectivity and invoke the magic of science to back his crypto-propagandist insinuations. (Andreski 1973, 57-58, Social Science as Sorcery)

Anreski’s letter to editor

The article to which I referred in my letter supplied one or more of the innumerable instances of that ever-popular kind of explanation which consists of a tautological rephrasing which tells us nothing that we did not understand before. An explanation which Moliere ridiculed three hundred years ago in one of his plays, where one of the characters answers the question about why opium makes people sleep by saying that it is because of its soporific power. In historiography and social sciences this kind of explanation crops up again and again. Thus, to take an example of a great scholar who luckily did not confine himself to this, Werner Sombart attributed the development of capitalism to the spread of ‘the spirit of capitalism’, without telling us how we could find out that this spirit was spreading except by observing activities which add up to the process known as the development of capitalism. (Andreski 1973, 68, in Social Science as Sorcery)

The attraction of jargon and obfuscating convolutions can be fully explained by the normal striving of humans for emoluments and prestige at the least cost to themselves, the cost in question consisting of the mental effort and the danger of ‘sticking one’s neck out’ or ‘putting one’s foot in it’. In addition to eliminating such risks, as well as the need to learn much, nebulous verbosity opens a road to the most prestigious academic posts to people of small intelligence whose limitations would stand naked if they had to state what they have to say clearly and succinctly. Actually, the relationship between the character of a jargon-mongerer and the amount of his verbiage can be expressed in the formula below, which can be applied in the following manner. The first step is to assign intuitively estimated scores for an author’s ambition, designated by A, and to knowledge, designated by K (which must always be greater then 0, as nobody knows exactly nothing). A must also be positive because, if somebody’s literary ambition is nil, they he writes nothing, and there is nothing to apply our equation to. V stands for verbose jargon. Our equation is

Verbosity Formula

Why I? Because when the knowledge matches the ambition there is no verbiage. When knowledge exceeds the ambition V becomes negative; and negative verbiage amounts to conciseness. However, since there is a limit to conciseness, V can never become less than I; whereas there is not limit to verbiage, and so V increases indefinitely as ambition grows, while knowledge vanishes. (Andreski 1973, 82-83, Social Science as Sorcery)

Our formula cannot, of cours be treated as exact until measurable indices are devised for the variables, and then checked against empirical data. I do believe, however, that it is approximately true, and I invite readers to try it on the authors they read as well as on their colleagues, teachers or students. Its predictive and explanatory power is roughly the same as that of most theorems of mathematical economics. The many different kinds of people, ranging from an undergraduate who is trying to scrape through a dissertation without having learned anything, to a scholar with a fairly extensive knowledge but devoured by a craving for greatness. (Andreski 1973, 83, Social Science as Sorcery)

If you happen to be a student, you can apply the same test to your teachers who claim that what they are teaching you rests upon incontrovertible scientific foundations. See what they know about the natural sciences and mathematics and their philosophical foundations. Naturally, you cannot expect them to have a specialist knowledge of these fields; but if they are completely ignorant of these things, do not take seriously grandiloquent claims of the ultra-scientific character of their teachings. Furthermore, do not be impressed unduly by titles or positions. (Andreski 1973, 86, in Social Science as Sorcery)

As has often been said, measurement is the beginning of science (if we mean thereby exact science) because our ability to predict the behaviour of a phenomenon must remain very restricted until we can measure it. It does not follow, however, that no knowledge whatsoever is possible without measurement, nor that such knowledge cannot be worth having — which is precisely the conclusion which … many sociologists [and economists] have adopted in the mistaken belief that only thereby can they maintain the scientific character of their discipline. But the true scientific spirit consists of trying to obtain the nearest approximation to truth which is possible under the circumstances, and it is puerile to demand either perfect exactitude or nothing. those who refuse to deal with important and interesting problems simply because the relevant factors cannot be measured, condemn the social sciences to sterility, because we cannot get very far with the study of measurable variables if these depend on, and are closely interwoven with, immensurable factors of whose nature and operation we know nothing. A weakness of this kind diminishes the usefulness of economic theory … because it excludes from its universe of discourse immensurable but causally crucial factors … such as the balance of political power … or simply relegating them to the category of those things which are treated as ‘being equal’. (Andreski 1973, 123, in Social Science as Sorcery)

To substantiate their claims, the advocates of an exclusive concentration on quantification ought to demonstrate either that [political] corruption can be measured, or that it is a factor of no significance. The fist, … cannot be done, while to maintain that corrupt practices play no important part in social causation one must be either a hypocrite or a starry-eyed dreamer. (Andreski 1973, 124, in Social Science as Sorcery)

Even if the diagnosis offered on the foregoing pages is only partially correct, we have no grounds for expecting any great leap forward in the study of society which would replicate the rapid advances of the natural sciences. True, it is quite easy to conceive remedies against many of the ills stemming from the purely intellectual difficulties, which would work in a more perfect world. we could, for instance, insist that the economists should openly state the limitations and empirical reliability of their models, be prepared to take cultural (or, if you like, psychological and sociological [and the humanities, and literature, and religious studies, etc.]) factors into account, and desist from proffering advice on the basis of one-sided and coarsely materialistic statistics. We could demand that the psychologists should acquire some general culture, and acquaint themselves with the subtler products of the human mind before setting themselves up as experts on human nature. We could compel the sociologists to learn about history and philosophy, and the historians about the social sciences. Above all, we need a kind of intellectual puritanism which would regard money as a clear (even necessary) evil, and any manipulation of it as essentially polluting. Not that any great advantage would accrue if social scientists imitated monks and took vows of poverty; but, nonetheless, no steady advance will be possible without an ethical code which would forcefully condemn mercenary trimming as intellectual prostitution, and counter the natural human tendency not only to flatter and obey, but even to genuinely to adore those who control money or wield coercive power. The snag is that it is difficult to visualize who could enforce such requirements, and how. The difficulty here is the same as with finding the best form of government: we can readily agree with Plato that the best system would be that where the wisest and kindest rule, but nobody has so far been able to discover a practicable method for brining about such a state of affairs. (Andreski 1973, 231-232, in Social Science as Sorcery)

Some years before the First World War, a Parisian periodical asked some of the most prominent French figures in the various branches of what we would now call social sciences, and which were known at the time in France as les sciences morales, about what they regarded as the most essential method in their field. While other respondents sent back learned methodological disquisitions, Georges Sorel replied in one word: honesty. This lapidary answer has lost none of its relevance; but it is difficult to find any reasons for hoping that we shall ever have a society where absolute frankness would be the best policy for self-advancement. (Andreski 1973, 231-232, in Social Science as Sorcery)

Despite these irremovable obstacles, my own view on the prospects for the social sciences might be described as a desperate optimism. I say desperate because I do not see how our civilization could survive without important advances in our understanding of man and society. Having invented so many wonderous gadgets [e.g., nuclear weapons] which can be employed for its benefit only through the utmost use of reason, mankind has long ago passed the point of no return in this respect. No matter how valuable might be many ingredients of the old religious and moral traditions, the problem of how to reconcile human physical and spiritual needs with the environment created by technology, and how to assure mankind’s very survival, will not be solved by going back to the good old ways or dogmas. Consequently, I have no doubt that if the social sciences fall into a total and irremediable decadence, this will be a part of the general collapse of civilization, likely to be followed by an extinction of our species. No matter therefore how heavy are the odds against us, we should persist in trying to do our best, because the alternative is resignation in the face of an imminent catastrophe. (Andreski 1973, 232, in Social Science as Sorcery)

Provided some freedom of expression remains, we have reason to hope that no branch of learning will come to a complete standstill even when its main trunk succumbs to decay; because even during the ages of deepest ignorance and superstition, indomitable spirits with a natural bent for rational inquiry continued to crop up and add a brick or two to edifice of knowledge. What made their cerebrations more effective in the long run than the efforts of the vastly more numerous priests and mystagogues was the fact that the products of rational thought are cumulative, whereas mystic visions, fads, stunts and phantasmagorias not only add up to nothing, but even cancel one another out and merely sway minds to and fro, hither and thither. (Andreski 1973, 232-233, in Social Science as Sorcery)

Literature Only Economics vs. Practical Problem Solving Economics

This was a paper hard to read. It does not mean that the paper was badly written. The difficulty of the task that the author sought enforced him to write this difficult paper. After struggling a week in reading the paper, I am rather sympathetic with Delorme. In a sense, he was unfortunate, because he came to be interested in complexity problems by encountering two problems: (1) road safety problem and (2) the Regime of Interactions between the State and the Economy (RISE). I say “unfortunate,” because these are not good problems with which to start the general discussion on complexity in economics, as I will explain later. Of course, one cannot choose the first problems one encounters and we cannot blame the author on this point, but in my opinion the good starting problems are crucial to further development of the argument of complexity in economics.

Let us take the example of the beginning of modern physics. Do not think of Newton. It is a final accomplishment of the first phase of modern physics. There will be no many people who object that modern physics started by two (almost simultaneous) discoveries: (1) Kepler’s laws of orbital movements and (2) Galileo’s law of falling bodies and others. The case of Galilei can be explained by a gradual rise of the spirit of experiments. Kepler’s case is more interesting. One of crucial data for him was Tycho Brahe’s observations. He improved the accuracy of observation about 1 digit. Before Brahe for more than one thousand years, accuracy of astronomical observations was about 1 tenth of a degree (i.e. 6 minutes in angular unit system). Brahe improved this up to an accuracy of 1/2 minute to 1 minute. With this data, Kepler was confident that 8 minutes of error he detected in Copernican system was clear evidence that refutes Copernican and Ptolemaic systems. Kepler declared that these 8 minutes revolutionize whole astronomy. After many years of trials and errors, he came to discover that Mars follows an elliptic orbit. Newton’s great achievement was only possible because he knew these two results (of Galilei and Kepler). For example, Newton’s law of gravitation was not a simple result of induction or abduction. The law of square-inverse was a result of halflogical deduction from Kepler’s third law.

I cite this example, because this explains in which conditions a science can emerge. In the same vein, the economics of complexity (or more correctly economics) can be a good science when we find this good starting point. (Science should not be interpreted in a conventional meaning. I mean by science as a generic term for a good framework and system of knowledge). For example, imagine that solar system was composed of two binary stars and earth is orbiting with a substantial relative weight. It is easy to see that this system has to be solved as three-body problem and it would be very difficult for a Kepler to find any law of orbital movement. Then the history of modern physics would have been very different. This simple example shows us that any science is conditioned by complexity problems, or by tractable and intractable problem of the subject matter or objects we want to study.

The lesson we should draw form the history of modern physics is a science is most likely to start from more tractable problems and evolve to a state that can incorporate more complex and intractable phenomena. I am afraid that Delorme is forgetting this precious lesson. Isn’t he imagining that an economic science (and social science in general) can be well constructed if we gain a good philosophy and methodology of complex phenomena?

I do not object that many (or most) of economic phenomena are deeply complex ones. What I propose as a different approach is to climb the complexity hill by taking a more easy route or track than to attack directly the summit of complexity. Finding this track should be the main part of research program but I could not find any such arguments in Delorme’s paper. (Yoshinori Shiozawa, A Cognitive Behavioral Modelling for Coping with Intractable Complex Phenomena in Economics and Social Science. In Economic Philosophy: Complexity in Economics (WEA Conference), 10/10/2017.)

1) My paper can be viewed as an exercise in problem solving in a context of empirical intractability in social science. It was triggered by the empirical discovery of complex phenomena raising questions that are not amenable to available tools of analysis, i.e., are intractable. Then the problem is to devise a model and tools of analysis enabling to cope with these questions. Then, unless someone comes with a complex system analysis or whatever tool that solves the problem at stake, a thing I would welcome, I can’t think of any other way to proceed than focusing on the very cognitive process of knowledge creation and portraying it as a reflective, open-ended, problem-first cognitive behavioral endeavour. It is an approach giving primacy both to looking and discovering rather than to assuming and deducing, and to complexity addressed in its own right rather than to complex systems in which complexity is often viewed tautologically as the behavior of complex systems. The outcome is a new tool of analysis named Deep Complexity in short. I believe that the availability of this tool provides a means to take more seriously the limitations of knowledge in a discipline like economics in which inconclusive and non demonstrative developments are not scarce when sizeable issues are involved.

2) Yoshinori Shiozawa raises the question of where to start from, from tractable problems or from the intractable? He advocates the former and suggests to “evolve to a state that can incorporate more complex and intractable phenomena”. But then, with what tools of analysis for intractable phenomena? And I would have never addressed intractability if I had not bumped into unresolved empirical obtacles. Non commutative complementarity is at work here: starting with the tractable in a discipline dominated by non conclusive and non demonstrative debates doesn’t create any incentive to explore thoroughly the intractable. It is even quite intimidating for those who engage in it. This sociology of the profession excludes de facto intractability from legitimate investigation. Then starting from the possibility of intractability incorporates establishing a dividing line and entails a procedural theorizing in which classical analysis can be developed for tractable problems when they are identified, otherwise the deep complexity tool is appropriate, before a substantive theorizing can be initiated. It is a counterintuitive process: complexification comes first, before a further necessary simplification or reduction. (Robert Delorme, (WEA Conference), 11/30/2017.)

In my first comment in this paper, I have promised to argue the track I propose. I could not satisfy my promise. Please read my second post for the general comments in discussion forum. I have given a short description on the working of an economy that can be as big as world economy. It explains how an economy works. The working of economy (not economics) is simple but general equilibrium theory disfigured it. The track I propose for economics is to start form these simple observations

As I have wrote in my first post, modern science started from Galileo Galilei’s physics and Johaness Kepler’s astronomy. We should not imagine that we can solve a really difficult problem (Delorme’s deep complexity) in a simple way. It is not a wise way to try to attack deep complexity unless we have succeeded to develop a sufficient apparatus by which to treat it. (Yoshinori Shiozawa, A Cognitive Behavioral Modelling for Coping with Intractable Complex Phenomena in Economics and Social Science. In Economic Philosophy: Complexity in Economics (WEA Conference), 11/30/2017.)

Dear Dr Shiozawa, it seems that we are not addressing the same objects of inquiry. Yours seems to stand at an abstract level of modern science in general. Mine is much less ambitious: it is grounded in research on how to deal with particular, empirically experienced problems in real economic and social life, that appear intractable, and subject to scientific practice. Deep Complexity is the tool that is manufactured to address this particular problem. It may have wider implications in social science. but that is another story. (Robert Delorme, A Cognitive Behavioral Modelling for Coping with Intractable Complex Phenomena in Economics and Social Science. In Economic Philosophy: Complexity in Economics (WEA Conference), 11/30/2017.)

You are attacking concrete social problems. I am rather a general theorist. That may be the reason of our differences of stance toward your problem.

Our situation reminds me the history of medicine. This is one of the oldest science and yet as the organism is highly complex system, many therapies remained symptomatic. Even though, they were to some extent useful and practical. I do not deny this fact. However, modern medicine is now changing its features, because biophysical theories and discoveries are changing medical research. Researchers are investigating the molecular level mechanism why a disease emerges. Using this knowledge, they can now design drugs at the molecular level. Without having a real science, this is not possible.

[Note Shiozawa’s implicit claim that previous medical science was not real science, but became real with the advent of molecular biology. No doubt molecular biology has opened up new domains of knowledge, but of course it is simply ludicrous to claim medicine wasn’t real science prior to molecular biology, as many perfectly valid scientific discoveries prior to and/or discovered without molecular biology are available to prove this assertion simply false. As Delorme states plainly below, this is scientism, not to mention an abysmal attempt to use revisionist history for purely rhetorical purposes. For more examples of Shiozawa’s scientism and sophistry see Semantic Negligence and for a description of literature-only economics see Payson 2017. For a good description of the kind of scientism Shiozawa is parroting see Pilkington 2016. To use one of Shiozawa’s favorite authors for go-to appeals to authority (unfortunately his memory doesn’t serve him well as Andreski contradicts his claim on RWER), see Stanislav Andreski’s Social Sciences as Sorcery (1973, 22-23).]

Economics is still in the age of pre-Copernican stage. It would be hard to find a truth mechanism why one of your examples occurs. I understand your intention, if you want say by the word of “deep complexity” a set of problems that are still beyond our ability of cognition or analysis. We may take a method very different from the regular science and probably similar to symptomatology and diagnostics. If you have argue in this way, it would have made a great contribution to our forum on complexities in economics. This is what I wanted to argue as the third aspect of complexity, i.e. complexity that conditions the development of economics as science.

To accumulate symptomatic and diagnostic knowledge in economics is quite important but most neglected part of the present day economics. (Yoshinori Shiozawa, A Cognitive Behavioral Modelling for Coping with Intractable Complex Phenomena in Economics and Social Science. In Economic Philosophy: Complexity in Economics (WEA Conference), 12/1/2017, italics added.)

It is interesting to learn that, as an economist and social scientist, I must be in a “pre-Copernican” stage. Although what this means is not totally clear to me, I take it as revealing that our presuppositions about scientific practice differ. You claim to know what is the most appropriate way of investigating the subject I address, and that this way is the methods and tools of natural science. I claim to have devised a way which works, without knowing if it is the most appropriate, a thing whose decidability would seem to be quite problematic. And the way I have devised meets the conditions of a reflective epistemology of scientific practice, in natural science as well as in social science. Your presupposition is that the application of the methods of natural science is the yardstick for social science. This is scientism.

My presupposition is that there may be a difference between them, and that one cannot think of an appropriate method in social science without having first investigated and formulated the problem that is presented by the subject. As a “general theorist”, your position is enjoyable. May I recall what Keynes told Harrod: “Do not be reluctant to soil your hands”. I am ready to welcome any effective alternative provided it works on the object of inquiry that is at stake. It is sad that you don’t bring such an alternative. As Herb Simon wrote, ”You can’t beat something with nothing”. I borrow from your own sentence that “if you had argued this way, it would have made a great contribution to our forum…” (Robert Delorme, A Cognitive Behavioral Modelling for Coping with Intractable Complex Phenomena in Economics and Social Science. In Economic Philosophy: Complexity in Economics (WEA Conference), 12/1/2017, italics added.)

Greedy Reductionism and Statistical Shadows

Biological evolution is, as has often been noted, both fact and theory. It is a fact that all extant organisms came to exist in their current forms through a process of descent with modification from ancestral forms. The overwhelming evidence for this empirical claim was recognized relatively soon after Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, and support for it has grown to the point where it is as well established as any historical claim might be. In this sense, biological evolution is no more a theory than it is a “theory” that Napoleon Bonaparte commanded the French army in the late eighteenth century. Of course, the details of how extant and extinct organisms are related to one another, and of what descended from what and when, are still being worked out, and will probably never be known in their entirety. The same is true of the details of Napoleon’s life and military campaigns. However, this lack of complete knowledge certainly does not alter the fundamental nature of the claims made, either by historians or by evolutionary biologists. (Pigliucci et al. 2006: 1)

On the other hand, evolutionary biology is also a rich patchwork of theories seeking to explain the patterns observed in the changes in populations of organisms over time. These theories range in scope form “natural selection,” which is evoked extensively at many different levels, to finer-grained explanations involving particular mechanisms (e.g., reproductive isolation induced by geographic barriers leading to speciation events). (Pigliucci et al. 2006: 1)

(….) There are a number of different ways in which these questions have been addressed, and a number of different accounts of these areas of evolutionary biology. These different accounts, we will maintain, are not always compatible, either with one another or with other accepted practices in evolutionary biology. (Pigliucci et al. 2006: 1)

(….) Because we will be making some potentially controversial claims throughout this volume, it is crucial for the reader to understand two basic ideas underlying most of what we say, as well as exactly what we think are some implications of our views for the general theory of evolutionary quantitative genetics, which we discuss repeatedly in critical fashion. (Pigliucci et al. 2006: 2)

(….) The first central idea we wish to put forth as part of the framework of this book will be readily familiar to biologists, although some of its consequences may not be. The idea can be expressed by the use of a metaphor proposed by Bill Shipley (2000) …. the shadow theater popular in Southeast Asia. In one form, the wayang golek of Bali and other parts of Indonesia, three-dimensional wooden puppets are used to project two-dimensional shadows on a screen, where the action is presented to the spectator. Shipley’s idea is that quantitative biologists find themselves very much in the position of wayang golek’s spectators: we have access to only the “statistical shadows” projected by a set of underlying causal factors. Unlike the wayang golek’s patrons, however, biologists want to peek around the screen and infer the position of the light source as well as the actual three-dimensional shapes of the puppets. This, of course, is the familiar problem of the relationship between causation and correlation, and, as any undergraduate science major soon learns, correlation is not causation (although a popular joke among scientists is that the two are nevertheless often correlated). (Pigliucci et al. 2006: 2)

The loose relationship between causation and correlation has two consequences that are crucial…. On the one hand, there is the problem that, strictly speaking, it makes no sense to attempt to infer mechanisms directly from patterns…. On the other hand, as Shipley elegantly show in his book, there is an alternative route that gets (most of) the job done, albeit in a more circuitous route and painful way. What one can do is to produce a series of alternative hypotheses about the causal pathways underlying a given set of observations; these hypotheses can then be used to “project” the expected statistical shadows, which can be compared with the observed one. If the projected and actual shadows do not match, one can discard the corresponding causal hypothesis and move on to the next one; if the two shadows do match (within statistical margins of error, of course), then one had identified at least one causal explanation compatible with the observations. As any philosopher or scientist worth her salt knows, of course, this cannot be the end of the process, for more than one causal model may be compatible with the observations, which means that one needs additional observations or refinements of the causal models to be able to discard more wrong explanations and continue to narrow the field. A crucial point here is that the causal models to be tested against the observed statistical shadow can be suggested by the observations themselves, especially if coupled with further knowledge about the system under study (such as details of the ecology, developmental biology, genetics, or past evolutionary history of the populations in question). But the statistical shadows cannot be used as direct supporting evidence for any particular causal model. (Pigliucci et al. 2006: 4)

The second central idea … has been best articulated by John Dupré (1993), and it deals with the proper way to think about reductionism. The term “reductionism” has a complex history, and it evokes strong feelings in both scientists and philosophers (often, though not always, with scientists hailing reductionism as fundamental to the success of science and some philosophers dismissing it as a hopeless epistemic dream). Dupré introduces a useful distinction that acknowledges the power of reductionism in science while at the same time sharply curtailing its scope. His idea is summarized … as two possible scenarios: In one case, reductionism allows one to explain and predict higher-level phenomena (say, development in living organisms) entirely in terms of lower-level processes (say, genetic switches throughout development). In the most extreme case, one can also infer the details of the lower-level processes from the higher-level patterns produced (something we have just seen is highly unlikely in the case of any complex biological phenomenon because of Shipley’s “statistical shadow” effect). This form of “greedy” reductionism … is bound to fail in most (though not all) cases for two reasons. The first is that the relationships between levels of manifestation of reality (e.g., genetic machinery vs. development, or population genetics vs. evolutionary pathways) are many-to-many (again, as pointed out above in our discussion of the shadow theater). The second is the genuine existence of “emergent properties” (i.e., properties of higher-level phenomena that arise from the nonadditive interaction among lower-level processes). It is, for example, currently impossible to predict the physicochemical properties of water from the simple properties of individual atoms of hydrogen and oxygen, or, for that matter, from the properties of H20 molecules and the smattering of necessary impurities. (Pigliucci et al. 2006: 4-5)