A left wing view of science

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N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture
A left wing view of science

 

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

quote:


As working scientists, we see the commoditization of science as the prime cause of the alienation of most scientists from the products of their labor. It stands between the powerful insights of science and corresponding advances in human welfare, often producing results that contradict the stated purposes. The continuation of hunger in the modern world is not the result of an intractable problem thwarting our best efforts to feed people. Rather, agriculture in the capitalist world is directly concerned with profit and only indirectly with feeding people. Similarly, the organization of health care is directly an economic enterprise and is only secondarily influenced by people’s health needs. [b]The irrationalities of a scientifically sophisticated world come not from failures of intelligence but from the persistence of capitalism, which as a by-product also aborts human intelligence.[/b]

from Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin, [i]The Dialectical Biologist[/i].


Richard Levins has an interesting article at MR about combining scientific work with social and political activism.

[url=http://monthlyreview.org/080101levins.php]Living the 11th Thesis: Richard Levins[/url]

quote:

The resurgence of infectious disease is but one manifestation of a more general crisis: [b]the eco-social distress syndrome[/b] —the pervasive multilevel crisis of dysfunctional relations within our species and between it and the rest of nature. ... [b]The complexity of this whole world syndrome can be overwhelming, and yet to evade the complexity by taking the system apart to treat the problems one at a time can produce disasters.[/b] The great failings of scientific technology have come from posing problems in too small a way. Agricultural scientists who proposed the Green Revolution without taking pest evolution and insect ecology into account, and therefore expecting pesticides would control pests, have been surprised that [i]pest problems increased with spraying. Similarly, antibiotics create new pathogens, economic development creates hunger, and flood control promotes floods.[/i] Problems have to be solved in their rich complexity; the study of complexity itself becomes an urgent practical as well as theoretical problem.

The article is mostly autobiographical but it is still an excellent read. Here is a scientist who refused to join the US National Academy of Sciences due to the latter's despicable support for the ongoing US atrocities in Viet Nam.

As a sidebar, Fidel Castro's recent public remark about the complexity of problems that Cuba needs to solve, his comparison of those problems to the problems faced in a high level chess game, makes much more sense in the context of the remark by Levins above: "problems have to be solved in their rich complexity" and point to the urgency and usefulness of combining good science with a dialectical approach to problem solving. I cannot help but think that Levins has had some influence on the thinking of Fidel Castro.

[b]Discuss.[/b]

[ 25 February 2008: Message edited by: N.Beltov ]

Fidel

quote:


[b]The Puerto Rican independence movement gave me an anti-imperialist consciousness that serves me well in a university that promotes “structural reform” and other euphemisms for empire. My wife’s sharp working-class feminism is a running source of criticism of the pervasive elitism and sexism. Regular work with Cuba shows me vividly that there is an alternative to a competitive, individualistic, exploitative society.[/b]

This is an interesting thread, N.Beltov. And I believe Canadians can thank people like Ralph Nader for creating consumer advocacy groups in the U.S., and we have similar fledgling groups in Canada as a result. Academics and scientists in the U.S. and around the world have stated that what they have enjoyed for years, even through the cold war to a large extent, was the freedom to collaborate and exchange ideas. They don't need globalization and deregulation to further the cause of science, because it already existed. I think the time is coming soon when publicly-funded and owned research will bear fruit with new classes of drugs and medical breakthroughs unimaginable before. There are scientists who do value the freedom to exchange ideas and research with international colleagues without restrictions of intellectual property laws and corporate ownership rules. It will be a new kind of common good, I believe. Who will benefit ? Should scientists be steered into researching cosmetic fixes like solutions for baldness or body odour rather than basic research into cancer, retinitis pigmentosa, or perhaps, a "cure" for longevity ? There are scientists and academics who don't believe the direction of science should by governed by market forces.

remind remind's picture

Great article NBeltov, thanks for posting it. It reminded me of a talk I heard by Linus Pauling given at UVic regarding business, science, pollution and health care.

This part followed one of your snippets above, and personally resonated:

quote:

Similarly, antibiotics create new pathogens, economic development creates hunger, and flood control promotes floods. Problems have to be solved in their rich complexity; the study of complexity itself becomes an urgent practical as well as theoretical problem.

These interests inform my political work: within the left, my task has been to argue that our relations with the rest of nature cannot be separated from a global struggle for human liberation, and within the ecology movement my task has been to challenge the “harmony of nature” idealism of early environmentalism and to insist on identifying the social relations that lead to the present dysfunction. At the same time my politics have determined my scientific ethics. I believe that all theories are wrong that promote, justify, or tolerate injustice.

A leftist critique of the structure of intellectual life is a counterweight to the culture of the universities and foundations.


And he makes many points about science and genetics furthering equality, that I wish I could have fleshed out in my recent commentary on my belief that science and social sciences are the way to reach true recognition of equality, or should I say homeo-stasis, with all living things.

When the mapping of plant species genomes was done former beliefs that were held regarding family connections between plant life had to be changed.

Tomatoes were found not to be a fruit for example, and leeks were found not to be part of the onion family, and some plants thought to be a evergreen were actually rhododendron.

[url=http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?db=genomeprj]http://www.ncbi.nl...

[url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ledum]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ledum[/url]

Michelle

This sounds interesting, will read it when I have time (maybe tonight after work). Just wanted to interject that I always like it when the idea that science is completely objective and off by itself without any political or societal influence is challenged.

Caissa

Michelle,
You might like The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. I had to first read it for a Philosophy of History Comp.

[ 25 February 2008: Message edited by: Caissa ]

Michelle

Yeah? I'll have to check it out. I'll see if the library has it...

Caissa

Kuhn argues that each great leap in scientific knowledge required a paradigm shift.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Here are some links to articles by/about Levins:

[url=http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/faculty/richard-levins/]bio of Richard Levins from the Harvard School of Public Health;[/url]

[url=http://canadiandimension.com/articles/2005/09/14/88/]Levins on "Progressive Cuba-Bashing" from a back issue of Canadian Dimension; [/url]

[url=http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/review/dialectics_of.shtml]Richard Levins on the dialectics of disease;[/url]

[url=http://www.monthlyreview.org/nfte0304.htm]On Levins and (the late) Stephen Jay Gould;[/url]

[url=http://www.monthlyreview.org/1102lewontin.htm]Stephen Jay Gould - What does it mean to be a radical? by Levins & Lewontin;[/url]

[url=http://www.monthlyreview.org/0505clarkyork.htm]Dialectical Nature: Reflections in Honor of the Twentieth Anniversary of Levins and Lewontin’s The Dialectical Biologist;[/url]

That's good for a start.

[ 25 February 2008: Message edited by: N.Beltov ]

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

quote:


Originally posted by Caissa:
[b]Kuhn argues that each great leap in scientific knowledge required a paradigm shift.[/b]

And Kuhn's philosophy of science is nothing at all like that of Levins or Lewontin, which is based on historical materialism.

RosaL

quote:


Originally posted by M. Spector:
[b]And Kuhn's philosophy of science is nothing at all like that of Levins or Lewontin, which is based on historical materialism.[/b]

More than that, I'm not sure there's any meaningful sense in which Kuhn's views on science can be said to be "left wing". (That's not to say I don't like him.)

Stephen Gordon

quote:


The complexity of this whole world syndrome can be overwhelming, and yet to evade the complexity by taking the system apart to treat the problems one at a time can produce disasters.

This is of course a true and important point, but I fail to see how this fits into a left-right framework.

That quote could have been written or cited with approval by Hayek or Friedman.

RosaL

quote:


Originally posted by Stephen Gordon:
[b]

This is of course a true and important point, but I fail to see how this fits into a left-right framework.

That quote could have been written or cited with approval by Hayek or Friedman.[/b]


That doesn't mean it can't fit into a left-wing framework. It's not necessary (or even possible) that every single element of a left-wing framework be incompatible, taken on its own, with a right-wing framework.

[ 25 February 2008: Message edited by: RosaL ]

Stephen Gordon

I dunno. I didn't see any methodological point (and science is defined by methodology, not field of study) raised in those links that is out of line with how mainstream economics is taught and practiced. (I can't speak for any other field of study).

Of course, it may be that Levins would consider mainstream economics to be a leftist endeavour.

RosaL

quote:


Originally posted by Stephen Gordon:
[b]I dunno. I didn't see any methodological point (and science is defined by methodology, not field of study) raised in those links that is out of line with how mainstream economics is taught and practiced. (I can't speak for any other field of study).

Of course, it may be that Levins would consider mainstream economics to be a leftist endeavour.[/b]


I'll read the links before I argue further [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Prof. Gordon, I think you know very well that certain sciences habitually suffer from this problem. The broad field that you yourself work in is one such example. Orthodox Economics is characterized by, among other things, a distrust of "big picture" questions, contents itself with very narrowly focussed and defined questions, and is practically indifferent to questions about the actual origin of capitalism as a socio-economic system.

In regard to the last question, the prevailing view seems to be that capitalism [i]always[/i] existed. This isn't particularly scientific in my humble view ... or in the view of people a lot cleverer than me. Of course, a consequence of holding such a view is that one doesn't have to entertain questions about the end of capitalism if there isn't a beginning to explain.

I don't want to just pick on Economics or get up your nose. In his own field of biology, evolutionary theory and so on, one needs only look at the usefulness of Stephen Jay Gould's punctuated equilibrium, a notion that borrows directly from the idea of quantitative change becoming qualitative change, and the notion of leaps, not much different from the idea in chemistry of orbitals in the nucleus of an atom, each of which requires a certain level of energy for the electrons to "jump" to the next level, and so on. ETA: Gould and Levins use their different approach to show the relationship between the evolution of species and the development of environments ... a kind of co-evolution ... where there is dynamism on both sides. If you have a look at some of the links I've provided you'll get a better idea of this.

In any case, the author in using that example (misunderstanding complexity can lead to disasters, etc.) is trying, I think, to substantiate the usefulness of what we Marxists call a dialectical approach to science and trying to contrast such an approach to what he would call a metaphysical approach. The way that he's couched it, at least in the quote given, is hard to distinguish from what used to be called Systems Theory. But they are certainly not the same thing, I assure you. You would probably have to read quite a bit more of [i]The Dialectical Biologist[/i] to go deeper into this. Levins has been described by a number of his admirers as being an intellectual that manages to make extraordinary connections that the rest of us don't see. He would probably claim that this isn't just his merit but rather the merit of the dialectical approach that he takes.

Hegel, the real "father" of modern dialectics, was most assuredly NOT left wing. But I think it's fair to say that he knew his approach could be interpreted/applied in a very radical way. So, yea, I suppose there COULD be a dialectical approach that isn't left wing. But what would be the point ... especially after what's come after Hegel?

[ 25 February 2008: Message edited by: N.Beltov ]

Erik Redburn

quote:


Originally posted by N.Beltov:
[b]Prof. Gordon, I think you know very well that certain sciences habitually suffer from this problem. The broad field that you yourself work in is one such example. [/b]

I don't think economics can be classified as a true 'science', but rather as part of the humanities. Certain scientific methods can be used (as in sociology, history or language studies etc) but ultimately it's still about predicting human behaviour, and inevitably involves subjective interests, ideologies and social constructs.

[ 25 February 2008: Message edited by: Erik Redburn ]

Fidel

quote:


Originally posted by N.Beltov:
[b]In regard to the last question, the prevailing view seems to be that capitalism [i]always[/i] existed. This isn't particularly scientific in my humble view ... or in the view of people a lot cleverer than me. Of course, a consequence of holding such a view is that one doesn't have to entertain questions about the end of capitalism if there isn't a beginning to explain.[/b]

I don't believe capitalism always existed, or that it has always been a correct approach to allocating resources. The strength of capitalism and market economics, arguably and open to interpretation, has been to increase wealth and distribute goods and services more efficiently than, say, Soviet communism. And I do believe Soviet communism had merits and advantages over other economic ideology prevalent today. For one thing, Soviet(Russian and Chinese) communism was a lot less complex than today's markets based on exponential growth, or as William Krehm of comer.org says, the mathematics of the atomic bomb.

Leave everything to the market capitalism failed in 14th century Italy and a number of other world experiments leading up to 1929 America and 1985 Chile. The period of greatest prosperity in North America was post-WWII to mid 1970's, a time of mixed market economies and significant state interventionism. Krehm says that our universities have deliberately omitted any and all references to pre-1988-93 central banking and finance theory from economics textbooks. And some of those economists no longer mentioned were out standing in their field, er outstanding in their field, Nobel laureates and the like.

Krehm mentions how economic theory wasn't always this way as Levins makes mention of pre-capitalism, a time when all economies were embedded aspects of man's society, not the reverse which NeoLiberal and now NeoClassic ideologues are attempting to achieve with globalization and deregulation. Scalars are used to describe the new capitalist progress with measures like GDP, financial "products" of all kinds, near money and derivatives since the 1980's. Krehm is convinced that a return to vector mathematics is needed in order to accurately measure economic variables of subsystems in order to observe and predict the effect on other sub-systems of the economy with increasing magnitude as plotted vectors cross inderdependent sub-system boundaries. If a car and its fuel, engine and drive train are considered separately and just one allowed to deteriorate, it's at the expense of the overall vehicle's efficiency and safety to the driver and even other drivers on the road.

And yet, the scientific reductionists, and mostly while in the hire of self-interested capitalists, have created pesticides and industrial toxic waste byproducts with no consideration for how they affect the supersystem or ecological whole of which everything other living thing is dependent upon as well as man's economy itself. Polanyi said that man's economy historically was embedded in his social relationships, and that capitalism is an attempt to relegate man to a minor role subserviant to mere economic goals. I think that's true, and that we are more than prisoners of our own interested, one dimensional pursuits plotted on a series of graphs for the sake of predicting the future with month-to-month corporate balance sheets and quarterly earnings projections. I think there are more important things at stake.

Stephen Gordon

quote:


Originally posted by N.Beltov:
Prof. Gordon, I think you know very well that certain sciences habitually suffer from this problem. The broad field that you yourself work in is one such example. Orthodox Economics is characterized by, among other things, a distrust of "big picture" questions, contents itself with very narrowly focussed and defined questions, and is practically indifferent to questions about the actual origin of capitalism as a socio-economic system.

Although I'm sure that this characterisation is quite popular among certain groups of non-economists, it has almost no resemblance to the work I see, or how it is carried out.

It turns out that evolutionary biology and economics have many [url=http://www.pkarchive.org/theory/evolute.html]similarities[/url]:

quote:

It is often asserted that economic theory draws its inspiration from physics, and that it should become more like biology. If that's what you think, you should do two things. First, read a text on evolutionary theory, like John Maynard Smith's Evolutionary Genetics. You will be startled at how much it looks like a textbook on microeconomics. Second, try to explain a simple economic concept, like supply and demand, to a physicist. You will discover that our whole style of thinking, of building up aggregative stories from individual decisions, is not at all the way they think.

I spent a couple of hours with Evolutionary Genetics, and Krugman was right: it looks and feels like a microeconomics textbook. The techniques Maynard Smith uses were ones I was already familiar with: stochastic processes and game theory were used extensively.

eta: Krugman also pursued this theme [url=http://www.pkarchive.org/cranks/culture.html]here[/url]:

quote:

Academic economics, the stuff that is in the textbooks, is largely based on mathematical reasoning. I hope you think that I am an acceptable writer, but when it comes to economics I speak English as a second language: I think in equations and diagrams, then translate. The opponents of mainstream economics dislike people like me not so much for our conclusions as for our style: They want economics to be what it once was, a field that was comfortable for the basically literary intellectual.

This should sound familiar. More than 40 years ago, the scientist-turned-novelist C.P. Snow wrote his famous essay about the war between the "two cultures," between the essentially literary sensibility that we expect of a card-carrying intellectual and the scientific/mathematical outlook that is arguably the true glory of our civilization. That war goes on; and economics is on the front line. Or to be more precise, it is territory that the literati definitively lost to the nerds only about 30 years ago--and they want it back.

That is what explains the lit-crit style so oddly favored by the leftist critics of mainstream economics. Kuttner and Galbraith know that the quantitative, algebraic reasoning that lies behind modern economics is very difficult to challenge on its own ground. To oppose it they must invoke alternative standards of intellectual authority and legitimacy. In effect, they are saying, "You have Paul Samuelson on your team? Well, we've got Jacques Derrida on ours."

A similar situation exists in other fields. Consider, for example, evolutionary biology. Like most American intellectuals, I first learned about this subject from the writings of Stephen Jay Gould. But I eventually came to realize that working biologists regard Gould much the same way that economists regard Robert Reich: talented writer, too bad he never gets anything right. Serious evolutionary theorists such as John Maynard Smith or William Hamilton, like serious economists, think largely in terms of mathematical models. Indeed, the introduction to Maynard Smith's classic tract Evolutionary Genetics flatly declares, "If you can't stand algebra, stay away from evolutionary biology." There is a core set of crucial ideas in his subject that, because they involve the interaction of several different factors, can only be clearly understood by someone willing to sit still for a bit of math. (Try to give a purely verbal description of the reactions among three mutually catalytic chemicals.)

But many intellectuals who can't stand algebra are not willing to stay away from the subject. They are thus deeply attracted to a graceful writer like Gould, who frequently misrepresents the field (perhaps because he does not fully understand its essentially mathematical logic), but who wraps his misrepresentations in so many layers of impressive, if irrelevant, historical and literary erudition that they seem profound.

Unfortunately, Maynard Smith is right, both about evolution and about economics. There are important ideas in both fields that can be expressed in plain English, and there are plenty of fools doing fancy mathematical models. But there are also important ideas that are crystal clear if you can stand algebra, and very difficult to grasp if you can't. International trade in particular happens to be a subject in which a page or two of algebra and diagrams is worth 10 volumes of mere words. That is why it is the particular subfield of economics in which the views of those who understand the subject and those who do not diverge most sharply.

Alas, there is probably no way to resolve this conflict peacefully. It is possible for a very skillful writer to convey in plain English a sense of what serious economics is about, to hide the algebraic skeleton behind a more appealing facade. But that won't appease the critics; they don't want economics with a literary facade, they want economics with a literary core. And so people like me and people like Kuttner will never be able to make peace, because we are engaged in a zero-sum conflict--not over policy, but over intellectual boundaries.

The literati truly cannot be satisfied unless they get economics back from the nerds. But they can't have it, because we nerds have the better claim.


[ 26 February 2008: Message edited by: Stephen Gordon ]

Trevormkidd

Dah, I tried to edit my post and somehow I deleted it. Maybe I will post something similar again later.

[ 26 February 2008: Message edited by: Trevormkidd ]

Boarsbreath

Yes. Gould was an example of ideology distorting a potentially fine body of work...finally, almost dead, he came out with the assertion that religion has its own sphere of 'reality', distinct from that of science. ("Magisteria".) And that's the sort of fuzziness that weakens his writing, especially when he gets lost in non-issues with the more rigorous types like Dawkins.

Frustrated Mess Frustrated Mess's picture

quote:


This is of course a true and important point, but I fail to see how this fits into a left-right framework.

Part of the answer is above:

quote:

I believe that all theories are wrong that promote, justify, or tolerate injustice.

Injustice is inherent in right wing political thought. It is not surprising, for example, the right wing ideologues perverted Darwin's theories into "social Darwinism" or that Dawkin's selfish gene theory would be adopted by some on the right.

As well, the many on the left, not all, attempt to view all issues holistically, and to see the human role within and part of the natural system and, therefore, to assign equal value to the needs of sustaining the biological systems as well as meeting human needs.

The right wing, with few exceptions, view the world only through the lens of materialism. They have little regard for natural systems or that which can't be immediately converted into a material value.

Friedman made the argument, for example, that corporations have no social responsibility than maximizing profit. From that we can extrapolate that scarcity of potable water results in higher demand and profits for water bottlers regardless of the human cost. Or entire mountains and ecosystems are devastated, regardless of the costs to habitat and natural systems, to extract coal at the lowest possible price. Or that invading a nation and engaging in mass killings is a more profitable venture than purchasing energy contracts.

In all of those example the proponents are on the political right and the opponents are on the political left (with a precious few noteworthy exceptions in some cases).

The "whole world" perspective from the left is one of building sustainable systems founded on a some sort of framework around social justice while on the right the "whole world" perspective is one of domination, exploitation, and the hoarding of material wealth.

Stephen Gordon

quote:


Originally posted by Trevormkidd:
[b]Dah, I tried to edit my post and somehow I deleted it. Maybe I will post something similar again later.

[ 26 February 2008: Message edited by: Trevormkidd ][/b]


Please do. I saw it, and I thought it was a very useful contribution.

Trevormkidd

quote:


Originally posted by Stephen Gordon:

Please do. I saw it, and I thought it was a very useful contribution.


I was hoping that someone might have posted a reply to it with the contents in quote. Doesn't look that way. I have a little work to do and I will try to post it again in a couple hours.

Lard Tunderin Jeezus Lard Tunderin Jeezus's picture

quote:


Alas, there is probably no way to resolve this conflict peacefully. It is possible for a very skillful writer to convey in plain English a sense of what serious economics is about, to hide the algebraic skeleton behind a more appealing facade. But that won't appease the critics; they don't want economics with a literary facade, they want economics with a literary core. And so people like me and people like Kuttner will never be able to make peace, because we are engaged in a zero-sum conflict--not over policy, but over intellectual boundaries.

The literati truly cannot be satisfied unless they get economics back from the nerds. But they can't have it, because we nerds have the better claim.


I have a hard time accepting this as a dilemma between the 'literati' and the 'nerds'. I see it as more the chasm between those formulating theory and those observing real world results.

I interviewed a project management specialist yesterday, and he was describing the difference between strategy and tactics. Strategy, he said, is a plan mapped out in an ideal world where there are no variables. Tactics is what is done in the real world to react to the inevitable unforeseen situation.

To quote him: Strategy seldom survives contact with reality."

Krugman is a simply a strategist; a strategist who seems to have a serious issue with tacticians.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

My original post was about an author who claimed that a dialectical approach [i]is more scientific[/i] than a metaphysical approach to science. It had nothing to do with Gould's "separate magisteria" idea, or "literary" scientists versus "nerds" or anything like that.

The other aspect of a left wing view of science that interests me at the moment is how scientists combine the tasks of activism and scholarship.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Levins (along with Lewontin [i]et al[/i]) has a fictional alter ego named Isador Nabi. Here is the first paragraph or so of Nabi's most recent article ...

quote:

[b]Proper Disposal of Hazardous Ideas An EPA-Isador Nabi Bulletin[/b]

(For authorized persons only. If you do not know whether you are an authorized person then you are probably not, and should stop reading right here.)

The office of Occupational Safety and Health has ruled that the proper disposal of hazardous materials is required under regulation 1.848 section b of the Clean Minds Act. Our lawyers have ruled that in academic settings hazardous ideas can be included under these regulations because although they are not obviously materials, as Marx wrote, ideas become a material force when they grip the masses. When they haven’t gripped the masses they may still be regarded as hazardous materials under the talmudic principle of building a wall around the Torah: something already is what it may potentially become in the wrong hands and may be treated as such. [i]Thus a centrifuge might concentrate uranium and therefore is practically a nuclear weapon, or teaching geography in a Bad Country may train children to pick targets.[/i]


Satire can also serve the purpose of good science if it exposes current anti-scientific views such as antagonism by governments, politicians, and corporate interests to the free exchange of ideas.

[ 27 February 2008: Message edited by: N.Beltov ]

Stephen Gordon

quote:


Originally posted by N.Beltov:
My original post was about an author who claimed that a dialectical approach [i]is more scientific[/i] than a metaphysical approach to science. It had nothing to do with Gould's "separate magisteria" idea, or "literary" scientists versus "nerds" or anything like that.

Ah. Okay. Apologies for the drift.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Well, we don't agree much but I am genuinely interested in what [i]you[/i] might consider as a left wing view of science. I wouldn't consider that to be thread drift. That includes questions that I haven't raised here.

Fidel

I think he's saying that DisneyWorld economies of banking and finance since the 1980's are ruled by Las Vegas baseball poker and black jack probabilities. Aside from being an efficient method used by capitalists to drain stock markets of money, our physical economies, infrastructure, and the environment have fallen into states of disrepair and chaos. It's all very scientific.

N.R.KISSED

quote:


Academic economics, the stuff that is in the textbooks, is largely based on mathematical reasoning. I hope you think that I am an acceptable writer, but when it comes to economics I speak English as a second language: I think in equations and diagrams, then translate. The opponents of mainstream economics dislike people like me not so much for our conclusions as for our style: They want economics to be what it once was, a field that was comfortable for the basically literary intellectual.

What Krugman( and most economists) fail to grasp is that both mathematics and language are symbolic representitive systems, however mathematics is unavoidably embedded within a broader linquistic narrative. Krugman seems to be making the claim that mathematics are not only independent of linquistic narratives but superior to linguistic as a representation of the "real world". This privileging of mathematics brings up a number of assumptions that economists seem neither aware of or interested in exploring. Logic can both be expressed linquisticly or mathematically people don't have problems with Krugman's math they have problems with his logic.

THe point that critics fo economics make is that the mathematical models are based on faulty philosophical assumptions and dubious constructs that are not representative of observable reality, therefore any mathematical models built on these assumptions will be flawed. No science is going to be valid if it main constructs are not. Krugman makes the argument that his opponents need to understand the mathematical models in order to accurately understand the assumptions being made this is just not true.

Even if the contructs were valid the scales,and indicies of economics are flawed in that they are not compromable to measurements of the physical world, they are measurements of the social world and social interactions these scales therefore do not have the same reliablility as measurements of the physical world the relationship between mathematic representations cannot be viewed in a similar fashion.

Krugman's main argument comes down to a rather simplistic and sophamoric reduction that science/math good?valid vs. social science/ humanities bad/invalid. He fails to see how both are necessary for comprehension of the world. Many economist express complete contempt for other disciplines without even the slightest understanding of these disciplines, economists are also prone to drunkening pissing all over the territories of other disciplines such as psychology, anthropology, sociology, history, philosophy and making claims that these disciplines are irrelevant and have nothing to say about economics. Economist are incapable of seeing that economic behaviour is not only a matter of individual behaviour(psychology) but it also has a social (sociological) and cultural(anthropological) context, all of this is dependent upon the way in which we think about and construct the world( philosophy). Considering the overlap of all these disciplines I would assume that it in only through arrogance and ignorance that Krugman takes the position he does.

[ 01 March 2008: Message edited by: N.R.KISSED ]

Fidel

[url=http://globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=8158]Financial Tsunami Part V[/url] William Engdahl doesn't seem to think very much of Alan Greenspan and the "Too Big to Fail" risk model for banking and finance on Wall Street.

quote:

The Tsumani is only beginning

The nature of the fatally flawed risk models used by Wall Street, by Moody’s, by the securities Monoline insurers and by the economists of the US Government and Federal Reserve was such that they all assumed recessions were no longer possible, as risk could be indefinitely diffused and spread across the globe.

All the securitized assets, the trillions of dollars worth, were priced on such flawed assumption. All the trillions of dollars of Credit Default Swaps—the illusion that loan default could be cheaply insured against with derivatives—all these were set to explode in a cascading series of domino-like crises as the crisis in the US housing market unraveled. The more home prices fell, the more mortgages facing sharply higher interest rate resets, the more unemployment spread across America from Ohio to Michigan to California to Pennsylvania to Colorado and Arizona. That process set off a vicious self-feeding spiral of asset price deflation.


Cueball Cueball's picture
Stephen Gordon

quote:


Originally posted by N.R.KISSED:
Many economist express complete contempt for other disciplines without even the slightest understanding of these disciplines, economists are also prone to drunkening pissing all over the territories of other disciplines such as psychology, anthropology, sociology, history, philosophy and making claims that these disciplines are irrelevant and have nothing to say about economics.

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This is one of the best-crafted pieces of irony I've seen in many a year.

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Cueball Cueball's picture

Stephen is on record as believing that market economics was handed down to Europeans, by revelation, as the revealed word of god.

Stephen Gordon

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Cueball Cueball's picture

The reliance on self-fulfilling prophesy, and the mantra of "faith" as an integral part of market growth is typical of the cultist appeal of the religion of economics. Acolytes like Gordon, seem unable to explain any empirical reason why Europeans recieved this wisdom, except as an act fantastic imagination. A paradigm shift? Regardless, once believers are convinced of the apriori postulates, it is easy enough to establish what appear to be logical arguements and "laws" of operation intrapolated between those postulates. These arguements then in turn prove the functionality of the postulates. As long as everyone agrees that it works, it will work.

An act of faith. A pyramid scheme in essence.

Stephen Gordon

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Can we move this to the banter forum?

N.R.KISSED

quote:


This is one of the best-crafted pieces of irony I've seen in many a year.

This is rather a strong confirmation that you are unable to engage with people from other disciplines without resorting to contempt, derision or dismissiveness. You seem unable to expend the effort to examine the philosophical premises behind your assumptions. I don't say this as a philosopher or a "literary" critic I say this as someone educated in scientific method and theory that has actually taken the time to explore the meaning of those intellectual positions.

Stephen Gordon

You really don't see the irony of a post in which you expressed contempt for a discipline in which you are not trained because of an (unsubstantiated!) claim that they express contempt for disciplines in which they are not trained?

Anyway, this has turned into one of those threads, and since I'm sitting in a hotel room with nothing else to do for the next 45 minutes, I'll go through this one more time.

quote:

Originally posted by N.R.KISSED:
The point that critics fo economics make is that the mathematical models are based on faulty philosophical assumptions and dubious constructs that are not representative of observable reality, therefore any mathematical models built on these assumptions will be flawed. No science is going to be valid if it main constructs are not.

Do you include evolutionary biology in this? Would you discard the theory of evolution because in Maynard Smith's textbook, his model of the interactions between predators and prey assumes that there are is only one species of prey, and one species of predator?

These assumptions are [b]approximations[/b], so they are going to be 'flawed' - as in 'not perfect' - pretty much by definition. But even the simplest models, based on the crudest assumptions, can provide very powerful insights, insights that don't lose their power as the model is made more complex as its assumptions are made more realistic; Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage is probably the best-known example in economics. We teach the Ricardo model for the same reason that Maynard Smith assumes that there is only one species of predator and one species of prey: because complicating the model doesn't affect its basic predictions.

So pointing out that an assumption is not literally true isn't much of a criticism in itself - you have to show that if you make more plausible assumptions about how the world works, you get a qualitatively different answer. And in order to do that, you have to have the requisite analytical skills to make that point.

[ 02 March 2008: Message edited by: Stephen Gordon ]

Cueball Cueball's picture

By insights you mean "ecsatic revelation" I presume?

The sudden appearance of predator/prey dynamics, and the linkage to socio-biological alchemy and the oblique reference "survival of the fittest" theology sometimes falsely associated with actual science such as Darwin's theory of evolution, are not far off the ramblings of a street corner evangelist.

[ 02 March 2008: Message edited by: Cueball ]

Stephen Gordon

*aaargh*

Ya got me!

(dies)

Cueball Cueball's picture

Good. You have yet to say anything on this thread, at all.

[ 02 March 2008: Message edited by: Cueball ]

Cueball Cueball's picture

I realize that "complicating" the model by recognizing key facts, such as the human survival at the primal level was predicated on group co-operation, and not individual competition between members of the group, or that competition between members of the group could spell doom to the whole group, including its individuals, is merely saying you want to remove evidence that contradicts your belief structure.

[ 02 March 2008: Message edited by: Cueball ]

Erik Redburn

Sigh. This is a perfect example of what's wrong with so many of these debates. By arguing against "science" itself, rather than the rather unscientific ideology and methods actually employed by neo-liberal economists, "the left" ends up doing more to support their pretensions than oppose them, while undermining their own credibility with others. The evidence for the failure of "mainstream" (elite) economics is many and manifest in the last thirty years. I'll prove it. We are now sinking back into the same kind of "stagflation" that we supposedly left behind in the seventies, except that the inflation can no longer be credibly blamed on big labour. We are also on the verge of a possibly deep recession despite billions of dollars of public moneys being used to support stock market values. That in itself is proof that the proponents of "free market" economics no longer believe their own ideology anymore. But then most who justify it are employees of big banks, therefore not as disinterested as they insist. (and no need therefore to fall back on questioning the human ability to interpret objective reality either)

[ 02 March 2008: Message edited by: Erik Redburn ]

Erik Redburn

But yes, of course, every idea is based on assumptions which may or may not be well supported by numbers, which in turn may or may not be supported by empirical observations readily seen by others. And yes, every mathematical model used must involve narrative thought about the questions raised, models used, and the historical issues motivating them. All abstractions are a subset of thought (if not thought then what, Plato's belief in a "perfect" abstract dimension?) and all thought is a subset of learned language, which in turn modifies itself over time and place. The basis for thought however remains memory, which can be more or less accurate or first-hand and therefore more or less in line with the direct experience of others. That IMO is where the line should be drawn -at least provisionally.

[ 02 March 2008: Message edited by: Erik Redburn ]

Fidel

[url=http://economics.about.com/cs/macroeconomics/a/run_out_of_oil_2.htm]This economist[/url] says we will never run out of oil. He must be American with an eye on Canadian energy stocks and glad of the fact that Canada's national energy policy is drafted in Warshington and board rooms of Exxon-Imperial and the like, and not the capital of this northern Puerto Rico with oil and drowning Polar bears.

And as far as mathematical models ruling stocks and derivatives markets go, I think Robert Ingraham had something interesting things to say about Black-Scholes, the Kelly formula, and Edward Thorp. Maybe Black-Scholes should have been called the Las Vegas model for DisneyWorld economy.

[url=http://larouchepub.com/other/2007/3429it_is_gambling.html][b]Yes! It really [i]is[/i] gambling[/b][/url]

quote:

[b]What About Reality?[/b]
In looking at the players and influences which created the current field of mathematical-finance, we find a remarkable confluence of game theory, information theory, chaos theory, and statistical probability theory. We also find, of course, the earlier paramount influences of Bertrand Russell, Norbert Wiener, and John von Neumann.

For those readers who still can't grasp what is wrong with the ideas of the individuals named above, here's a clue: First off, they simply ignore the real world; and secondly, nothing they write about or talk about has anything to do with physical economic processes. The methods they use to pump billions of dollars into financial "bets" every day are identical to, and in some cases, directly derived from, the daily activity of gamblers at Las Vegas. It really is simply betting. On the other hand, what the nation produces, the condition of its infrastructure, its energy needs, are of absolutely no concern whatsoever. In Bringing Down the House, one of the MIT blackjack students remarks to another, "We're not gambling; this is arbitrage." That's the mentality. . .

We have seen this before: Galileo Galilei (Concerning an Investigation on Dice, 1630), Giralamo Cardano (Book on Games of Chance, 1633), and Abraham de Moivre (Doctrine of Chances, 1718 [dedicated to Isaac Newton]), all examined the idea of using mathematical formulas to win at gambling. Their methods came into widespread use in 17th-Century Amsterdam, with the creation of speculative options trading. The result was the Tulip craze, and the South Sea and John Law bubbles.

In the real world, there are nearly 7 billion human beings, the vast majority of whom live in grinding poverty.


N.R.KISSED

quote:


You really don't see the irony of a post in which you expressed contempt for a discipline in which you are not trained because of an (unsubstantiated!) claim that they express contempt for disciplines in which they are not trained?

No actually I was responding to an article that you posted by Krugman in which he refers to Galbraith and Kuttner work as "lit crit style". Obviously neither have anything to do with literary criticim and the comment is meant to be both dismissive both the authors and literary criticsm. It is clear he is displaying contempt to both humanities in general and to those who are trained in economics that do not accept the utility of certain mathematical models.

Krugman is also making the assumption that these mathematical models are a form of symbolic representation that are somehow a more pure and accurate portrayal of empirical reality. What Krugman does not acknowledge is that these mathematical models are actually based on socially and linguistically constructed narratives about how the world is and the nature of human behaviour and social organization. Krugman and other economist pretend that they do not operate from within the confines of these narrative assumptions.

The elitist contempt that is expressed is that because someone is not "trained" within a certain discipline than they have nothing valid to say. The elitist assumption again is that economics both as a behaviour or a discipline is somehow independent and distinct(and naturally superior to) from other disciplines. This of course is demonstratably false, what econmics does not acknowledge is that they are speaking of human behaviour without referencing psychology, or social behaviour without referencing sociology, anthropology etc. Economics conveniently ignores research from other disciplines that empirically has demonstrated that some of it's principle assumptions are false. Anyone from another discipline and even others from economics are dismissed for being so presumptous as to question the assumptions that economists make about human behaviour social and political organization and history. If that is not dismissive and contemptuous than I don't know what you would call it.

I also find it peculiar that out of this arrogant position economists like Krugman take up a victim stance of being poor misunderstood scientists standing their ground against attacks from misinformed humanist discipline. It is clear that he is creating a dichotomy between true science ( i.e. legitimate enquiry) and lumping all other social science in with humanities (i.e frivilous areas of enquiry. This is a rather transparent and unsophisticated anti-intellectual attempt to discredit legitimate criticism.

In contrast to yourself I am not so deeply attached to the academic discipline that I was "trained" that I am unable to have a critical approach to that discipline. On the contrary there are many assumptions within the field of psychology that I am also deeply critical of but perhaps I don't have the right ot comment because I only have a masters degree and I'm not sufficiently trained.

Erik Redburn

Well ya, but then Stephen Gordon's frequent claim that "economists" generally agree on most questions now (probably in the mistaken assumption that that makes it more "scientific") maybe another reason for doubt. I don't doubt the scientific method again but I do doubt those who claim to represent scientific certitude, especially in regards to human activities. Doubly so for activities most clearly based on self interest.

N.R.KISSED

quote:


By arguing against "science" itself, rather than the rather unscientific ideology and methods actually employed by neo-liberal economists,

Who is arguing against science?

I am arguing against the unexamined philosophical assumptions by which certain economists are making claims to of empirical validity. I am arguing that a science cannot be defined by it's mathematical models alone and seperate from it's assumptions and constructs. Not that the manner in which science is done or thought about is beyond discussion.

Erik Redburn

Excellent, then we can agree on pretty much everything here. Except to suggest to [i]please[/i] make that clearer next time, if only for slightly more concrete minds like mine. [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

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