Monday, January 19, 2015

Richard Feynman on

Physicist Richard Feynman had a great criticism of social science, saying that they reach conclusions with an insufficiently small amount of work and a large amount of speculation.

There is all kind of myths and pseudoscience all over the place. Now I might be quite wrong, maybe they do know all these things but I don’t think I’m wrong. You see I have the advantage of having found out how hard it is to know something, how careful you have to be about checking the experiments, how easy it is to make mistakes and fool yourself. I know what it means to know something and therefore I can’t…I see how they get their information and I can’t believe that they know it. They haven’t done the work necessary, haven’t done the checks necessary, haven’t done the care necessary. I have a great suspicion that they don’t know.

The obvious thing my mind runs to is economics. I think of economics as a science, but with many issues still undecided. We have a great understanding of Pigovian taxes, but far less certainty on how to stop a depression. The lesson here isn't to abandon the social sciences, but to take their conclusions with a dose of skepticism.

This isn't anything new, of course. That was the subject of Friedrich Hayek's 1974 Nobel Lecture, titled The Pretense of Knowledge.

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