Voodoo Anyone? How to Understand Economics Without Really Trying

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So: will someone tell me what, other than one's political preferences, is the difference between "professional" and "voodoo" economics? Go to any U. You will hear lamentation and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Washington has become unfeeling and stupidly refuses to support higher education: don't those idiots on the Potomac know that education is a investment in the future?

Don't they know that human resources are our most valuable resources, that public higher education is necessary preparation for a democratic future?

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That we must invest in the future? But now wander about the campus, and look at how our typical university allocates that all-important investment dollar. You will find that the "social science" departments are far larger than the "hard sciences," and indeed have more students than are enrolled in liberal arts. You will find that even in states with tens of thousands of unemployed teachers, the Department of Education is among the very largest departments on campus.

The social sciences will be large and important departments, with many members of faculty and much classroom space. One wonders what it is that graduates in the social sciences are prepared to do. It must be an important skill; we are spending a large part of our scarce but all-important investment funds to acquire it.

Oddly enough, though, we're not training so many engineers and scientists, physicists and mathematicians. But of course the answer is well known. In most universities, our education investment funds are allocated by entering freshmen. They go to a kind of oriental bazaar, where they are seduced into choosing a major; the number of majors then determines the department's share of the university's budget funds.

It does seem an odd way to allocate an important resource. One might suppose a better way: that the legislature, or other public authority, determine the number of engineers, biologists, physicists, medicos, sociologists, etc. Students wishing to declare various majors could do so; but when the number that the taxpayers will support is exceeded, the next student to enroll in that major gets to pay tuition accordingly.

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If tax-supported higher education is an investment--and what other theory justifies sending the tax collector, policeman, and eventually the public hangman to extort the funds from the taxpayers? The present scheme looks like a bad parody invented by an inept science fiction writer. Who'd believe it if it weren't happening? At least, though, the present scheme should give us plenty of social scientists, as well as lots of professional teachers.

With all those behavioral scientists we shouldn't have any problems teaching the young to read and write: even if the teachers have problems, the sociologists and psychologists can devise a scientific education program. Only they don't. They don't even try. And when someone does succeed, as for example Marva Collins of Chicago who built quality private schools in what she called "the allegedly fetid ghetto," the "professional educators" put out reams of material calling her a "hoax" who was "carefully constructed as a media event.

Roberta Pournelle taught in a juvenile detention facility for better than a decade.

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Her students were teenage illiterates. Most of them came with five pounds of paperwork that definitely proved that these kids cannot possibly learn to read. The schools, the psychologists, the educators haven't failed; there's something wrong with the kid. Roberta threw the paperwork away and taught the kid to read. She rarely failed. Then there's the court system.

The trouble with Labour’s voodoo economics

In the history of trials, there must be about three cases in which the prosecution's psychiatrist said an accused pleading not guilty by reason of insanity was nuts, and none at all in which the defense's psychiatrist said he wasn't. Yet we continue to pay for this all-too-predictable "scientific" expert testimony. This is professionalism? And yet: we not only excuse gross incompetence among social scientists including Professors of Education, we let them give real scientists and engineers an inferiority complex. Somehow we've swallowed whole the myth that you can be a well-rounded, educated person without knowing any science and mathematics whatever; but engineering and science majors are automatically uncultured boors, hardly fit for polite society.

We have a Council of Economic Advisors, and we debate economic policy, and everyone listens as these soothsayers pontificate about monetary policy; and meanwhile the president's Science Advisor is a low-ranking White House official, there is no Engineering Advisory Council, and there is no cabinet-level post held by an engineer.

More than a majority of the seats in every major legislature in the land is held by lawyers, but there are about two engineers in Congress, and no cabinet-level post held by an engineer or scientist. Now go again to your typical university. Find an engineering students and a social science student. I'll bet you anything you like that the engineer will have read about as much history and literature and genuine liberal arts as the social scientist; while the social scientist will know nothing of engineering and physics, little of biology, and no mathematics.

He may protest that he "took stat"; which will mean that he knows how to do cookbook calculations to produce the mean, median, and mode of a bunch of numbers. Given a little help he may also be able to compute the standard deviation; and with a textbook and a bit of luck he might even be able to do a "T" test, although the odds are that he won't have the foggiest notion of what the T test assumes. Go now to a rally protesting a nuclear power plant. There'll be a lot of students here.

How many will be engineers?

And how many will be social scientists? Of the social scientists, how many will understand anything of nuclear physics?

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How many will know the difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation? Engineering students may apologize for deficiencies in "culture. The fact is that engineers and scientists will have studied far more of the liberal arts than social scientists will have of physics or engineering.

And, alas, neither will know any history. Isn't it time we ended this farce? Granted, the social scientists have a tough subject matter; but it isn't made easier by involving us all in a conspiracy to act as if they had skills they just haven't got. It would be a lot easier to respect them if they made their students take hard courses: calculus through differential equations, real probability and statistics, operations research, basic computer science.

Of course, it their students mastered these subjects, they'd probably get out of "social science" and into something useful. Meantime, though, they can stop trying to get the rest of us to act as if they know something we don't. Between the two a gulf of mutual incomprehension.

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Lord C. The Two Cultures on the Scientific Revolution. The late C. Snow was concerned that we were developing two powerful cultures, neither of which understood the other. He thought this very dangerous. Science, with its power over the physical world, is terrifying if not humanely controlled; humanists without science are helpless. Examples of the consequences of this gap are not hard to find. Consider the following, which seems particularly relevant to science fact and fiction readers. Long Time Parking.

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The vehicle will swing within km of the moon's surface Dec. Note "Liberation Point," and the ludicrous orbital mechanics. In a section entitled Technical Debate Holt says, "It seems that if L-5 is a point where the gravitational fields of earth and moon cancel each other out, any movement toward either earth or moon would lead to further movement in that direction, there being no correcting or opposing force. The effect of these forces might be very slight, so that we could say of a 64 million ton cylinder that it would take many thousands or tens of thousands of years before it finally reached the earth.

Still, it would be rather hard for those on earth. Holt's argument against space colonies sounds scientific, and he probably believes he is being scientific.

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He also objects on "moral" grounds. When Tom Heppenheimer certainly no soft-spoken advocate says that Holt's arguments are "largely theological, reflecting bias or intuitive dislike, rather than any semblance of reasoned assessment," Holt replies:. I might add that, according to Gerald Piel, publisher of Scientific American , many scientists themselves oppose this project on moral grounds.

The risks would in fact be enormous. We have already lost three lives in space, and almost three more; the Russians have lost at least three. But our ventures into space have been very modest, and surrounded by the most elaborate and expensive precautions. It seems altogether reasonable to assume that if we begin complicated mining and industrial operations on the moon, our casualty rate will be higher, perhaps much higher. When Heppenheimer says that "It cannot be denied that large numbers of people will freely volunteer to live in space, even under austere conditions, when this becomes possible.

I expect that this will happen, and in fact is happening, and is one of my ethical and moral reasons for opposing this project. The interesting part is that we are listening to scientific-sounding nonsense from a man who does not know high school physics, and seems to know little of probability. He is, however, a "humanist," and thus should know human behavior.

Yet I wonder, and call to evidence Shackleton's experience:. Ernest Shackleton was adjutant to the South Polar expedition. In he placed the following advertisement:. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success. I suspect I would have little difficulty recruiting qualified people for L-5 colonies, or indeed for an early lunar colony. Perhaps I'm wrong, but unlike Holt I have some evidence, and a smattering of data.

One may believe, as I do, that communications between scientists and non-scientists are in a sad state, and that this is a dangerous situation, without accepting C. Snow's picture as accurate.

Voodoo Anyone? How to Understand Economics Without Really Trying Voodoo Anyone? How to Understand Economics Without Really Trying
Voodoo Anyone? How to Understand Economics Without Really Trying Voodoo Anyone? How to Understand Economics Without Really Trying
Voodoo Anyone? How to Understand Economics Without Really Trying Voodoo Anyone? How to Understand Economics Without Really Trying
Voodoo Anyone? How to Understand Economics Without Really Trying Voodoo Anyone? How to Understand Economics Without Really Trying
Voodoo Anyone? How to Understand Economics Without Really Trying Voodoo Anyone? How to Understand Economics Without Really Trying

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