Saturday, May 12, 2012

scientism or media hyperbole?

This is a good sentence despite the fact that I somewhat disagree:
"The literature of scientism has three defining features, which help explain its enduring popularity as well as its recurrent failures: large and highly speculative hypotheses are advanced to explain developments that are extremely complex and highly contingent in nature; fact and value are systematically confused; and the attractively simple theories that result are invested with the power of overcoming moral and political difficulties that have so far proved intractable."
If this accurately reflected the thought processes of scientists, I would agree that it was concerning. But, while it certainly (and understatedly!!) captures science journalism (including a lot of popular science books, some written by the scientists themselves, unfortunately...), I don't think very many serious scientists fall in that trap for more than a few occasional carried-away seconds.

(This is precisely why, in fact, I find it ridiculous that academic economists are blamed for the financial crisis... simple models of enormously complex systems that are nearly impossible to test rigorously are useful for understanding the world and important steps in the slow progress of science, but simplistic application of and appeal to those models in the real world of course isn't going to lead anywhere pretty, and surely no macroeconomist ever said otherwise.)

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