Facebook
Twitter
Print This Post Print This Post

The True Anti-Intellectuals

Jeff Jacoby at The Boston Globe writes a wonderful piece to start the year,  What experts predict, reality will contradict

“I think that you listen too much to the soldiers,” wrote the British statesman Lord Salisbury to the viceroy of India in 1877. “No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts.”

But the experts themselves — often mistaken, but never in doubt — rarely seem to learn that lesson. Their forecasts will keep flowing in the year ahead, undeterred by their egregious blunders in the one just ended.

2016! Was there ever such a year for making donkeys out of seers? An entire column could be filled with nothing but the names of sages and savants, supposedly adept in the ways of politics, who confidently assured everyone that Donald J. Trump couldn’t possibly win the Republican presidential nomination, let alone be elected president of the United States.

HKO

Daniel Kahneman has observed that even the most credentialed and intelligent are prone to errors of probability. The more isolated that our academic establishments get from intellectual diversity the greater this error rate will likely become.

History is filled with predictions of an apocalypse that never happened, and missed the travesties that did. (although WWII was widely predicted.)

In a field of great uncertainty the best bet is a regression to the mean.  It’s as good a bet as always splitting aces or always doubling on a dealer 6.

The greater the certainty and the greater the credentialism of the predictors, the more likely the regression is  to be the preferred bet.

The less tolerant the consensus is of dissent or skepticism,  the more likely they are to be wrong.

Addressing the limits of the intellect is not to be anti-intellectual. It is the opposite. Knowing the limits allows wiser application, greater respect, and lower risk.  This makes intellectualism more acceptable and trustworthy to a wider populace. It is the blind faith in credentialism and consensus that damages the reputation of the intellectuals.  The cynicism and demonization of skepticism and true debate is the height of anti-intellectualism.

Even the wide swath of citizens that find policy and ideology boring can be quite animated at the consequences of these ideas. We would be surprised at the value that the addition of humility would bring to the world of ideas.

Print This Post Print This Post

Imposing Moral Supremacy

from Jeff Jacoby at the Boston Globe, Healey’s Exxon witch-hunt:

As a citizen and a politician, Healey is fully entitled to condemn fossil fuels, decry global warming, and express scorn for those who don’t agree with her and Gore. As the chief law-enforcement officer of Massachusetts, she is not entitled to deploy subpoenas and other investigative and legal tools in order to harass or demonize businesses and organizations that express opinions she doesn’t share. Not even when the opinion is on a topic that she considers “more important” than anything else.

The scientific and policy debate over climate change is vigorous and ongoing. It is no more settled than the debate over abortion. And just as the First Amendment flatly forbids Massachusetts officials from using their powers to silence free speech about abortion, it forbids them from using those powers to squelch competing arguments and views about fossil fuels and global warming.

HKO

Process matters and the ends do not justify the means.  The left has become far too  comfortable with sidestepping the Bill of Rights for the political purposes of imposing moral supremacy.

Print This Post Print This Post

When Ideas Start Having Sex

mccloskey

The internet gave rise to Google and Facebook. The iPhone gave rise to Uber. The ideologies are important only to the extent that they facilitated ideas. Our current development is less dependent on assets and physical capital than ideas. We grow in spite of institutions, not because of them. In fact many of the new ideas render our institutions increasingly irrelevant.

This is one of those articles rich with analysis and thus hard to excerpt- so please link to the whole article.

from the Wall Street Journal, Deirdre McCloskey writes How the West (and the Rest ) Got Rich-This essay is adapted from her new book, “Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World,” published by the University of Chicago Press.

What caused it? The usual explanations follow ideology. On the left, from Marx onward, the key is said to be exploitation. Capitalists after 1800 seized surplus value from their workers and invested it in dark, satanic mills. On the right, from the blessed Adam Smith onward, the trick was thought to be savings. The wild Highlanders could become as rich as the Dutch—“the highest degree of opulence,” as Smith put it in 1776—if they would merely save enough to accumulate capital (and stop stealing cattle from one another).

A recent extension of Smith’s claim, put forward by the late economics Nobelist Douglass North (and now embraced as orthodoxy by the World Bank) is that the real elixir is institutions. On this view, if you give a nation’s lawyers fine robes and white wigs, you will get something like English common law. Legislation will follow, corruption will vanish, and the nation will be carried by the accumulation of capital to the highest degree of opulence.

The capital became productive because of ideas for betterment—ideas enacted by a country carpenter or a boy telegrapher or a teenage Seattle computer whiz. As Matt Ridley put it in his book “The Rational Optimist” (2010), what happened over the past two centuries is that “ideas started having sex.” The idea of a railroad was a coupling of high-pressure steam engines with cars running on coal-mining rails. The idea for a lawn mower coupled a miniature gasoline engine with a miniature mechanical reaper. And so on, through every imaginable sort of invention. The coupling of ideas in the heads of the common people yielded an explosion of betterments.

Why did ideas so suddenly start having sex, there and then? Why did it all start at first in Holland about 1600 and then England about 1700 and then the North American colonies and England’s impoverished neighbor, Scotland, and then Belgium and northern France and the Rhineland?

The answer, in a word, is “liberty.” Liberated people, it turns out, are ingenious. Slaves, serfs, subordinated women, people frozen in a hierarchy of lords or bureaucrats are not. By certain accidents of European politics, having nothing to do with deep European virtue, more and more Europeans were liberated. From Luther’s reformation through the Dutch revolt against Spain after 1568 and England’s turmoil in the Civil War of the 1640s, down to the American and French revolutions, Europeans came to believe that common people should be liberated to have a go. You might call it: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

To use another big concept, what came—slowly, imperfectly—was equality. It was not an equality of outcome, which might be labeled “French” in honor of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Piketty. It was, so to speak, “Scottish,” in honor of David Hume and Adam Smith: equality before the law and equality of social dignity. It made people bold to pursue betterments on their own account. It was, as Smith put it, “allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice.”

Print This Post Print This Post

Publication Bias

from Olivia Goldhill at Quartz, Many scientific “truths” are, in fact, false:

For example, there’s massive academic pressure to publish in journals, and these journals tend to publish exciting studies that show strong results.

“Journals favor novelty, originality, and verification of hypotheses over robustness, stringency of method, reproducibility, and falsifiability,” Hagger tells Quartz. “Therefore researchers have been driven to finding significant effects, finding things that are novel, testing them on relatively small samples.”

This has created a publication bias, where studies that show strong, positive results get published, while similar studies that come up with no significant effects sit at the bottom of researchers’ drawers.

Meanwhile, in cases where researchers have access to large amounts of data, there’s a dangerous tendency to hunt for significant correlations. Researchers can thus convince themselves that they’ve spotted a meaningful connection, when in fact such connections are totally random.