Monday, February 10, 2014

In praise of Intellectual Humility

Reader Russel emails:
The other purpose of this email is to point you to a paper I read yesterday, *In Praise of Passivity*, by Michael Huemer out of U of Colorado. Reading it was like reading a *very* long Borepatch post, so I'd like to pass it along. It's in .pdf format, but instead of attaching it (which would be, at the very least, kind of sketchy) I'll link to the place I found it, the blog of economist Greg Mankiw:
It was published in the current edition of the journal Studia Humana, but it's behind a paywall at their website. I would actually be surprised if you have not stumbled on this one yourself, or if someone has recommended it before me, but the paper is good. If you haven't read it yet, you're missing out on some awesome libertarian goodness, complete with cited sources.
The article's abstract is pretty devastating to the Big Government crowd:
Political actors, including voters, activists, and leaders, are often ignorant of basic facts relevant to policy  choices. Even experts have little understanding of the working of society and little ability to predict future  outcomes. Only the most simple and uncontroversial political claims can be counted on. This is partly because  political knowledge is very difficult to attain, and partly because individuals are not sufficiently motivated to  attain it. As a result, the best advice for political actors is very often to simply stop trying to solve social  problems, since interventions not based on precise understanding are likely to do more harm than good.
In other words: don't just do something, stand there.

There's far too much certainty claimed these days, not just in the social sciences but in the hard sciences as well.  Longtime readers will recall my beef with climate science overstating confidence.  I'm not the only one in this camp, and Judith Curry's "Uncertainty Monster" remains an area that most climate scientists refuse to address head on.

The result, of course, is a lower respect for science as it is done today.  An honest intellectual humility would go a long way towards restoring this respect.  Alas, it likely would also get in the way of grant funding.


Old NFO said...

It's all about publish or perish to get $$ today... People like Bob Ballard are at least partially culpable for that...

Jim Bravo said...

"don't just do something, stand there."

Every governing body should reflect upon that prior to any vote.