The authors of the book, Freakonomics, created some controversy when they laid out the case that the legalization of abortion in the United States in the 1970s was largely responsible for the dramatic drop in crime in the 1990s and beyond. In this podcast, the main author and economist behind the study discusses the fallout and criticism from that case but more importantly discusses several important concepts related to the human sciences and how people acquire knowledge generally.
Some interesting moments:
33 minutes: the challenges for a layperson to learn about social science research and the limitations of media reporting and sensationalism. Also talks about the nature of creating knowledge in economics.
47 minutes: on the challenges of explaining to people what economists do and the validity of their methods despite seeming sophisticated to the nonexpert.
The “Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study” was a fascinating study in constructing knowledge in the human sciences but more importantly, using scientific methods to come to conclusions that seem to be completely counterintuitive: that mentorship programs can do more harm than not intervening in the lives of children considered at risk. The Freakonomics episode linked below gets into great detail about this.
Freakonomics Podcast: When Helping Hurts
Jump ahead to the 6 minute mark to hear about the “Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study”
Charities aren’t doing enough to determine if they’re really making a difference
First do no harm. It’s a basic tenet of medicine. When intervening in peoples lives – even with good intentions – we need to check whether we are doing them any damage. But sadly, this key principle from the medical profession has not been taken to heart by charities.
Similar to an older post “How do we measure the effectiveness of charitable giving?”
Worthwhile article that examines the nature of knowledge in the social sciences as well as its limitations caused by human limitations and the structure of our institutions that produce knowledge.
If moral arguments for equality or against corporal discipline are constructed on a foundation of faulty science, then the foundations of that morality collapse as the faults are exposed. It is far safer to ensure that moral arguments remain independent of scientific claims—to argue, for instance, that gender equality is a moral imperative irrespective of whether or not gender differences are biological, or that hitting children is wrong irrespective of whether it leads to negative outcomes for the child.
Interestingly, here is another post from the same publication coming to the opposite conclusion about spanking which also speaks to the nature of the production of knowledge in the human sciences
“Something has gone wrong in the university — especially in certain fields within the humanities,” the three authors of the fake papers wrote in an article in the online journal Areo explaining what they had done. “Scholarship based less upon finding truth and more upon attending to social grievances has become firmly established, if not fully dominant, within these fields.”
Their original post”
Below are a few different articles on the shortcomings and false assumptions of modern economics. What’s central to each of these is the difference between the human sciences and the natural sciences and the consequences of mistaking one for the other. Economics is a social science and many problems arise when we treat it as if, because of its sophisticated mathematical models, that it is like a natural science. The last article is an interesting example of the important of models when trying to understand reality.
Old economics is based on false ‘laws of physics’ – new economics can save us
It is time to ditch the belief that economies obey rigid mechanical rules, which has widened inequality and polluted our planet. Economics is evolving
In the 1870s, a handful of aspiring economists hoped to make economics a science as reputable as physics. Awed by Newton’s insights on the physical laws of motion – laws that so elegantly describe the trajectory of falling apples and orbiting moons – they sought to create an economic theory that matched his legacy.
Their mechanical metaphor sounds authoritative, but it was ill-chosen from the start
Continue reading “On the nature and fallacies of Economics”
Knowledge Questions: What are the limitations in our abilities to reason? How do we produce knowledge in the sciences? What impact does knowledge have on the knower?
This article brings together so many interesting issues in TOK and the problems associated with knowledge and its production. There are connections in this article to memory, the scientific method, the replication crisis, reason, and the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
We need more intellectual humility for two reasons. One is that our culture promotes and rewards overconfidence and arrogance (think Trump and Theranos, or the advice your career counselor gave you when going into job interviews). At the same time, when we are wrong — out of ignorance or error — and realize it, our culture doesn’t make it easy to admit it. Humbling moments too easily can turn into moments of humiliation.
Nosek was so taken with the importance of redoing old experiments that he had also rallied more than 50 like-minded researchers across the country to participate in something he called the Reproducibility Project. The aim was to redo about 50 studies from three prominent psychology journals, to establish an estimate of how often modern psychology turns up false positive results.
It was little wonder, then, that funders didn’t come running to support Nosek: He wasn’t promising novel findings, he was promising to question them. So he ran his projects on a shoestring budget, self-financing them with his own earnings from corporate speaking engagements on his research about bias.