Mike the Mad Biologist

I think the creationist controversy sheds a lot of light on the conservative movement as a whole. So, in the comments of this post by Brad DeLong that wondered how in the hell anyone still seriously argues on behalf of the Treasury View in economics, I remarked that it reminded me of creationists:

….in biology, for example, the profession itself does not lend credence to creationism. The fundamentals, as opposed to the cutting edge (or arguments about the relative importance of various phenomena), are not in question. These are political controversies, not scientific ones. That is, evolution happened–biologists, biological societies, etc. agree on this.

The revival of the “Treasury View” sounds almost like dealing with creationists. Evidence and first principles seem to have gone right out the window. At some point, the Treasury View proponents are going to want to ‘teach the controversy’ in economics courses….

So then Paul Krugman noted:

One of Brad DeLong’s commentators compares what’s going on to the discovery that some eminent biologists are creationists, but it’s actually worse than that: it’s like discovering that some eminent biologists have never heard of the theory of evolution and the concept of natural selection.

How did we get to this point?

Either way, it’s really stupid. Of course, creationists are pretty factually challenged too. Consider DeLong’s question:

I had thought that the questions of whether the “Treasury View” was correct, whether the money multiplier was a constant, and whether the velocity of money was constant in normal times had been settled and were no longer live parts of economics. But here we are…

Where I think Krugman might be wrong is that he’s assuming intellectual honesty on behalf of the Treasury View proponents. But could a professional economist be this foolish out of good intentions? Or is this letting ideology override evidence?

Related post: Dean Baker writes:

If the Washington Post had a science section it would be filled with accounts of creationism and the latest thoughts from the Flat Earth Society. This is the only conclusion that one can get from reading its treatment of economics in the Outlook section.

Heh.

Comments

  1. #1 Coriolis
    February 3, 2009

    Heh, I read that piece in krugman’s blog, who would’ve thought you started it ;).

    I think he’s really doing an important public service in a way by trying to shame economists into cleaning up their profession with a bunch of these posts. Assuming that it’s possible to do that at all, it’s certainly needed.

    I’ve recently come to the conclusion that one of the major defining features of a science (as opposed to art) isn’t that everyone doing it is brilliant, but rather that there’s a limit on how clueless one can be and still be part of the profession. And some of Krugman’s “debunking” posts recently have been debunking things which are pretty obvious even to someone with no serious knowledge of economics like me. Scientists make dumb mistakes all the time, but goddamnit, at least nobody who’s not in that area can understand that they did ;).

  2. #2 Edward
    February 3, 2009

    I think the question “are they being intellectually honest?” gets at the heart of most of the major issues of today. I generally start out trying to reason with people and give them the benefit of the doubt, but the amount of willful ignorance astounds me. For example, there is a reporter for the IT web publication The Register, who routinely posts articles that are somewhat critical of the idea that humans are causing global climate change. In response to one of his articles, in which he cited some recent cooler temps in the UK as evidence against global warming, I sent him an e-mail pointing out that cooler temps in the UK were consistent with the models of global warming that predicted disruption of the gulf stream. His response was “I’ve heard that theory – can you back it up with some solid evidence?”

    This guy is a self-styled science reporter, yet apparently can’t be bothered to look up scientific articles. Worse, as a reported for a web publication, he is promoting his own willful ignorance. He has no trouble posting article after article from global warming “skeptics.”

    In all these “debates” I see many people confuse being critical with critical thinking. There is a certain embrace of the idea that it is good to have “lots of points of view” without enough evaluation of those different views. And there are too many people willing to dismiss good scientific data as just another point of view.

  3. #3 Troublesome Frog
    February 4, 2009

    Menzie Chinn over at Econbrowser has some good commentary on the ill-considered dogma that allows Rush Limbaugh to be considered a worthwhile contributor to the Wall Street Journal. Then again, the WSJ editorial page is a veritable carnival of insane people spouting nonsense, so maybe it works.

    The title is, “Budget Surplus? Tax Cut! Budget Deficit? Tax Cut! High Energy Prices? Tax Cut! Deep Recession? More Tax Cuts!”

  4. #4 MattXIV
    February 5, 2009

    Delong is being a bit disingenious here with regards to the investment = savings identity – the identity itself doesn’t need to always hold, but there are good arguments that it does under current conditions since people don’t hold large amounts of cash these days (how much of your assets do you hold in cash?) and are unlikely to start doing so unless nominal interest rates are negative.

    As for Baker, both him and Shales overstate their cases for and against the New Deal respectively and the GDP series Baker cites proves nothing unless you construct an alternative series for the policy your comparing it with, which is basically impossible and the reason why economists are going to be arguing over the great depression until the end of time. Baker’s interpretation of the 1937 dip is not very persuasive; according to the Keynsian model, once aggregate demand has been restored to it’s equilibirum level, futher stimulus shouldn’t be necessary – if the first 5 years of New Deal policies “worked”, then it should have been possible to draw down deficit spending without adversely affecting the economy. For Baker’s interpretation to be accurate, the “short run” would have to be over a decade long.

    On the issue of Say’s Law in Krugman’s post, Say’s Law does hold in “long run” models, but not in Keynsian “short run” models – nobody is challenging this. What people are challenging is to what degree the mechanisms that cause short run deviations from Say’s Law are in play. This is typical Krugman – make a controversial assumption, make an argument that follows from that assumption, then accuse people who disagree about the appropriateness of the assumption of making a mistake in extrapolating from it.

  5. #5 Hank Roberts
    February 6, 2009

    See also Chu-Carroll:
    http://scienceblogs.com/goodmath/2008/09/bad_probability_and_economic_d.php

    “The biggest problem is that the whole system of ratings and insurance for mortgage (and other) bonds is based on probability computations of how likely it is for the underlying loans to default. The problem is in how they computed the probability of default. They made the same mistake that we constantly see creationists making in some of their stupid arguments: false independence. They build up assessments of risk based on the the assumption that for a given set of loans, the probabilities of different loans failing are completely independent of one another.”

  6. #6 Hank Roberts
    February 6, 2009

    PS, while I wish I thought Krugman was being intellectually honest, I think we’re seeing a Neville Chamberlain theme here and he’s caught up at least at the edges of it.

    They’re all hoping for “peace in our time” — but they know where that ends up.

  7. #7 alufelgi do bmw
    February 7, 2009

    In my opinion the largest threat for California are cataclysms and ecological catastrophes. Not important is how many money we have because one tragedy can us take all.

  8. #8 figurin
    June 12, 2009

    On the issue of Say’s Law in Krugman’s post, Say’s Law does hold in “long run” models, but not in Keynsian “short run” models – nobody is challenging this. What people are challenging is to what degree the mechanisms that cause short run deviations from Say’s Law are in play.

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