Mathematics and statistics do not solve our disagreements

12 November, 2016 at 21:11 | Posted in Economics | Leave a comment

Statistical Science is not really very helpful for understanding or forecasting complex evolving self-healing organic ambiguous social systems – economies, in other words.

leamer1 zoomedA statistician may have done the programming, but when you press a button on a computer keyboard and ask the computer to find some good patterns, better get clear a sad fact: computers do not think. They do exactly what the programmer told them to do and nothing more. They look for the patterns that we tell them to look for, those and nothing more. When we turn to the computer for advice, we are only talking to ourselves …

Mathematical analysis works great to decide which horse wins, if we are completely confident which horses are in the race, but it breaks down when we are not sure. In experimental settings, the set of alternative models can often be well agreed on, but with nonexperimental economics data, the set of models is subject to enormous disagreements. You disagree with your model made yesterday, and I disagree with your model today. Mathematics does not help much resolve our internal intellectual disagreements.

Ed Leamer

Indeed. As social researchers we should never equate science with mathematics and statistical calculation. All science entail human judgement, and using mathematical and statistical models don’t relieve us of that necessity. They are no substitutes for doing real science. Or as a great German philosopher once famously wrote:

There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits.

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