Adam posts on epistemic humility and consistency. Jim Manzi responds

I think that Ozimek’s demand for consistency is fair, and as I said at the start of this post, important. My upcoming book is focused on (i) making the case that this kind of epistemic humility is justified on the evidence, and (ii) trying to work out some of the practical implications of this observation.

Manzi also says

At the level of semantics, I couldn’t care less what label is applied to economics. I think that the operational issue in front of us is what degree of rational deference we should give to propositions put forward by the economics profession.

I think semantics and perhaps methodologism is where Manzi and I, at least, get hung up.

My first point is that economics is and should be a science in the sense that we can and should use reason and evidence to further our understanding and predictive abilities about the economic world around us. To the extent that Manzi isn’t disputing that then the question of “is it science” is probably not meaningful.

On humility. I agree with Adam and Manzi though this extends beyond economics and climate models. There is only so much existential doubt that most people can stand but it seems highly unlikely that we are suffering from a lack of it.

“How would I know if I were wrong,” is a question we should be asking on virtually all maters from the stimulus to whether or not I am actually sitting at a computer right now.

How much time we devote to this question depends in part on how much evidence we have and in part how important the question is. Yet, social science doesn’t represent a stark departure from physical science. In all areas humility is crucial.

Which brings me to my next point, controlled random experiments are not a radically different than careful observation.

A random trial is simply a physically controlled regression analysis. There is no fundamental difference between performing a regression on data collected in the field and data generated in the lab. It is simply that in the lab you hope that you have performed all the necessary controls physically rather than statistically.

However, the physical controls can still fail. Notably, double-blind experiments are an attempt in medicine to go beyond simple randomness because simple randomness not enough. Even with double blind, however, results are often not generalizable.

On the practical implications. My impression is that Manzi fears a society in which social scientists are allowed to determine every aspect of policy, and policy is given free reign over people’s lives.

I’m not sure if I think that’s as big of a danger as Manzi does. We might agree on how bad it would be but I suspect I think its less likely. Ironically, I think its less likely in part because Hayek won this argument among economists and economists have endeavored to keep those observations alive.

More generally though, the problem of people thinking they know what’s best for other people is by no means a new one and by no means limited to social science.

To an extent social science stands as a countervailing force to this tendency because one acquires fame and influence in the social sciences by saying that what everyone else said before was wrong. This incentivizes the young to criticize the old.

In contrast, religious, military and communalist belief structures reward people for showing deference to established views.

Even still, I do recognize the reasoning behind be wary of authority generally and I hope to see Manzi as a partner in figuring out what to do about overconfidence.

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