Re: Theory vs. Data (was: Greenstar <--- MUST SEE)

Date: Tue Jun 27 2000 - 18:58:31 MDT

Robin Hanson <> wrote:

> Here you run into another problem: people are very reluctant to believe
> counterintuitive results from the social sciences. Physicists can say the
> strangest things, and people will say "isn't that cool", but if economists
> say that minimum wages reduce employment, the response is "what do you know."

At least there's a theory for minimum wages. But we know that when public
water systems break after an earthquake or storm that disease rates go up. So
it's rather hard to believe that spending on public water systems doesn't
improve health. If someone says they can't measure it, we're inclined to
think their measurements are bad.

To take the really big view, spending on medicine has increased in the past
two centuries. And life expectancy has increased dramatically. The latter
phenomenon needs to be explained. (Of course, we know more; it's not just a
matter of spending money.)

Another factor is that hard science types are rarely suspected of having a
political axe to grind. If someone says "look, gravity isn't constant, here's
the evidence" we say "Wuuuh." If some unknown social scientist says something
really weird and politically beneficial to some position we suspect they've
biased their data, or worse. (Not unrelated to the presumption against
claimed results for ESP.)

-xx- Damien X-)

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