Whether Economics is a Science, and other topics

  • Paul Krugman on economists who won’t admit they are wrong;
  • How science journalism is theatened, not to mention basic scientific literacy;
  • Disinformation and journalists challenging interviewees on air;
  • How Uganda’s anti-gay laws, inspired by American Christians, is hurting its economy;
  • How Ted Cruz, projecting, rants about how “radical leftists” are so unhappy.

I would say that economics, and psychology, are sciences to the extent their practitioners recognize the results of ‘experiments’ (even those necessarily that play out in the real world) and adjust their theories and conclusions accordingly. Some don’t.

NY Times, Opinion, Paul Krugman, 18 Dec 2023: Beware Economists Who Won’t Admit They Were Wrong

The trigger here is about how economic predictions of doom and gloom for this past year turned out not to be true.

From an economic point of view, 2023 will go down in the record books as one of the best years ever — a year in which inflation came down amazingly fast at no visible cost, defying the predictions of many economists that disinflation would require years of high unemployment.

So far, at least, the public seems unwilling to believe the good news or to give the Biden administration any credit. But this column isn’t about the apparent gap between voter perceptions and reality. It is instead about the unwillingness of some influential economists and officials to accept the fact that they got it wrong.

Why should we care? This isn’t about scoring personal points (although I’m a big believer in owning up to your errors — it’s how you learn, and it’s also good for the soul). What I’m concerned about is that clinging to a view of the economy that has been disproved by recent events makes it more likely that we’ll mess this up, putting the economy through a recession that, it turns out, we didn’t and don’t need to control inflation.

This recalls my thesis that those who acknowledge reality, as opposed to ideology, will eventually win out. But like so many things, it depends on context. Krugman concludes:

What worries me is the future. By and large, the same people who were wrongly pessimistic about disinflation are now warning the Fed against cutting interest rates quickly. Why? Well, if you believe that any rise in inflation will be very hard to reverse and also believe that the Fed’s perceived toughness was crucial in getting inflation down, I guess you’re willing to run big risks of recession to preserve the Fed’s inflation-fighting credibility. But neither belief is supported by the evidence.

Has the war on inflation been definitively won? No. But recession looks like a bigger risk than resurgent inflation. And I worry that this risk will be increased if policymakers listen to people who are reluctant to admit that they got the inflation story wrong and are clinging to a false theory about how we got inflation down.


Salon, Rae Hodge, 19 Dec 2023: Science journalism is no longer safe hiding in the hedge fund, subtitled “Science desks are needed more than ever, but traditional revenue models are destroying them”

Opening with the problem:

Advance Publications is owned by a couple of billionaire families. Condé Nast is owned by Advance Publications. Wired magazine is owned by Condé Nast. And this week — as the world reaches the hottest temperatures on record, as another deadly COVID-19 variant steals into the public’s lungs, as owners of unregulated artificial intelligence threaten to unleash mass unemployment with their article-generating internet toys and the whole world needs increasingly complex topics explained — the science desk at Wired got gutted.

It’s not just Wired, of course. Recurrent Ventures axed 151-year-old Popular Science magazine this year, and presumably the last 13 staffers to steward its cultural legacy, leaving only five editorial staffers to crew the online-only ship. There are no full-time staff writers left at National Geographic after this year, and The Washington Post took a tough hit too. Climate desks at CNBC and Gizmodo got cut down. As did the climate team remaining at CNN, the select beat preserved in 2008 after the outlet axed the general science desk.

And continuing with the cause:

Private equity catastrophes, faceless hedges and trusts, unchecked conglomerates and the ongoing shell game of parent companies — the wealthy gutted US science journalism in 2023 through a number of opaque and convoluted financial vehicles. And there’s no evidence to suggest that trend will stop. Rather, ad-reliant revenue models of wealthy digital proprietors are now failing so hard that their slash-and-burn newsroom tactics are likely to get more aggressive as short-selling the news ramps up to a fire-sale finale. One recent report holds that news outlets saw 2,681 job cuts this year. That’s more than the totals in 2021 or 2022.

On the one hand, I don’t disagree with the problem and the cause. Science journalism can only benefit the population. At the same time, I rue the absence of basic scientific literacy among the general population, and must suppose that those who don’t “believe” in biology (evolution; vaccines) or cosmology (the world isn’t flat) aren’t going to pay any attention to science journalism. What mechanism could there possibly be to continually reinforce basic concepts of science? And of course the same question could be asked about history, civics, and so many other topics, that so many voters are misinformed about, and make decisions at the ballot box based on their ignorance?


OnlySky, Jonathan MS Pearce, 19 Dec 2023: Critical Thinking Dealing with the demons of disinformation

Yet another piece about disinformation? Is there anything new here? Well, yes. Examples.

Skepticism is a virtue in the maelstrom of claims and counter-claims that is our modern world. Everyone is competing to sell their own narratives about what is going on around the globe, to fit their agendas.

A new phrase is beginning to be used alongside “national security” and “cyber security.” It is “epistemic security.” Epistemology is the field of philosophical study pertaining to knowledge and truth. In the information battlefields of the world, it is truth that is being fought over—and there are many, many casualties.

The big platforms have recently come under greater scrutiny in the context of international geopolitics. The BBC has just completed a fact-checking project where they discovered 800 fake, almost certainly Russian accounts on TikTok. The Chinese-owned TikTok has itself deleted 12,000 fake accounts since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. YouTube continues to have issues with Russian trolls gaming the system (this happened to me and has also recently led to a significant pro-Ukrainian channel, Warthog Defense, being deleted).

After further general discussion, the article presents — with video clips — incidents of news anchors challenging their interviewees, on air. Caitlyn Collins and Ron Johnson (“which books?”). Mehdi Hasan and Vivek Ramaswamy.

The search for truth and accuracy is an increasingly difficult one, but where news anchors take the step to do the right thing, we should recognize and applaud it. More of that is needed. Much more.

The Pandora’s Box of lies and mistruths has been ripped open in recent decades, and putting those impudent wisps and demons of disinformation back in is one heck of a tall order. For all our benefits, we must try, or soon our society will be built on a foundation of falsification. Soon enough, it’ll come tumbling down.


Coverage of the fringe.

NY Times, 19 Dec 2023: An Anti-L.G.B.T.Q. Law in Uganda Is Hurting the Economy, subtitled “Passed in May, the Anti-Homosexuality Act is harming businesses that rely on foreign travelers and trade.” (Via)

Key point:

Business leaders and politicians trace Uganda’s intolerance of L.G.B.T.Q. people to the markedly conservative strains of Catholicism and evangelicalism that dominate the country.

As Joe.My.God summarizes:

As has been reported here and elsewhere, the gay death penalty law came after years of lobbying by US-based Christian groups. And as the linked article notes, 94% of Ugandans say they would report a gay family member to the police. It’s also now illegal for landlords to rent to LGBTQ persons.

Christian morality! (Haven’t they heard the latest from the Pope?)


Joe.My.God, 19 Dec 2023: Ted Cruz: Liberal Men Can’t Satisfy Their Women In Bed

How many radical leftists does it take to screw in a light bulb? That’s not funny! The left is so mad! They’re so unhappy! They’re so pissed off! And by way, if you were a liberal woman and you had to sleep with those weenies, you’d be pissed too.

Who would pay any attention to such fatuous nonsense? Many people, apparently. More projection. It’s the Republicans who are angry and yelling into their microphones. (Maybe this is why they think Biden is senile; because he doesn’t always speak at the top of his voice, the way Trump does.)

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