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Crackpots are loners existing outside academia. There is no crackpot-science community. The Austrian School always had a secure place in the university and always existed as a scientific community. AE simply does not satisfy the basic criteria of crackpottery. i don't think we have to go any deeper than that, do we?

I dunno, academia is no guarantee of non-crack-pottery.

Ultimately, one has to determine what one's own definition of a 'crack-pot' is. I would use it to mean someone who holds on to and loudly promotes ideas that are clearly refutable by logic.

By that definition, there need be no test such as how many journals is someone published in, etc. The only neccessary test is whether what they're saying is indeed logical, and if not do they continue to say it despite clear evidence of it's logical flaws.

Using other standards of measure like "do lots of 'normal' people take this person seriously" are often just demonstrations of insecurity. Besides, who gets to measure the 'normal' people and decide if they're crackpots?

The seperate question is whether someone is being thoughtful and strategic about communicating their ideas. It's one thing to be logically correct, but quite another to be effective at communicating and changing minds. People with no sense of what's persuasive and effective (i.e. those who use overly sensationalist language, reductio ad hitlerium, etc.) may be considered 'crack-pots' in that they are unable to communicate to the general public, but it doesn't necessarily mean they're wrong.

The key is when analyzing ideas, use only logic to test them. When analyzing who you want to tell others about the ideas (or who you want to invite to a dinner party) use the 'do they scare people away' test.

We need more people who can take the correct ideas of people who can't communicate and put them into words that people can understand.

The problem is that a scholar or a group of scholars who share and pursue a common "research program," such as those normally labeled members of the "Austrian School," cannot "control" for non-academic "fellow travelers" who latch on to some of their ideas.

The blogging world is full of many "interested laymen" who have read and accepted much of the Austrian view of the market process and a variety of policy conclusions relating to the "Austrian" theory of the the business cycle, and the "Austrian" critique of socialism and interventionism.

Alas, too many of them begin identifying these ideas with other views they hold on religion, abortion, gay marriage, creationism vs. evolution, etc.

Soon, people coming across these blog sites and reading the various authors on these themes and their asserted connection with "Austrian Economics," too easily conclude that Austrian Economics must be as "crack-potty" as some of these other views about man, society, and the universe.

Another problem, separate from this one, is that Austrians, in general reject or at least are highly critical of variations on the positivist theme being applied to economics and to other social sciences.

Defenses of an axiomatic-deductive approach, the use of introspection as a source of relevant knowledge about many of the core concepts of the logic of economic thinking, and the emphasis on the historically unique and qualitative in place of mainstream statistical and econometric analysis, appears "crack-potty" to those trained only and exclusively in the positivist methodological tradition.

How can there be "science" without measurement, quantification, and "empirical" testing of hypotheses? Oh, you must be a "voodoo economist."

This scientistic prejudice is a hard one to crack. And will likely be one that will burden Austrian Economists until the profession becomes more tolerant of different methodological approaches.

This change might be helped over time through what Peter Boettke is trying to do with some of his graduate students, in getting them to do more qualitative, institutional-sensitive "case studies." Interesting and relevant insights not captured in the purely econometric and statistical modes, may get some mainstreamers to see the usefulness of greater methodological tolerance.

Richard Ebeling

The inability of mainstream economists to foresee the financial crisis would seem to put the onus on them to explain how they are not the crackpots. After all, the only school of economics that came close to predicting the financial collapse was the Austrian School. If prediction is an important part of science, then Austrians come out looking pretty good.

There certainly is a "crackpot-science" community. Try being a geophysicist like Dick Lindzen (MIT) or Roger Pielke Sr. (University of Colorado) or Roy Spencer and publishing a paper in Geophysical Research Letters critical of the consensus on global warming. If your area of research falls outside the intellectual/political mainstream, you will surely be labeled a crackpot (by your peers) no matter how many peer-reviewed papers you had (in the past) to your credit. Pielke has over 300 to his credit. Try being one of these guys and attracting bright new grad students to your research group.

Austrians are not barraged as much (yet) with the "crackpot" label since you have not yet been perceived as a real intellectual or political threat to the consensus views. If you build up a little steam in the public policy arena, watch the long knives show up among your peers. Honestly, how many of you who publish already need to disguise your "Austrianism" in order to get through the peer-review process? After a while you might work so hard to keep from being labeled "Austrian" that your ideas effectively vanish from the journals, even though your name is still on the paper.

I know this is an unpopular opinion here, but Austrians would best deflect charges of crackpottery by dropping the "Austrian" label. The label implies that "Austrian economics" in some way is not "economics" in the way that "Chinese medicine" is not "medicine."

Be an economist who does good economics. Refuse to use mathematics and econometrics as substitutes for thought, but do use them as a complement. Engage the mainstream from within - you should not take pride in being contrarian for the sake of contrarianism.

Economics is a science, not an ideology. The goal of economics is to learn more about the world, not to promote values. If your work addresses significant issues and it teaches people, convincingly, more about the world, you have done your job. Using the Austrian label implies an ideology. It associates you with a particular set of ideas, many of which are genuine crackpot ideas that you may not agree with. The label only hurts.

Many Austrians are great scholars, including some of our hosts here. In my opinion they would do well to simply be economists, although they would have to rename the blog.

It depends whether you are defining crack-pot implicitly based upon whether your views are accepted by some mainstream or not. If so, then showing you get into peer reviewed journals, and get prestigious academic jobs and so forth, answers the charge.

But, were NAZIs crackpot? I'd say so. Because my definition is that the ideology is full of crap. In that case, how well accepted the view happens to be is besides the point (and the NAZIs were mainstream for a time in that country).

Using the latter definition, I think it is counterproductive to look to consensus for defense. I think that it really is besides the point whether society is with you or not; and I think it is usually an opportunistic choice that people defend themselves with, when they have nothing else, to say "60% of the field agrees with me." I hate to resort to saying that, and I call people on it when they do it. So what? 100% of people used to think the world was flat.

So, how do you prove you're not crackpot? Logic, evidence, whatever you can find to rationally convince people, and prove to yourself. Keep questioning, keep thinking, don't let yourself pre-judge things.

My family told me I'd joined a cult when I first got into libertarian and Austrian theory. Now they respect it. Keep improving the arguments and the rest of the world may also come around...

"This scientistic prejudice is a hard one to crack. And will likely be one that will burden Austrian Economists until the profession becomes more tolerant of different methodological approaches."

Huh? Richard, what about complexity theory, analytical narratives, experimental economics, field experiments,simulation, prospect theory, evolutionary psychology, evolutionary game theory, low rationality game theory, computable economics, behavioral economics, New Institutional Economics, evolutionary economics, and nonparametric statistics? What about "Austrian" hits in JPE, EJ, and other top journals? The profession is wide open right now. Some Austrians are seizing the opportunity with both hands. Others, sadly, are still fighting old battles. Guess which group represents the future of Austrian economics.

Let's say pay a thought game.

Imagine someone has heard a little about Austrian economics and is intrigued. He Googles the topic, maybe reads the Wikipeida article and finds the names of a few of its most prominent voices. Let's further imagine he finds a think tank named after one of those men and goes to that web site. A few links later he is at the eponymous web site of the think tank's president.

On that site, he finds numerous articles, many by the president himself, defending homeopathic remedies, arguing that there's a link between autism and vaccination, expressing skepticism about evolution, displaying a fondness for the Confederacy and offering a warm reception if not outright agreement with various conspiracy theories.

Now, I'm not saying that any of that would happen. But if it did, what do you think that person would think Austrian economists are?

Using names instead of labels is a good way of avoiding crackpot associations. For example, Hayek is taken very seriously by a lot of new institutional economists. Kirzner is taken seriously be a growing minority of people in entreprenership studies etc. So maybe a better promotion of Austrian ideas and theories is to refer to the leading theorists rather than referring to Austrian economics, which does indeed include a number of crackpots if you travel further south than Virginia.

"Famous Crackpots" : Galileo, The Wright Bros., America's Founders, St. Thomas Aquinas, Columbus, Ronald Reagan, Jesus Christ, Moses, The Dali Lama, Mother Teresa, Van Gogh, Picasso, Roebling, The 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team, Martin Luther King Jr., Ludwig von Mises, Rudy Giuliani, Winston Churchill, Steve Jobs, Tesla, Ron Paul, F. A. Hayek, Murray Rothbard, Seward, Abe Lincoln and many others too numerous to mention were all called crackpots until eventually being hailed as visionaries. Get the picture! Need I say more?

This guy sound like a crack pot to me. What's he doing spending his time scouring the web for crackpot physics papers?

The only thing I know about the guy is that he reads crackpot physics -- and he sends very stupid emails to you, Peter.

Why should I take this guys question seriously?

Oh, that's right. I shouldn't.

"A very serious and talented student of economics sent me this article today. He said the following to me: "how does Austrian Economics stay clear of crackpottery?"

Austrian economics is appealing to crackpots. It casts politicians as career liars with ulterior motives, and governing institutions as corrupted. For crackpots, Austrian economics is affirmation for their paranoid fantasies. It is a specific explanation of what they already knew: someone powerful is spying, exploiting, or impoverishing them. When paranoid minds read the work of Hayek or Mises they are thinking, "so that's how they [the government, big business, the New World Order, the Illuminati, or whoever else] do it!". Few other economists provide such fertile material for the crackpot mind.


Wikipedia has a nice little article on cranks and crackpots http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crackpot_(person)

However, I think the student's underlying objection is to our criticism of mathematics, when we mean something more precise: an application of mathematics under the guise of the "dynamic stochastic equilibrium model" (per Arnold Kling) and therefore that the psychological method is by definition something only admired by 'crackpots'. In other words the student implies that unless your a positivist you're a crackpot.

I think this is most likely your student's criticism. The question I think is best answered by presenting the student with a mirror: how is positivism not quackery? And what of the user of certain formula, such as those that supposedly provided investors with risk metrics, which have recently been invalidated.

Why we have been unsuccessful in publicizing the fact that it appears we have been largely right is something I don't quite understand. I do understand the overzealous attempts to make our observational and deductive methods into closed systems of apodeictic certainty seem to have failed, and this may have created a problem for us. But otherwise Austrians have been the source of pretty good thinking since the field's inception.

Curt

PS: I have been, on occasion, certainly not above trolling by inserting chaos into some absurd discussion -- attributing to causation that which is merely correlative. (ie: on autism in particular on at least one occasion) This seems an absurdly necessary form of justice now and then, and while I know it isn't constructive it just seems to make life in the blogosphere more tolerable if even just for a moment. :)

Richard and Mike are right about the name. You don't control the brand. In fact, you have less control over it than do others. Thinking that "Austrian Economics" is a banner under which you can make headway is itself a pretty crazy idea, if not technically a crackpot one.

The stuff about axiomatic deduction and introspection in Richard's post is, however, itself pretty crackpot. Mises was responding to the Vienna Circle when he came up with all that stuff. In the meantime, the debate has moved on, leaving all talk of axioms, deduction and introspection sounding very anachronistic and dogmatic.

Chris,

The debate may have moved on, but the problems were never resolved.

Sorry, Curt, but about writing about stuff like "closed systems of apodeictic certainty" is itself a hallmark of crackpottery. Your spelling "apodictic" in the old-fashioned way with an "e" doesn't help.

I've noticed that one particular hallmark of Austro-crackpottery seems to be a 19th-Century style of writing.
Again, Curt, "I have been, on occasion, certainly not above" spotting examples of this in your post above.

Lee,

There is almost complete agreement nowadays by the people who think about this stuff for a living that pure positivism as proposed by the Vienna Circle and pure axiomatic-deduction or rationalism or whatever you want to call it are both chimeras. Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" paper, generally recognized as the most important paper in philosophy written in the 20th Century, in effect ended the project of pure positivism. It also laid the groundwork for the theories of scientific method that are currently generally accepted, which are based, among other things, on the idea of the underdetermination of theory by data - a very mild form of non-positivism/non-foundationalism that lies somewhere between pure positivism and pure rationalism.

Interestingly, Quine was very much influenced by the work of Otto Neurath, the mutual intellectual enemy of both the founders of the Vienna Circle and of Ludwig von Mises.

If some social scientists still think they are engaged in a program of pure positivism, then they're mistaken. Promoting equally mistaken notions as a counterweight to alleged positivism is not the correct response. And thinking that arguing about methodology ever moved any research agenda forward is also mistaken. The conclusion of the last hundred years of work on scientific methodology seems to be that people, as they go about their research projects, shouldn't worry about scientific methodology.

Chris,

Thank you, but I am already aware of the developments. Please also understand that my previous comment should not be interpreted to indicate an agreement with the position of Mises. I think both positivism and rationalism are mistaken (or at least irrelevent). However, neither do I consider recent developments inspired by Quine and others to be much of an improvement.

As Roger Koppl noted in the first comment, Austrian economics does not satisfy the stated criteria for crackpottery. To recapitulate.

1 All crackpottery is foundational.

2 Most physics crackpots are engineers.

3 All crackpots are male.

4 Crackpots ignore other crackpots.

5 The crackpot theory is invariably more intuitive than the standard one.

6 In the same way, the crackpot alternative is, almost universally, less mathematically challenging than the standard account.

7 The crackpot theory is based on textbooks.

Every few years someone suggests changing the name of Austrian economics to make it more popular. There are some distinctive strands of thought in the Austrian tradition which need to be kept in mind until they become a part of all good economics (as Menger et al thought was the case a century ago [http://mises.org/journals/scholar/ebeling4.pdf]) but they do not prevent Austrians from getting into every interesting game in town (another point made by RK).

Just a short spam in favour of engineers (like me): isn't Prof. Garrison an engineer? Electronics, I think, just like me. :-)

I wonder if a potential part of the problem in economics is one of general perspective. People say something like this: We all live in the economy. So how do you claim to know any more than I do? Your mathematics provides no useful insights. My experiences and my own theory do.

I often find occasion to quote from John Stuart Mill's "The Spirit of the Age":

John Stuart Mill had it right:

"... every dabbler thinks his opinion is as good as another's. Any man has eyes and ears shall be judge whether, in point of fact, a person who has never studied politics, for instance, or political economy systematically, regards himself as anyway precluded thereby from promulgating with the most unbounded assurance the crudest opinions, and taxing men who have made those sciences the occupation of a laborious life, with the most contemptible ignorance and imbecility. It is rather the person who has studied the subject matter systematically that is regarded as disqualified. He is a theorist: and the word which expresses the highest and noblest effort of human intelligence is turned into a by-word of derision."

Pete and I discuss this in the final chapter of our textbook.

Allow me to add more (first para. cut and pasted from a much earlier post of mine on my other blog):

I would add that theorists are constantly engaged in forming conjectures and refutations. They are continuously putting their claims, arguments, observations and predictions to the test of the scientific community. They aren't primarily debating in bars and coffee houses. They debate among others who specialize in economics. It is not really the "laborious" part of our work, but the discussion and testing of ideas that provides legitimacy to our arguments that the layperson never truly appreciates or understands.

What I'm really after now is the role of reputation. While we have no ex post profit indicators of success in research, we do have our own reputations on the line. Whenever we put our names on an article we risk the chance of hurting our reputation. (An entrepreneur, on the other hand, risks the chance of destroying her wealth).

I see a parallel in every corner of the blogosphere. Some of us put our reputations on the line, but many others who remain anonymous don't. We don't know who they are. We have no signal of their own reputation.

On the one hand this is all part of the democratization of knowledge. Anybody is free to chime in, anonymous or otherwise. I find this highly desirable. But on the hand, posting in anonymity comes at a relatively low cost. There's no risk. And anyway a person always has the option to change their "name."

There's no real solution to the latter problem.

Everything you say is true, Dave, but one of the reasons (or arguments) why not to listen to professional economists is that they all disagree. So, if they are so smart, which one do you believe? Do you believe only things that they all can agree on? Do you believe the ones who went to Harvard, or in some other way signal credibility? If they all disagree, then are you back to consensus or mainstreaminess to confer non-quackery?

The other argument is that they can all be captured by politicians or ideology. Similar questions can be made on this point.

Note well that Hayek gave a Nobel Prize lecture essentially telling the economics profession that is was full of crackpots -- a position Hayek suggested elsewhere, pointing out that Keynes was essentially just giving us a new spin on a brand of economics that every non-crackpot economist had viewed as crackpot economics.

And note well.

Crackpot rockets blow up on the launching pad -- sort of like the economy when it it run by the Harvard and Columbia and Princeton guys.

I wish I could banish the word “positivism” and all its variants! Real Viennese positivism is dead everywhere, including economics, and has been for a long time. The word has become an empty term of abuse. I’ve even seen it applied to Popper, which is a real howler.

Having gotten that off my chest, I must confess that I am bit disturbed by Rafe’s recapitulation of crackpot characteristics. I have seen far too many men (#3) make “Austrian” arguments that provide an intuitive (#5) non-mathematical or anti-mathematical (#6) argument purporting to challenge some foundational issue (#1) in “neoclassical” economics as it is presented some textbook (#7) while ignoring any other literature on the topic (#4). The tradition deserves better. If we take my definition of the Austrian school as everything coming down from the Mises Circle, then the Austrian school played a central role in defining post-war orthodoxy in “neoclassical” economics. (See Knudsen, Christian. 2004. “Alfred Schutz, Austrian Economists and the Knowledge Problem,” Rationality and Society, 16(1): 45-89.) That’s hardly crackpot stuff. One of our original heroes, Hayek, got a Nobel in 1973. One of our fellow travelers (Buchanan) got a Nobel in 1986. One of our adoptive members, Smith, got a Nobel in 2002. Several others economics Nobel laureates cite Hayek extensively and favorably. That’s hardly crackpot stuff. I think Austrian economics is serious stuff and not crackpot economics. It bothers me, however, that some supposed “Austrian economics” match the crackpot criteria rather well. They sure make life harder for the rest of us.

liberty:

Funny you say that we tend to disagree -- I published an edited book about that, titled Why Economists Disagree. In the introduction I try to present the argument that our disagreements have indeed become more foundational (i.e., no longer disagreements over elasticities and so on).

Roger Koppl has a great blurb on the back cover:

"This book is an argument by counterexample. Following Friedman, Thurow, and others, most economists deny that substantial disagreement exists within the profession. Prychitko shows this simply isn't so. Economists *do* disagree, and they disagree over *theory*. By way of proof, the book presents a selection of heterodox articles."

I feel embarrassed now, because I'm fairly sure that I never thanked Roger for the blurb.

Thanks, Roger. And also -- I enjoyed very much conversing with you (after way too many years)during the Southerns.

Also, liberty, I myself do tend to take more seriously the arguments -- in areas of my own research interests broadly construed -- of economists with already-established high credibility. There are too many examples to list, but consider, for instance, Franklin Fisher's book on the disequilibrium foundations of equilibrium economics.

I disagree with most if it, not because it is highly mathematical, but because he himself doesn't successfully work his way out of the equilibrium box. Nevertheless, I do appreciate his effort. Greatly. Any Austrian theorist of entrepreneurial processes ought to read and "come to terms" with this book, even though it is written by a neoclassical formalist.

Dave,

I realize that the reason you presented the Mill quote was to be rude and condescending to non-academics without having to do so in your own name. But what struck me was the implication that your own work reflects "the highest and noblest effort of human intelligence". Is this true? Are you really that good? Or, at least, do you really think you're that good?

And if you dislike anonymous contributions, then why not disallow anonymous comments on this blog, rather than allowing them but then complaining about them? On most serious blogs, comments get judged on their merits. Your suggestion that you need to know who the person it is with whom you are discussing something suggests that merit alone is not enough for you, or that you are incapable of judging on merit. That confirms for me some of the criticisms of academia - that who you are and who you know is more important than what you have to say.

I had long suspected that the Northern Virginia Austrians (and fellow travelers) had some anxiety about what goes on down in Alabama, but it's interesting to see some of those anxieties laid out so explicitly. Can we take it as axiomatic that even marginalized schools of thought will try to delimit and police the range of permissable thought? Empirical observation suggests this is the case.

I would also suggest the axiom that there are always two distinct groups whenever there is a discussion of crackpottery:

1. Those who believe categories such as "crackpot" are conceptually sound and useful.

2. Those who do not.

In my experience, those who show no interest in defining kinds of crackpottery are often better thinkers than those who do. (The question of crackpottery, of course, is wholly separate from the question of whether a particular position or argument is correct.)

Take the thought experiment outlined above. Say someone were to visit Lewrockwell.com. I imagine that such a visitor would judge on their merits any arguments found there. Wouldn't the same be true if the person visited, say, NewRepublic.com? Well, he might, or he might not. He might just accept whatever he found there, but this problem is in no way particular to either Austrian economics or "mainstream" center-left politics. Some people will engage arguments. Others, Brad DeLong for example, will not.

Dave P. says: "Also, liberty, I myself do tend to take more seriously the arguments -- in areas of my own research interests broadly construed -- of economists with already-established high credibility."

I wonder whether we do that too much, though. An argument should be taken seriously on its own merits, and "credibility" should be based on having good facts and broad knowledge and reading IN THE AREA IN QUESTION.

One example: a certain Harvard economist wrote a paper that immediately brought "credibility" to a new theory about socialist economics, which was also being touted in Austrian circles. The theory might have gone by hardly noticed were in not for this "credible" Harvard name, who also then dabbled in transitioning socialist countries... but this "credibility," at least with respect to this theory, was entirely unwarranted. For 60+ years, Sovietologists had known the requisite information to prove the theory wrong. This "credible" economist was considered credible because of his top tier credentials, not because he had a clue about the subject on which he was writing.

Rather than lending credibility to this theory, or being thrilled to be associated with this "credible" name, someone perhaps should have looked to a - probably less well known - real expert in this field. Then, perhaps, a better theory could have emerged.


Chris:

I've been misunderstood. My fault. I didn't intend to use Mill to be rude to non-academics. Perhaps Mill intended that, I don't know. My basic intention here was to show that even in Mill's day there was a basic distrust of theorists, and yet theorists are the people who work on problems, say, forty hours a week. The people who have spent decades focused on problems, connections, explanations, and so on. Yet it's the theorist himself who gets derided for doing precisely that.

On the "noblest of professions," I think Pete agrees with Mill here. I don't. I just used his entire quote. Pete and I discussed our disagreements over academic nobility for a quarter of a century. (See below: context matters even in interpreting my own statements.)

On my distaste for anonymous posts. I have no control over the technical capabilities of this blog. I do, however, recall us having a conversation over excluding some who post anonymous comments, particularly the rude ones. the problem there is they can come back with new names. Then you need to track down and exclude their IP addresses.

On the need to know. I didn't I say I need to know it nor demand who the author is. You are quite correct that we can and should evaluate arguments by their merits, rather than credentials alone. I never tried to suggest that I needed to know and if I don't I can't judge the merit of one's argument. Not at all.

The problem is -- and Pete and I have discussed this issue for some twenty years, too, that there is "scarcity," as Pete says. We are more motivated (at least I am) to go into a greater degree of discussion if I feel confident that it will make a difference. Time, too, is a big constraint.

But once more on merit and authorship. Context matters for its interpretation. This provides further knowledge. If I do know the author, and read their argument, I can make a further judgment of how it fits into the rest of their theory.

To make two very simplified examples:

1. If somebody argues that entrepreneurs act only under conditions of disequilibrium and uncertainty, I indeed can judge the merit of that statement. I believe it's true. But if Fisher himself were to say that, I can also understand that the way he models disequilibrium and uncertainty are highly problematic. That, indeed, his theory fails to support his statement. That he himself has yet to provide a consistent theory to support his statement.

2. When a person argues that once we allow for history and action through time, equilibrium theorizing (and disequilibrium convergence processes) goes out the door. I would agree no matter who said it. But when Joan Robinson says it, I now have a context by which to further interpret the claim, and its implications. When she says it, I know that she is not only making an argument against equilibrium theorizing. I also know that she is making an argument against the capitalistic economy.

This kind of context certainly helps. We don't get much of it on this (and other) blogs.

liberty:

Briefly, on the issue of a (bad) but newly credible theory. That, I would say, actually makes my case for putting greater weight on credibility. Because it receives so much attention, because it comes from (let's say) the highest of auspices, we should try to take it seriously and come to terms with it. The marginal impact of us ignoring it is nill.

But, should we try to come to terms (yes, putting our own reputations on the line, too) it may very well strengthen our own analysis in light of the new challenges. To give an overly simple and all too brief example: Suppose Menger ignored the eminently Historicists. His own theory would have been weaker. By focusing on the (eminently wrong) Historicists, he rose to the challenge and provided a theory and methodology that has influenced several generations since.

Dave P.

I'm not sure I made my point clearly. My point is simply this: we should base credibility on having a solid foundation in the area in question, not upon "top tier" academic education, e.g. Harvard.

Yes, we should reply to Harvard types, even when they are wrong. Maybe it is "highly important" because they are taken seriously, but (like my first post above) that is also self-reinforcing. The more attention we pay them (or pay the "mainstream" theories by teaching them) the more that they stay entrenched as the mainstream, and respectable.

One more thing, as I have to run and do other things. I wonder, too, how much weight our own readers/commenters place on credentials. What if this blog had posts by anonymous authors. I wonder if we would get a thousand hits (I have no clue as to the number)per day. Take Boettke. Were he to drop out, or never to have been known to blog on this site, I wonder if his own posts would attract the number of readers that it currently does.

In short, I think even our readers place some wait (not all, for sure) on a blog author's name and credentials.

Weight, not "wait."

There wasn't greater crackpot in the world of economics than J.M.Keynes. His ideas were labelled (with very good reasons) in XIX century as pure crackpotery. Smith, Ricardo or Mill or Menger would be amazed to see such a crackpot as "leading economist". They would die laughing on that. Modern Keynsianism is crackpotery par excelence as well. Majority of Harvard and Prinston professors are crackpots believing in digging holes in the ground and more government debt as a cure for recesion. I don't see what motive someone educated on writings of Karl Menger, Bohm Baverk, Mises or Hayek should have to comment whatsoever uniformed opinions of some young idiot brainwashed with Keynsian and Schmolerite crackpotery of American Inteligentsia. Ludwig von Mises could not be a professor at Harvard. Never. Because crackpots are on Harvard and all other major universities. And publishing in mainstream journals is far from being the proof that someone is not crackpot. At the contrary, it indicates that he easily could be (majority of them certainly are, except guys from Chicago School (Fama, Zingales, Cochraine, Sargent, Barro, Demsetz...) and couple of you Austrians).

Only thing we can conclude prof Boettke from this post is that your alegedelly "serious" and "talented" student is brainwashed crackpot and that you are unwilling to tell that young idiot the sad truth. You are even ready to indulge him in his stupidity and lack of information and knowledge.

Addendum: I think readers (and bloggers) here do put weight on credentials, which was my point. Austrians did put weight on the Harvard economist in my example, which was precisely the problem.

He did not deserve additional respect in this matter because his "top tier" credentials did not mean he had a clue about the actual material in question. Someone from a lower tier school who had actually bothered to study the Sovietologists' findings would have known better.

I come to this blog because I respect the actual work that the bloggers have done, not because they have fancy academic creds. This is the distinction I am trying to make.

James,

I find it interesting that you draw generalizations about "northern Virginia Austrians" based on the argument of one commenter on this blog. I also find it interesting that you perceive this discussion as an attempt to "delimit and police the range of admissable thought." The latter sounds like the screams of those who keep saying they are being silenced, while the former is really, really bad form in an argument.

The first things I noticed about "Austrians" is - a nice subset of VERY interesting people (many of who dropped the label and moved on), a larger pool of CRACKPOTS, "whats up with the name?" (Zac is right, the label alone paints Austrians as cranks), and a strange focus of a sizable subset on defining themselves to the exclusion of creating themselves via works. Basically, a small set of very productive, interesting, thoughtful people in a group of not so much.

Many Austrians ARE crackpots:

(1) "us" (the right and bringers of truth!) against "them" (the tyranny of the status quo!) mentality...
(2) ...often degenerating into "victimhood" view,
(3) and self ghettoization.

The effect is not reaching out to others in any meaningful way (which by default makes your impact low), making false distinctions between "us" and "them", focusing internally - leading to a diminishing returns on ideas and lack of cross-fertilization.

Many Austrians do not seem to engage the public, or other intellectuals: right now is a great time to be working hard to demonstrate what Austrian means:

http://arare-litus.blogspot.com/2009/04/inflation-yes-or-no.html

Austrian Economists, at their worse, do not seem to do much: they talk about old guys, endlessly reiterate old ideas, and cling onto simple ideas that they claim are unique to them but do not seem to be at all. At their best, they are productive and reach out, and tackle important ideas (for example, the masthead of this blog holds many of this best, and GMU is a nexus of engaging "Austrian" economics [I agree w/ Zac however, there appears to be nothing meaningful that discriminates Austrian from "regular" economics, other than the personal history of practitioners).

Dave,

Apologies if I misunderstood you. At least you didn't imply that interested non-academics are like used-car salesmen, like Peter Boettke just did in his latest post! I have the feeling that economics' gain wasn't necessarily international diplomacy's loss with some of the bloggers around here.

I won't post again as I'm not comfortable going non-anonymous (Peter Boettke just laid down the law on this). But am I really the only person who thinks that anonymous posts - especially ones that don't link to a website - are more credible since it's clear the commenter isn't perhaps just on some ego trip?

Chris,

First, whatever Pete's views are on anonymous postings, they are neither the law of the land nor necessarily a majority view among the bloggers here. Pete has his preferences on this, but it's never been more than that: an expressed preference. I have no problem with anonymous commenters if it means anything.

Second, I think you're being pretty unfair to Pete's other post. First of all, he didn't say "used" car salesmen and all the stereotypes that drags up. His analogy was simply that "second hand dealers in ideas" (and that phrase is Hayek's) have a different role than do academics, much as car salespeople have a different role from the engineer who makes the car they sell. I don't think he was *denigrating* the interested layperson or other non-academics, just pointing out that there are different roles we all play in the production of ideas.

Chris and others,

Steve Horwitz, as he often does, captures my ideas better than I can. On anonymous postings, I have a preference, but I don't control the blog rules. And I evidently have a different view of the purpose of blogs. On the salesmen, Steve gets my position right. I value the salesmen, and I value the engineer, I am just insisting that we recognize the difference.

Finally, I would appreciate it if the people criticizing Austrian economics and its place in academics actually lived inside of academics and knew that of which they speak. I refuse to tell the story of victumization in academics. Do good work, and you wlll be recognized. Being recognized for your good work is the coin of the realm. That comes in the terms of publication with better journals, better publishers and more prestigious appointments. Israel Kirzner published with U of Chicago, published in the JEL, and was a respected full professor at NYU (a top 20 department). Why don't we look to him as the role model? Larry White has been in the AER and consistently in his top field journals, and published his books with Cambridge. George Selgin the EJ, top field journal, and University of Michigan Press. Why don't we look at them?

To me there are those who have succeeded (and not from "selling out") and those who have failed to succeed. We should avoid the failed strategy (leading to crackpotism), and embrace the successful strategy (leading to the clear rewards of truth and better appointments).

Publish, teach well, work hard, and engage others in a critical but civil way.

Why is that position being challenged as "closed" and "guild" like?

I have mentioned this on Cafe Hayek before, and will say it here again: The Ludwig von Mises Institute is just ever so slightly creepy. And that's a shame, because their economic output is generally excellent. But it's all so clanish. There is some weird ancestor-worship going on with Rothbard and Mises (both of whom I instinctively personally dislike). And the "us" versus "them" thing is unsettling--just listen to one of Lew Rockwell's lectures.

But if I were a paranoid schizophrenic, then I would be lapping it up.

Steve,

I wasn't being serious about Pete's comment. It was light-hearted way for me to suggest that you're clearly not great fans of the idea that non-academics could occupy your intellectual turf with any success. I really am a very big fan of all the academics who blog here, so I hope I haven't come across as too abrasive.

On the subject of unfair, though, Roger Koppl's dismissal of (what could only have been) my use of "positivism" was uncalled for. I was using it specifically in the context of the Vienna Circle (I wrote "pure positivism as proposed by the Vienna Circle") and was directing my remarks on it indirectly at someone using an anachronistic term of his own that hailed from the time of the Vienna Circle and directly at someone who suggested that the debate was still someohow ongoing. I even wrote that, "If some social scientists still think they are engaged in a program of pure positivism they're mistaken." I didn't use it as a term of abuse, as Roger Koppl implied, and considering I have a first in philosophy and sat through plenty of lectures on methodology at the LSE, I think I'm capable of judging whether my use of the term was justified, or whether Popper was a positivist, or whatever.

I appreciate your remarks about anonymous blogging.

Chris,

I was chiming in! I was agreeing with you. Gheez, come on. I'll give you one of those conditional apologies: If I was unclear regarding the use of the word positivism on this thread, please forgive me. But really, I don't quite see that.

Pete said: "Why is that position being challenged as "closed" and "guild" like? "

I do think just slightly that academia is guild-like. Its true that you can get published without creds (which I very much appreciate!) but I do still maintain that there is a bit of a guild protectionism for appointments, "politics", and also a bit of a Harvard-worship problem. The fact that a big name, based just on being Harvard associated, or the like, gets an otherwise really bad theory based on easily falsifiable assumptions taken seriously, that sucks.

This is an interesting issue. For sure, I "get" why the person emailing Pete thought it relevant. I have attended plenty of conferences (not just in Auburn but ones hosted by other groups too) and no doubt about it, there are some odd people who show up.

But how much of that is sampling bias? I mean really, "normal" people don't use their spring break or summer vacation to fly to another stuff to learn about 50-year-old economics books.

I am actually surprised by how many normal people show up at the various events where I give talks etc. In the early days (and yes it's funny for me to talk like that since I'm only in my low 30s) it really was Star Trek convention material. There would be two decent-looking girls and 40 guys would be daring each other to go talk to them. ("Sooo, I'm into Hayek, how 'bout you?")

But the composition of the attendees at these types of events has really changed over the years, even in the short time I've been involved.

Last point: Somebody said this earlier:

"On that site, he finds numerous articles, many by the president himself, defending homeopathic remedies, arguing that there's a link between autism and vaccination, expressing skepticism about evolution, displaying a fondness for the Confederacy and offering a warm reception if not outright agreement with various conspiracy theories."

I am going to hazard a guess and say I would easily hold my own in a debate on any one of the above points with the person who wrote it with such disgust. I'm not so sure about autism and vaccines, but I definitely think there is something fishy in what has happened with autism diagnoses. (And on evolution, I'm not saying I would make the case for a Young Earth, I'm saying I would poke all kinds of holes in the standard "irrefutable" case for common descent. I've argued with biologists etc. and they wouldn't know a non sequitur if it were in their lab culture. Doesn't mean they're wrong, it just means they are not good at distinguishing implications of their theory from evidence for its truth.)

I mean seriously man, do you believe the Warren Commission? Is it really so shocking that self-described anarchists would think that the government lies about all kinds of stuff? I get what you mean about the tone, etc. but I think the true split personality (not schizophrenic even though people confuse the two) would be someone who says, "Intellectually I think all police services should be privatized, but I also think Abe Lincoln was a great man."

And there you have it! Our own Bob Murphy says he can "poke all kinds of holes" in modern theories of speciation. Alas!

In case there might be any doubt about my views, please let me be clear about a few points. Personally, I have confidence in modern biology, including the "theory" of common descent. I am genuinely dismayed by Mr. Murphy's comments in this regard because I think they may bolster the idea that Austrian economics is crackpot stuff. I think the great tradition of Austrian economics deserves a better reputation in general and it deserves better treatment than being associated with conspiracy theories and pseudo-scientific criticisms of modern biology.

"Crack pottery" is simply a political form of language used to diminish one's ideological opponent. It is ad hominem in nature, so there are infinite ways to respond. My form of response would be sarcastic, such as "please give me an operational definition of "crackpot" and a bibliography of empirical studies on the subject". Or "drop dead". A non-sequitur invites a non-sequitur back.

So I go to your site, Mr. Rulle, and I read the following words.
"Mark to market is to most economists what the Pope's infallibility is to Catholics." How do you expect professional economists to take you seriously when you make sweeping statements about economists that are simply false? But you're going to lecture others on the use of the term "crackpot"? Sorry, bub, that don't cut it.

@ Roger

I see no reason why you should be "dismayed" by Bob Murphy's comments on evolution. The common criticisms of the theory of evolution are the very opposite of "pseudo-scientific." Bob is quite right about the bulk of scientists -- most have very little knowledge of or interest in questions of methodology and interpretation (i.e. in the "philosophy of science"). Most scientists focus on doing "normal science", i.e. research in their field, which takes most major assumptions as given. I never knew that this view of science and scientists was controversial.

For that matter, most economists have no interest in or knowledge of issues of methodology and interpretation -- the very things which differentiates "Austrian" economics from much of the rest of the field.

James,

I think you are being too generous in your interpretation of Bob's remarks. He said:
I would poke all kinds of holes in the standard "irrefutable" case for common descent.

Because he refers to "the standard . . . case" he seems to refer to something other than the work-a-day scientist's disconnect from philosophy of science.

Besides, what "common criticism of the theory of evolution" is scientific? There are none. Gould and Lewontin's criticism of (supposed) Panglossian adaptationism did not take on "the theory of evolution" as such, only the supposed excesses of some theorists. The only candidate I"m aware of is "Intelligent Design," which has been completely outed as made-up bullshit. See, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Of_Pandas_and_People

Roger,

I should let Bob do the hole-poking, but I see your point about the semantics of "common descent" and "the theory of evolution as such." BUT, given the hypothesis of common descent, the theory IS full of gaps and there are many unexplained questions. Isn't this what Bob meant? I'll let him answer for that.

I'll leave you with the words of a great philosopher:

"There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know."

Oh, fooey! Chemistry is "full of holes" in precisely the same sense, but there are no "common criticisms of the theory of chemistry," are there? No one goes on about the "gaps" in chemistry, do they? And yet there are "many unexplained questions" in chemistry, aren't there? Why is biology challenged by novices, but not chemistry? Hm . . .

Roger makes the brilliant point: "Oh, fooey! Chemistry is "full of holes" in precisely the same sense, but there are no "common criticisms of the theory of chemistry," are there? No one goes on about the "gaps" in chemistry, do they? And yet there are "many unexplained questions" in chemistry, aren't there? Why is biology challenged by novices, but not chemistry? Hm ..
."

Precisely the same reason that economics is challenged by novices! They have a stake and an axe.

Fooey? Well gee willakers, too! Roger, I think we're talking past each other. Indeed, there is no Jesus chemistry (so far as I know) to compare with Jesus evolution. But is that a good analogy? Saying there are holes in the theory of evolution is comparable to saying there are holes in ABCT. Saying there are holes in chemistry is like saying there are holes in economics.

We're talking about very different ranges and levels of inquiry. Problems with ABCT or with evolution are intra-disciplinary. Questions about the entire field/discipline of chemistry or economics are very different, no?

No.

Roger,

Obviously we're not going to get anywhere on this here. I am not saying I am sure the theory (and yes it is a theory, you don't need to put quotation marks around it--you wouldn't write the "theory" of special relativity) of common descent is wrong, I am saying that I am sure you have not seriously considered the issues if you think ID is "bullsh*t."

FWIW there are a bunch of ignorant Christians who muddy these issues and I have told them publicly (when I taught at Hillsdale) that they are hurting their own cause when they spout off about "the laws of thermodynamics prove Darwin was wrong" and other such nonsense.

To return to the original point here, I was amused that the person complaining about Lew Rockwell (or the Libertarian Who Shall Not Be Named) for running articles on topics all of which I sympathize with.

And no, I do not favor slavery. I thought we had a famous political document in this country's history that said when one group of people wants to break off and form their own government, they were allowed to do that.

One other point Roger, since I'm all worked up now. :) Why did you write it this way:

"Personally, I have confidence in modern biology, including the "theory" of common descent. I am genuinely dismayed by Mr. Murphy's comments in this regard because I think they may bolster the idea that Austrian economics is crackpot stuff."

Is that like when my mom would call me Robert Patrick Murphy when she was really mad?

Am I the only one who noticed that the linked article on Einstein was posted on April 1? Isn't it likely that your student got fooled by an April Fool's joke?

That doesn't make your question worthless, but you may want to choose different motivation for it...

But I *have* considered the issues in ID, Bob. First, they are demonstrably wrong on the science. Second, it has been definitively established that ID is just creation science under a different flag. That has been demonstrated. Thus, it is truly made-up bullshit. First to the science.

They got two basic points, "irreducible complexity" and their argument about information. Their argument on the latter point is a bit like saying the winner of the lottery must have cheated because the odds of winning are so low. The really big issue, however, is irreducible complexity. There are just two itsy bitsy little problems with that one, besides it's basic stupidity from the get go. First, "irreducible complexity" has been produced in the lab with micro-organisms. I don't seem to have it on my hard drive, but it think the following link goes to the study I'm thinking of: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/312/5770/97
Problem #1, then, is that we've gotten it to evolve without "intelligent design" The second itsy bitsy problem is that Behe's big example of a particular bacterial flagellum fails because adaptive intermediate forms do exist. Problem #2, then, is the failure of the leading example.

You might chalk all that up to error or something. But if you go to that Wikipedia link I provided above, you discover that ID was invented at the when the teaching of creation science was ruled a violation of the separation of church and state. They had this creation science school book and edited out every appearance of the phrase "creation science," substituting "intelligent design." If that ain't made-up bullshit, I don't know what is. I don't exclude that Behe is sincere, but his sincerity does not change the facts regarding the origins of the theory.

It is pointless for us to argue this here, Roger. Naturally those who agree with you are going to conclude that it's because I can't beat your arguments so I'm running; fair enough.

I just want to point out that you have been reduced to swearing repeatedly and actually concluded that the leading proponent of a particular theory--who has a PhD in the subject--is irrelevant because you know the motivations of the people who originally came up with the idea.

Physicist Robert Park lists seven criteria for identifying what he calls "Voodoo Science" here.

Here is my assessment of A.E. against Park's seven criteria.

One- No
Two- Sometimes
Three- No, does not apply
Four- No
Five- Partially, but essentially No
Six- No
Seven- No

By Park's criteria, Austrian Economics is certainly not Voodoo Science. Actually when you apply Park's criteria to Keynesianism, AE comes out better. At a stretch you could say Keynesianism by bringing in 'macro-economics' may be violating Park criterion number 7. AE is a more elegant and concise explanation of the phenomena and relies on fewer ad hoc additions.

The link to Park's criteria is here.

http://chronicle.com/free/v49/i21/21b02001.htm

But, um, Bob, I didn't say Behe (who has a PhD! In biology! Woo-hoo!) is irrelevant. Indeed, I pointed to empirical evidence refuting his big thing, "irreducible complexity." What I said was that ID is make up -- well I'll protect your delicate sensibilities. What I said was that ID is contrived hogwash even if Behe is sincere. I was simply putting aside as irrelevant *to whether ID is contrived hogwash* the issue of Behe's *sincerity*. That's hardly saying he is irrelevant. I don't think that was ambiguous in my comment, really.

Oh, and I was not "reduced" to swearing. I used the offending word in the precise sense identified by Princeton philosopher H.G. Frankfurt. You're engaged in that activity when you speak or write for a purpose without regard to the truth. It's not quite lying because you are not opposed to the truth, but merely indifferent to it. IMHO, the history of “Of Pandas and People” suggests the authors were indifferent to the truth of what they wrote and that the whole ID movement was initiated for political, not scientific, motives. In other words, ID is made up – well, you know.

On the alleged Einstein-crackpottery-connection see also the interesting web-site RelativityChallenge.Com entertained by a certain Steven Bryant. On a serious level see also the book by Quentin Smith and William Lane Craig "Einstein, Relativity and Absolute Simultaneity"... Do these guys seem crackpots to you?

"Quine's "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" paper, generally recognized as the most important paper in philosophy written in the 20th Century, in effect ended the project of pure positivism."

Hey, look, I like Quine's paper, and agree it is important, but I have not once, let alone 'generally', heard it called 'the most important paper in philosophy written in the 20th Century' -- especially since everything in it was anticipated in Duhem, say, or Collingwood's _An Essay on Metaphysics_.

As soon as I hit 'post' I realized I was being hyperbolic -- I shoul;dn't have said 'everything in it', but instead 'it's central thesis'.

Gene,

Here's Peter Godfrey-Smith, who is a professor at Harvard, writing in his book "Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science" (p. 31):

"Other criticisms were directed not at the details but at the most basic ideas of the [Logical Positivist] movement. The criticism I will focus on here is one of these and its most famous presentation is in a paper sometimes regarded as the most important in all of twentieth-century philosophy: W.V. Quine's 'Two Dogma's of Empiricism'."

So maybe I was being hyperbolic too, but I'm only prepared to drop down from "generally" to "sometimes".

It's the most cited and reprinted paper of someone who is considered one of the greatest and most influential philosophers of the 20th Century. The WSJ's obituary of him (Jan 2001) goes so far as to begin: "The death, on Christmas Day, of Willard Quine deprives America of its greatest contemporary philosopher." In retrospect, my lazy appeal to the authority of Quine should perhaps have been more along these lines.

Yes, Duhem got there first. But surely there's always a someone who got there first. It beats me too why people don't pay more attention to origins.

Bob is right about the theory of evolution. I am not a specialist in this matter but I remember that among the older books on this subject there was e.g. Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in crisis (1985).

It´s not easy to compare Quine and Duhem. Both are great philosophers; however, the latter wrote before the advent of positivism which will be seen by some as a plus and by others as a negative. Duhem died in 1916, almost a century ago. How will Quine be perceived a century after his death? Duhem was original with respect to the thesis for which he is best known among philosophers of science. For which original thesis is Quine best known?

"Being engaged in an activity while being indifferent to the truth, or for a purpose other than the truth" - the H.G. Frankfurt stuff - that is certainly descriptive of some of mainstream economics, in particular where the hidden (or not so hidden) agenda is still the justification of interventionism...

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