Saturday, July 17, 2004

"Physics Envy"

I've said a lot here, here, here, here, here, here, and here about economics, the social sciences in general, and a certain pseudo-science (climatology).

What I've really been talking about is a phenomenon known as "physics envy" -- a term used by Stephen Jay Gould. He describes it thus in The Mismeasure of Man (1981):
the allure of numbers, the faith that rigorous measurement could guarantee irrefutable precision, and might mark the transition between subjective speculation and a true science as worthy as Newtonian physics.
But there's more to science than mere numbers (quoting, again, from The Mismeasure of Man):
Science is rooted in creative interpretation. Numbers suggest, constrain, and refute; they do not, by themselves, specify the content of scientific theories. Theories are built upon the interpretation of numbers, and interpreters are often trapped by their own rhetoric. They believe in their own objectivity, and fail to discern the prejudice that leads them to one interpretation among many consistent with their numbers.
Enough said? Probably not.