Against DIY Academics

Vladimir M:

In many areas, … respectable academic authors are the richest and most reliable source of information, and people claiming things completely outside the academic mainstream are almost certain to be crackpots. … [But] what happens when a field fails both of them, having no clear research directions and at the same time being highly relevant to ideologues and interest groups? Unsurprisingly, it tends to be really bad.

The clearest example of such a field is probably economics, particularly macroeconomics. … Even a casual inspection of the standards in this field shows clear symptoms of cargo-cult science: weaving complex and abstruse theories that can be made to predict everything and nothing, manipulating essentially meaningless numbers as if they were objectively measurable properties of the real world, experts with the most prestigious credentials dismissing each other as crackpots.

Now it might be that academics in fields low in ideological conflict tend to accept each other’s work too easily, to protect the reputation of their field. In this case, fields with more ideological conflict could be more reliable, if that conflict led to more critical examination of results.

However, let us accept for the sake of argument that all else equal in ideological fields intellectual progress is slower, and claims tend to be make with more overconfidence.  What exactly would this imply for your beliefs about this area?

It certainly wouldn’t imply that you ignore what experts write. Yes, it makes sense to adjust your beliefs for the average overconfidence there, but even with large adjustments your best estimates should still rely heavily on average expert estimates.  After all, even if they know less than they think, they still know a lot more than you.

I suspect that what Vladimir and others usually have in mind is Do It Yourself Science:

Looking at the data yourself and drawing your own conclusions.

Now trying your own hand at the subject can help you to understand most any subject.  It can help you discern who are the real experts, and better understand what they say.  There’s a reason students are asked to do labs and problem sets.

But if you plan to mostly ignore the experts and base your beliefs on your own analysis, you need to not only assume that ideological bias has so polluted the experts as to make them nearly worthless, but you also need to assume that you are mostly immune from such problems!

Yes, this is a natural assumption to make, as we rarely feel that we are subject to the biases we suspect we see in others.  But without substantial evidence clearly supporting it, this is mostly just wishful thinking.  If ideology severely compromises others’ analysis on this subject, then most likely it severely comprises yours as well.  You should mostly just avoid having opinions on the subject.  But if you must have reliable opinions, average expert opinions are probably still your best bet.  (Unless of course you have a prediction market available. :))

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  • http://www.rationalfuturist.com Tom McCabe

    “It certainly wouldn’t imply that you ignore what experts write. Yes, it makes sense to adjust your beliefs for the average overconfidence there, but even with large adjustments your best estimates should still rely heavily on average expert estimates. After all, even if they know less than they think, they still know a lot more than you.”

    In a lot of cases, I would definitely disagree with this, because the experts in heavily politicized fields are effectively lawyers for one side or the other; they make no real attempt to determine the truth, only to defend their side.

    Suppose you walk into a murder trial. Which is a better way of judging guilt: evaluating the evidence for yourself, or talking to the defense attorney, and seeing what he says? Well, the defense attorney is obviously an expert in this area, and knows a lot more about the case. Yet, you will still be better served by deciding for yourself, as the defense attorney’s opinion is going to be the same regardless of what the truth is; his opinion’s correlation with reality is zero, so you learn nothing by it.

    “But if you plan to mostly ignore the experts and base your beliefs on your own analysis, you need to not only assume that ideological bias has so polluted the experts as to make them nearly worthless, but you also need to assume that you are mostly immune from such problems!”

    I don’t think any such claim is necessary. The only necessary claim is that an amateur looking at the subject is usually less ideologically invested than an expert who has spent years studying it, which seems entirely reasonable.

    • Robert Koslover

      Very good points, Tom.

    • Zach Kurtz

      Good points, Tom. I find that when talking about my research to laypeople, smart amateurs ask better questions than people in the field. Perhaps because they have more genuine curiosity rather than trying to signal how smart they are?

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      Lawyers in a trial will admit they are hired by one side and even explain that they are required by law to bias their case to that side. Most academics claim that they sincerely came to their position through studying their topic. How can you then claim less bias?

      • http://cephalicfurrow.wordpress.com PeterW

        I agree that we should be conservative when calculating our own sources of bias, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be confident of being less biased in certain cases. Most obviously, amateurs following a topic don’t have to preserve their career or professional reputation.

      • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

        Peter, academics care about the good opinion of their colleagues and this will influence their conclusions. But you have associates as well whose good opinion you want. It isn’t obvious this biases your conclusions less than theirs.

      • http://twitter.com/afoolswisdom sark

        Peter, Robin, so which biases one’s opinion more, your professional reputation, or your reputation as a friend/associate?

        My own opinion is that with professional reputation you would want to defend a very specific position in possibly quite an arcane academic debate. While with what your friends will allow you to believe, there is more leeway. So an individual academic is likely to be more biased.

        But there are many academics, and they have an incentive to fill up niches of possible positions. It’s not obvious to me why entire disciplines would have systematic biases (except for when it comes to the methodology the discipline is defined by). Hence Robin’s suggestion to take the average expert opinion, not those of any one particular academic. This versus you as only one person, I think he’s right here.

      • Matthew C.

        Academics have a vested interest in furthering their careers. If their funding and respectability comes from a particular set of conclusions, I feel amply justified in taking those conclusions with a grain of salt, particularly when they have shown ample signs of scientific malpractice.

        As an example, for hundreds of years people knew how to lose excess weight (avoid starches and sugars). Academia and the academic / health / policy nexus managed to forget that obvious truth and sent us all down the “low fat” and carb-laden “food pyramid” red herring path. The result of that — a nation of obese, unhealthy, borderline diabetic people who are continuously tired and hungry from all the HFCS and other carbs spiking their insulin levels and making their fat tissues keep storing more and more energy.

        The truth is — eating significant amounts of refined carbs are dangerous and unhealthy for many of us and make us fat and sick. It is the amateur “DIY” scientists who are leading scientists back to this truth.

      • Jack

        Politicians claim to have arrived at their policy positions through studying the issue- but we feel comfortable claiming we are less biased because we can identify the incentives politicians have to hold certain positions that we do not. We also feel comfortable concluding we are less biased than certain members of the activist political class because their views so rarely depart from the views of their political tribe as a whole and because we observe that such people rarely change their minds. The way people talk about their beliefs can also be a good indicator of their bias.

        We can apply these heuristics to academia as well- though for various reasons I suspect it is more difficult. The main problem is that macroeconomics is way, way harder to do without training than evaluating a trial or understanding most political issues (save a handful, most of which have to do with economics). This goes for just about any academic field– people who think they can do research at or above the level done in academia *without* engaging with existing literature are out of their minds (exceptions being very new fields and novel interdisciplinary approaches).

      • David C

        Matthew C, there’s a difference between the USDA food pyramid and the average of expert opinion.

        See, for example, here:
        http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/dietary-guidelines-2010/index.html

        And most nutritionists are quite aware of studies on low-carb diets.
        http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/carbohydrates-full-story/index.html#good-carbs-not-no-carbs

      • Matthew C.

        David,

        While the articles you linked are an improvement over the USDA food pyramid, they are profoundly unhelpful to, for example, obese individuals who want to reverse their condition.

        If an obese person wishes to lose weight, he or she simply needs to remove virtually all carbs and eat as much fat and protein as desired. Protein and fat sate the appetite while carbs kindle it via insulin. Insulin also causes fat cell growth and prevents fat cells from releasing their stored energy.

        This is simple, basic stuff. Why isn’t this accepted practice (since it works) instead of the self-starvation calorie count torture practices (which fail to work in most cases, as they are fighting the evolved design of your body).

      • http://blog.jim.com James A. Donald

        I visited Cuba, saw totalitarian terror state. An academic went to Cuba, saw a people’s popular democracy.

        On debating him on usenet, it became apparent that he was sincere – he was not lying, but that he considered that official truth, what people said in public, counted, and unofficial truth, what people said in private while somewhat drunk, did not count. And that what he himself saw with his merely human eyeballs did not count at all.

    • Vilhelm S

      Yet jurors in a trial are _required_ to listen only to the experts from the prosecution and the defense. Wouldn’t the analogy of DIY academics be that the jurors trek out to the crime site and check out the facts themselves — something they are explicitly forbidden to do!

      • Constant

        No, they are not required to listen only to the experts from the prosecution and defense. To begin with, the lawyers are not expert in the topic being argued about – they are experts only in the craft of presenting a strong argument that is likely to persuade the jury. This is why lawyers bring in expert witnesses, who are experts in various aspects of the topic, rather than the advocates sitting on the witness stand themselves and acting as the experts. Second, many trials have witnesses who are simply witnesses, and not necessarily experts in anything, except possibly expert in using their senses and memory, but probably no more so than anyone else. Third, many trials have evidence, which the jury sometimes gets some chance to look at directly. Some of the evidence might be the sort that they must trust experts on (such as fingerprint evidence), but other evidence they can see with their own eyes, such as (more recently) video evidence.

        Finally, in some trials, far from being forbidden to go, jurors are indeed taken to the crime scene.

  • Constant

    The academics are not necessarily ignored by DIY scientists. Climateaudit, surely a well known example of DIY science, can hardly be accused of ignoring the academics whose work it critiques.

    Science by the way is DIY science. Feynman has offered the following definition of science:

    Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts. – The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, page 187.

    In light of that definition, you are arguing against science.

    And in favor of what? You are asking that academics be trusted above your own lying eyes. But what makes someone an academic is essentially whether he manages to achieve tenure, and tenure is decided in broadly the same way that the Pope is selected (though, obviously, much more often, and with less ceremony). So asking people to favor what academics say over their own lying eyes is a bit like asking Roman Catholics to favor what the Pope says over their own lying consciences. What you recommend resembles the method of the Roman Catholic Church for determining truth. Which method is not science.

    But if you plan to mostly ignore the experts and base your beliefs on your own analysis, you need to not only assume that ideological bias has so polluted the experts as to make them nearly worthless, but you also need to assume that you are mostly immune from such problems!

    You very nicely explain why Roman Catholics should trust the Pope. The Pope may, of course, be wrong, but so might you, and the Pope has the advantage that he knows so much and was elected by the College of Cardinals, who also all know so much. So the question is, why does science (belief in the ignorance of experts) – which produces superior results to your recommendation that experts be trusted above your own lying eyes – work? Science shouldn’t work, if you’re right, and the Roman Catholic Church should work. And of course, the Roman Catholic Church does work – in achieving a certain result.

  • Matt

    Tom, but doesn’t your example go more towards Robin’s point? The assumption with trials is that truth-seeking is best served by a judge listening to biased experts on both sides, not ignoring experts altogether. Further, legal disputes are especially relevant here, as they will always be “ideological” (meaning biased) because the basis of the proceeding is that there are two self-interested sides that cannot be trusted to portray the case in a way consistent with “reality.”

    • Constant

      The assumption with trials is that truth-seeking is best served by a judge listening to biased experts on both sides

      What the judge listens to is their arguments, not their opinions. The opinions of the advocates are of no interest to the judge. In contrast, Robin recommends going with expert opinion even when it contradicts what your eyes and your reason tell you.

      Quoting Robin: You should mostly just avoid having opinions on the subject. But if you must have reliable opinions, average expert opinions are probably still your best bet.

  • Carl Shulman

    You compare personal analysis against hearing from only one side’s lawyers, but that analogy only holds in fields where ideological tendencies are so strong that there aren’t any academic dissenters. That isn’t true of fields as ideologically charged as group differences in intelligence. Listening to the “lawyers” from both sides will draw your attention to the most powerful pieces of evidence.

    • Carl Shulman

      The above was replying to Tom.

    • Vladimir M.

      Carl,

      Ideological disagreements are rarely single-issue. It may well be that on some issues the experts are polarized and thus biased in different directions, but nevertheless there is another set of issues on which the entire mainstream is systematically biased in the same direction. I believe that this is actually so when it comes to the ideological biases in modern economics and many other fields. When evaluating the situation one is in danger of getting lost in experts’ squabbles of the former kind and failing to recognize the latter, much deeper problem.

    • http://www.rationalfuturist.com Tom McCabe

      If one is doing an in-depth study of the field, over a period of weeks and months, then one should definitely look at all of the experts’ opinions, and see what the pro and con arguments for each. However, in practice, this isn’t possible for most of our opinions on most issues, simply because no one could have that much time. What “listen to the experts” usually works out to is something like “listen to the past three guys on TV”.

      I also think that trying to evaluate arguments between people might confuse everyone more than just trying to evaluate data. If professor A says something and professor B says the opposite, then you aren’t just choosing between different ideas; you’re also choosing whose tribe you’re a part of, who you like more, who seems more authoritative and expert-like, etc., etc., etc.

  • Vladimir M.

    [F]ields with more ideological conflict could be more reliable, if that conflict led to more critical examination of results.

    That could be so if the existing system of funding and patronage provided a level playing field for each ideological position. But if this system itself exhibits systematic biases, as I think it does in many fields, there is little chance for such beneficial effects.

    After all, even if [the experts] know less than they think, they still know a lot more than you.

    Trouble is, lots of that “knowledge” may consist of spurious ossified dogma, which the experts are reluctant to question because it would make their own expertise-derived status look shaky. An ayatollah knows a lot more than you about the Koran, but I bet you don’t rely much on his estimates of whether its contents are true. (Or consider some of your own disagreements with the medical establishment.)

    If ideology severely compromises others’ analysis on this subject, then most likely it severely comprises yours as well.

    That may well be the case, but as Tom pointed out already, an expert may have much greater incentives for ideological bias than an amateur. His whole career may depend on it. (Think again about the ayatollah, or the doctors.)

    I’m sure you’re familiar with Bryan Caplan’s “rational irrationality” — net positive incentives for biased opinions lead to more and stronger such opinions. The critical question therefore is whether the way a field/profession is run rewards biased expert opinions.

    • Jeffrey Soreff

      That could be so if the existing system of funding and patronage provided a level playing field for each ideological position.

      and if, in addition, there was a level playing filed for publication. We don’t generally get to see what experts’ views are. We get to see what they successfully publish. As has been noted, Prof. Hanson has his disagreements with the consensus of the medical establishment – and that field has a well-known difficulty in consistently publishing null results.

  • http://blog.jim.com James A. Donald

    Einstein was a DIY academic – he was not an officially appointed expert. His works were not peer reviewed – largely because in those days, there was no peer review, and for the most part contained absolutely no citations of revered experts.

    Peer review is truth by consensus, so much easier and more collegial than gathering evidence, reasoning about it, and presenting that evidence and reasoning for others to judge.

    In some fields, notably geology and astronomy, people continue to gather evidence because they just like doing it, but in most of academia, people prefer to do their research close to the nearest starbucks, and truth by consensus is so much more convenient.

    So these days the consensus of academia is, for the most part, worth about as much as the consensus of the most holy synod which it so much resembles

    • stubydoo

      Einstein wasn’t truly a DIY academic – and certainly wasn’t in the way that I could hope to be. He still had a PhD in the field. Plus he was a fracking genius.

      • http://www.rationalfuturist.com Tom McCabe

        Einstein didn’t get a PhD, or any kind of academic appointment, until after he had already published his seminal 1905 papers (and a great deal else besides).

      • Douglas Knight

        Einstein got his PhD in 1905, the same year he published the papers that were much better than his dissertation on hydrodynamics (a topic he had previously published on in 1901). Here is the precise timing, but I think Tom is mistaken about the coarse timing.

      • Constant

        I think Tom is mistaken about the coarse timing.

        You have proven no such thing. If I say that I had lunch after I had breakfast, and you discover that I had both lunch and breakfast in 2011, it does not follow that I was “mistaken about the coarse timing”, because I had not made any claim about “coarse timing”.

        If I say that my head is above my feet, and you look five miles up in the sky and fail to find my head, you have not proven that I am “mistaken about the coarse” location of my head.

        So let’s look. Here’s a link to a book in Google Books. I’ll transcribe some text from it. Starting p. 43.

        Einstein completed his dissertation on April 30, but he did not submit it to the University of Zurich for almost three months. [making the submission some time in July] …

        In the summer of 1905, Einstein had an abundance of potential dissertation candidates: the March, April, May, and June papers. With the June paper rejected, Einstein picked his earlier April paper, which, he thought, was void of any novel or startling ideas that could offend his professors. In addition to the strange content of the June relativity paper, it was entirely theoretical.

        So Einstein had come up with special relativity before he submitted his dissertation, and in fact special relativity was rejected as a dissertation. In fact Einstein had already produced three of his “annus mirabilis” papers (if we exclude the dissertation) before he received his doctorate, which necessarily must have happend after he submitted his dissertation, going by this evidence.

        This does not prove publication, so I have not proven Tom’s exact claim as stated. But the timing of writing is of key interest. If we are defining (as stubydoo is apparently doing here) “DIY academic” as “academic who has not received his PhD”, then if the evidence here is correct, Einstein wrote three of his four important 1905 papers and therefore did major scientific work, which towers above the entire careers of numberless PhDs, when he was a DIY academic. If you add the dissertation itself, that makes four of five while DIY.

  • Vladimir M.

    Also, seeing some of the other comments, I’d like to clarify that I don’t think experts’ opinions should ever be completely ignored and discarded. The question I was trying to answer is: what to do when after considering the reputable expert opinions it seems like the academic mainstream is full of nonsense and the conclusions that appear correct to you are completely outside of the respectable mainstream? Should you consider this as a reductio ad absurdum of your own thinking, or should you actually conclude that the mainstream is nonsense? The goal of my post was to find some clues as to when you should be inclined towards the former, and when the latter.

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      So then my guess was correct; DIY study is the alternative you had in mind to listening to experts.

      • Constant

        The point that you built your post around and which provides much of its seeming strength, i.e., that Vladimir proposed ignoring what experts write, was a straw man. You had read it into Vladimir’s assertion, and now that he has explicitly rejected it, your response is to say “my guess was correct”. A more appropriate response would surely be, “mea culpa, I will try again from scratch and try to get it right this time, sorry for wasting everyone’s time.”

  • Matthew W. Fuller

    Religion makes very few falsifiable or testable predictions, so saying one has to trust the pope simply because he is a great authority on the subject is erroneous in a particular way. If you want to know what catholicism’s subject matter is, you really shouldn’t ask a secular historian or someone biased against catholicism. The symetry seems to hold no what the topic of enquiry.

    For example, the law process results in false positives and false negatives. But this is no argument against the system. Interestingly, you would have to know more than what a lawyer knows to make a less biased system at lower cost.

    It seems what we like or dislike about a person matters greatly for using him or her as an expert.

  • http://zatavu.blogspot.com Troy Camplin

    Another option: macroeconomics is impossible. What I mean by that is that the economy as a whole is more complex than those who are attempting to study it. As Hayek correctly observed, a system cannot understand another system of equal or greater complexity. If the economy is a complex system made up of complex human systems, then it cannot be understood in the same way that less complex entities, such as biological organisms, can. Now, if you consider how little we actually understand biological organisms, and if you consider that the human brain is exponentially more complex than is biological complexity, and if you consider the fact that the U.S. economy taken alone is about 300 million times more complex than is any given human, we see the impossibility of macroeconomics. That’s why nothing the macroeconomists say or predict ever turns out to be true.

    • Doug S.

      I think current macroeconomics is at least a little better than complete ignorance… I suspect that pretty much every expert in macroeconomics would agree on what happens when a government starts printing a sufficiently large amount of currency.

      • http://zatavu.blogspot.com Troy Camplin

        Mises and Hayek figured that one out without being macroeconomists. And they were more correct about the unequal effects on a heterogeneous economy than have been any of the macroeconomists.

      • Proper Dave

        Inflation is really empirical measurable and observable. It kind of hits the so-called “economists” over the head hard, its also not new to the 20th century, the Spanish caused it with big importations of silver and gold from the New World hundreds of years ago.

        Regarding Mises and Hayek, a broken clock is more right at least it shows the correct time twice rather than once every day.

    • Daublin

      I agree with those comparing academics to trial lawyers. If someone peddles in knowledge all day and all night, then they certainly know a lot about that subject. However, is there any a priori reason to think they filtered that knowledge for objective truth? Far more likely that they’ve tried to be interesting and to spin things so as to move up in status.

      A better way to identify experts is to look for external validation. Look for something that expert has accomplished but that you don’t have to be an expert to understand. For example, look for predictions they made that turned out to be right. Look for things they built that nobody else has managed to build.

      Note the contrast with academic status. Paper publication, Ph.D. degrees, and tenure are all granted by peer review.

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  • http://twitter.com/afoolswisdom sark

    On systematic biases, this shouldn’t happen if the issue doesn’t hinge on the underpinning methodology of the discipline. For example, psychometrics might be systematically biased towards IQ as an operational measurement of intelligence. But it has plenty of scope to figure out, how much nature vs. nurture contribute variance to IQ, say.

    So there might be systematic biases in the case of a discipline obstinately sticking to an inadequate methodology. There are 2 possibilities, there are other disciplines with the same subject matter with different methodology. In which case we just average the expert opinions of all those disciplines. Alternatively, there may be no other discipline, or the disciplines together have an inadequate set of methodologies to tackle the subject matter in an unbiased fashion. In which case, you as a lone amateur should not be able to do better anyway!

    This kinda mirrors the argument for prediction markets being at worst no worse than what they are meant to replace, and possibly/often performing better.

  • Mario Furtado

    Actually, when it comes to economics, I think your flat-out wrong. The big issue isn’t whether they are experts or not, but what value does economics bring. There are only two jobs that you can get with an economics degree- teach or work for the government. And therein lies the problem. If you’re only outside value is remuneration by the government, then you’re going to end up towing the party line. No matter how inane that line is. This is the true travesty of the economic profession; they can’t actually get jobs and thus have to spin numbers to back up the current group think infesting government ideologies.

    Mario.

    P.S. You might mention chief economist or chief strategist at an investment bank or what not, but most of those positions don’t actually trade equities or mandate actionable direction (those would be the PMs). The position is mostly as a spoke-person or public activist for the firm. It’s more of a sales job then a real investment management job.

    • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

      There are actually lots of private sector economist jobs, which helps explain why economists get paid more than other faculty.

  • komponisto

    The assumption of economists is of course that economic behavior does not draw on the full complexity of the human mind. (Most human behavior probably doesn’t.)

  • michael vassar

    Like many exhortations towards greater rationality, this seems to me to make the assumption that biases aren’t reduced by efforts to correct them. Logically, if people who try to be more rational are the only people who listen to such exhortations, only the most rational people, presumably those with the best opinions, will actually change and the space of opinions will loose its more accurate outliers.

    • richard silliker

      how is it possible to have a rational opinion ?

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      No one was saying one shouldn’t try to be more rational. The issue is when you have evidence that you have actually succeeded more than others.

      • http://blog.jim.com James A. Donald

        I have positive evidence, evidence that is available only to me, that I am sane and rational. I don’t have similar evidence that someone else is rational. Therefore, if someone disagrees with me, he might be crazy or lying or have access to evidence that I do not. If, however, he declines to present that evidence, as for example in the global warming debates,I should assume he is crazy or lying or both.

  • DK

    your best estimates should still rely heavily on average expert estimates. After all, even if they know less than they think, they still know a lot more than you.

    LMAO. Lots of experts in the USSR told all kinds of things about economics. A briefest look out of the window left no doubt that nearly every one of these experts was wrong. But hey, they knew more than the average Ivan!

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    This comment thread is notably filled with easily detectable bullshit.
    Too bad, often Prof. Hanson attracts some very high level comments.

    I’m both for DIY academics (I think a subcategory of them are very useful as a counterweight to deformations within official academia), and I’m hugely for expert consensus calculation. I think at an intuitive level many of us “get” when a DIY contrarian is on the side of angels or on the side of demons, but I don’t have a well thought out hueristic for discerning the virtue of a DIY.

    We should also note epistemology experts (and epistemology expert consensus) as a sort of omsbudsman with regard to the various respective deformations and errors within subcategory expert communities, and as a process credentialing community for DIY subcategory experts.

    • http://blog.jim.com James A. Donald

      We had the relevant discussion seven hundred and thirty four years ago. The church lost the debate, as demonstrated by the fact that they answered Roger Bacon by throwing him into a dungeon in solitary confinement and feeding him bread and water.

      DIY science is real science. Listening to the consensus of the most holy synod is not.

      Roger Bacon told us how to tell truth from &#%%$#!%, Galileo issued a reminder, and Richard Feynman a lengthy clarification.

      When I was taught special relativity, they, did not tell us Einstein was right because the holy consensus tells us so, they had us replicate the arguments and review the evidence that Einstein presented in “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”, just as if Einstein was some patent clerk with neither PhD nor academic position.

      • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

        What a stupid response to my comment (you’re right to feel personally attacked by my earlier comment).

        It’s too bad, because I sort your blog as on balance usefully contrarian. It’s strange to me that a mind that can weigh Steve Sailer as usefully politically incorrect if a bit to jew-focused, can’t see a nuance between various expert academic subcommunities and a church vs. Roger Bacon historical narrative.

        I think any fair-minded support of DIY academics has to start with the acknowledgment that most DIY academic product is shit.

      • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

        Well said James. There is no kind of science other than DIY science. If you don’t know the data and the logic that ties the data together into conclusions aka theory, you don’t know the science, are not a scientist and can’t have a scientific opinion. You can have an opinion that you copied from someone you think is a “scientist”, but unless you understand the science you can’t have a scientific opinion.

        The earlier analogy with lawyers completely misunderstands science. Lawyers are advocates for their position. They are not supposed to be neutral. If they can “win” by fooling the Judge, they are supposed to do so (provided they don’t lie too much). That is not how science works.

        That lawyers and politicians don’t understand how science works is understandable. They are used to working with lies and trickery. That works in politics where you can fool most of the people most of the time. It doesn’t work in science because you can’t fool Mother Nature.

  • dave

    Outside of the physical sciences, there is no way to prove anything. Its just opinion. That applies to all social science, including economics. You can try to add some math a statistics to it, but human behavior can’t be understood like a chemistry reaction.

  • arch1

    Apologies if someone made this observation already..

    Professional (non-DIY) science is sparse.

    There are many narrow questions for which answers are needed but not available in, and not easily deducible from, the scientific literature.

    If I need an answer to such a question, it may well be that my best approach is DIY science. Not because I am spectacularly free of bias (though if I do say so myself…:-)); rather because, for that particlar question, DIY science is the only game in town.