In August I complained about vague LHC forecasts. My oped based on that post just appeared in Symmetry, "A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication." Its blurb: "Today’s LHC forecasts are no easier to score than the typical horoscope." It ends:
Humans evolved brains to argue about who gets what. They argue economics in an attempt to alter public opinion in their favour. This applies to physics far less.
What would happen if a Fields medalist mathematician set up in the street?He would be ignored.
Why? Because math is hard, and doesn't pander to the "layman".
Take out the contributions of mathematicians and neither physics nor economics would have much left but talk.
" They aren't called branes, they are called submanifolds--and we in differential geometry have been exploring their properties for more than a century."
ceteris paribus (holding other variables equal) isn't, IMHO, what discredits economics. In thermodynamics cateris paribus is explicitly assumed in many models but I'm not about to call thermodynamics into question. Nor is it untestable hypotheses, economists like to kick their feet about this one but its a smokescreen.
The problem of (or maybe I should say my problem with) economic theory is in its level of abstraction - so many assumptions are made that the final theories no longer resemble the world they are supposed to represent. By the time you finish setting up the classic minimum wage model you've assumed away important things like class, gender, age and power while simultaneously assuming that the workforce is liquid enough and that wages are dynamic enough for the market clearing process to occur. This simply doesn't reflect the world that we live in. The sophistication required to refute this model (in economic terms) is generally not possessed by the 1st year econ students it is taught to, so this type of thought process becomes part of their 'intuition', and sadly it affects their life choices and politics in the future which in turn affects human life as a whole.
I could rant on this for hours, but more to the point: members of the public generally don't have the ability to 'raise the bar' on physicists because they set it so high on themselves to begin with. Economists on the other hand have buried their bar in the sand, so anybody who feels like digging can get to it.
"some economists have been saying that a minimum wage raises unemployment; others have said the opposite. If there is controversy among experts, on what basis are outsiders supposed to be confidently believing in one side?"
This is the effect of the lack of controlled experiments I mentioned earlier. You'll notice that ever economic prediction says "other things being equal." Well, other things being equal, a minimum wage does reduce employment. But economics don't get to hold other things equal: economic events happen all the time, simultaneously, to different groups of people, with different laws in place, and a multitude of other factors that very. Even valid deductions are open to attack because economists can't control these other factors. ["Minimum wage may have reduced employment there, but won't here." Can't really rerun history twice on the same people to prove your case.]
The minimum wage example may not be a good one, as anon has more or less pointed out. The empirical evidence concerning the effects of a minimum wage on employment has been highly mixed. Of course, that evidence has been collected by economists, some of whom have theories about why a minimum wage often doesn't raise unemployment, so the big problem with your example is that only some economists have been saying that a minimum wage raises unemployment; others have said the opposite. If there is controversy among experts, on what basis are outsiders supposed to be confidently believing in one side?
Returning to Robin's intended point, which is the lower scrutiny for physicists. I'm still of the opinion that it's caused by implicit assumptions held by the general public (and their extension, the media). Physicists have had a very good track record, historically: they've explained much of the physical world and enabled amazing modern things, from the car and microwave to space travel. (I understand they're not the sole contributors to these.)In addition, physicists are generally perceived to be scientists searching for "truth." It's hard to paint them as selfish, corrupt, or ideological, since most people don't think that the LHC would benefit them personally, or their cronies, if they had any.Both of these are made possible by the general overconfidence of the public and the media, who seem to think that "if physicists were taking advantage of us, we would know." That belief is made possible by the controlled experiments I referenced above: questions in physics can be settled very quickly. From that, it "follows" that physicist must be honest lest they be proven liars, so clearly claims by physicists can be trusted.These factors (track record of success, perception of selflessness, perception of necessary honesty) thus combine to make physicists appear more trustworthy, and thus, in the eyes of the public, needing less supervision. Even when $11 billion is at stake.
I don't think there's a need to point out how these factors don't apply to many other area. Especially economics.
"But if economists say, as they have for centuries, that a minimum wage raises unemployment, reporters treat them skeptically and feel they need to find a contrary quote to "balance" their story."
Saying that a minimum wage increases unemployment is based on multiple heroic assumptions (infinite this, zero that) while assuming away any contrary evidence. An idea this weak would never survive centuries in the hard sciences; the reason physicists are given a 'pass' is that the physics community has demonstrated its ability to self-monitor and discard bad or unrealistic ideas. The reason economists have their ideas attacked is that they deserve it.
"Why Physicists Need the LHC"http://www.youtube.com/watc...
Farhi hopes that something (anything, please!) will be found that is not currently predicted by the Standard Model. Otherwise High-energy particle physics in its current form, accurate to 10 decimal places, will be almost completely explained.
What's wrong with the Standard Model being correct? It would appear that 10 decimal places accuracy is sufficient to indicate a theory correct and complete.
High-energy particle physicists are worried that, should the LHC prove to be a $6B boondoggle contributing little or nothing to knowledge, they will be unable to get future funding and will face future unemployment. Farhi admits he is hedging his bets by doing side research in quantum computing (that's why he's at Google).
I hope the LHC finds nothing new. Then research money could be redirected from high-energy particle physics to more productive areas of physics and the other sciences.
I finally realized what's going on here... a bunch of people who neither understand physics nor economics decided they were going to champion one and ridicule the other.
Lots of people tell physicists they're wrong. We can start with anti-nuclear-power activists and continue through young-Earth creationists, astrologers, people who think that quantum mechanics means that refusing to perceive something means it doesn't exist, etc...
"Nobel-winning economists are received with grumbling even by other economists. Ask Paul Krugman."
That's because Paul Krugman is a Keynesian and hasn't met an economic fallacy he doesn't find attractive. Am I suppose to think Arafat is a exemplar of "peace" just because he won the "peace prize". Not likely.
Meanwhile economists are telling us that the world is made of purple fluff and if only we'd print more money for them to distribute to their pals everything will turn out rosy. So yes they are questioned. Even colliders don't cost $7 trillion.
Well now I'm sorry I quoted the paragraph that mentioned economists, as it completely distracted from the issue of the physicists' apparent hypocrisy.
"Physicists aren't in the business of predicting the outcome of experiments; they're in the business of explaining the world. The two things are completely different."
The two are exactly the same. The reason scientists do controlled experiments is to isolate particular effects. Technically, anything is an experiment, you just can't draw conclusions because situations are so complicated that you can't isolate an effect with certainty. If economists could run thousands of controlled experiments to see what happened given a set of conditions, I'm sure they could build better models afterwards.
In regards to physicists being treated easily, I think it's because the press doesn't understand physics, and neither do most of the public, and they know this. Neither the press nor the general public understands economics, they just think they do. So they question the experts. Plus, things like the subway, magazines, and the internet are proof that physicists have gotten something right. Point to any corresponding economic example, and because societies are so complicated, somebody will always say that the economists in question just got lucky.
"top" is right.
1. Economists are unavoidably tied up in politics. Economists' findings often have political implications; physicists' findings rarely have political implications (and when they do, physicists are certainly challenged -- How about Galileo, for starters?)
2. Economic theses are hard to prove (partly because of the lack of controlled experiments, as others have mentioned).
3. Thus, people will largely turn to their political prejudices rather than the unclear pronouncements of academic economists, when trying to decide an economics question.
The LHC is certainly a very expensive machine. But in assessing its cost, it should be kept in mind that it is a international project -- the US contribution is much less than $11B. Furthermore, that money covers something like a decade of operations, and the machine will likely operate for much longer than that (adding years of operation is not so expensive).
The sell to governments probably involves reference to the value of past investments. The rationale is very similar to that behind the moon mission, say: one presumes great value in spin-off technologies. Except the moon missions had little scientific value compared to the LHC. And, historically, there have been many valuable "spin offs." You can probably find good discussion of this on the Fermilab, SLAC, and/or CERN web cites. To just name a couple things, the development of the world wide web and of all forms of medical imaging technologies were greatly accelerated by the underlying technologies being developed first at particle accelerators. Another reason to do this is to create the next generation of physicists, who need challenging research projects to develop their skills. The vast majority of these physicists will find work outside of academia, and this is a boon to the technological advantage of this country. As someone drew a comparison to economics, let me note that much of the most innovative work in economics is done by people trained in physics (at least as evidenced by economics Nobel winners).