[anonymous]9y0

When any given field takes half a lifetime of study to master, who can compare and contrast and properly weight the rate of progress in nanotechnology and cryptography and superstring theory and 610 other disciplines? Indeed, how do we even know whether the so-called scientists are not just lawmakers and politicians in disguise, as some conservatives suspect in fields as disparate as climate change, evolutionary biology, and embryonic-stem-cell research, and as I have come to suspect in almost all fields? [!!! -- SB]

I don’t necessarily dispute the point he makes. But I would like to offer as an alternative perspective Mencius Moldbug’s suggestion that paleoclimatology and climate modelling are not “science” – or at any rate we are not “cleaving reality at its joints” by using the term science to refer to both physics, with its adequately falsifiable hypotheses and controllable experiments, and the likes of climate change and economic modelling. Moldbug regards these as cargo cult sciences which derive a spurious aura of authenticity from their appropriation of the term “science”, and argues that their inherent resistance to the power of the scientific method allows false beliefs to proliferate in these areas if these beliefs serve the interests of political power (which is welded to the University system and its ability to manipulate public opinion.)

There is a significantly greater likelihood that “climate scientists” and “climate science” as a whole are systematically corrupt as truth-finders, in comparison to (for example) physicists. So Moldbug would be more likely to attribute intellectual stagnation to this corrupted-by-power “scientism” of the University system than to the existence of “overspecialized, insular scientific fields” in particular (although the two are not mutually exclusive).

The current crisis of housing and financial leverage contains many hidden links to broader questions concerning long-term progress in science and technology. On one hand, the lack of easy progress makes leverage more dangerous, because when something goes wrong, macroeconomic growth cannot offer a salve; time will not cure liquidity or solvency problems in a world where little grows or improves with time.

Again to supply the Moldbuggian perspective, the ultimate cause of the economic crisis is maturity transformation, of which fractional reserve banking (with its scalar rather than temporally-based accounting) is one example. Frequent banking crises are to be expected until such a time as the maturity-mismatching banking system can no longer reply on implict loan guarantees from the state, and therefore ceases to exist (since in a genuinely free market economic system, banks that practise maturity transformation inevitably go bust and stay bust).

According to this analysis, “liquidity problems” are in fact evidence of the free market assigning a perfectly reasonable (non-MT) value to the overpriced assets in the banking system. And quantitative easing is a means of attempting to push the system from this equilibrium back into yet another cycle of unstable maturity-transformation practices. Therefore (if one finds Moldbug persuasive) at best the economic crisis has merely proximate links to “long-term progress in science and technology”.

Not much evidence in that thar persuasion.

Peter Thiel warns of upcoming (and current) stagnation

by SilasBarta 1 min read4th Oct 2011121 comments

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SIAI benefactor and VC Peter Thiel has an excellent article at National Review about the stagnating progress of science and technology, which he attributes to poorly-grounded political opposition, widespread scientific illiteracy, and overspecialized, insular scientific fields.  He warns that this stagnation will undermine the growth that past policies have relied on.

Noteworthy excerpts (bold added by me):

In relation to concerns expressed here about evaluating scientific field soundness:

When any given field takes half a lifetime of study to master, who can compare and contrast and properly weight the rate of progress in nanotechnology and cryptography and superstring theory and 610 other disciplines? Indeed, how do we even know whether the so-called scientists are not just lawmakers and politicians in disguise, as some conservatives suspect in fields as disparate as climate change, evolutionary biology, and embryonic-stem-cell research, and as I have come to suspect in almost all fields? [!!! -- SB]

Grave indictors:

Looking forward, we see far fewer blockbuster drugs in the pipeline — perhaps because of the intransigence of the FDA, perhaps because of the fecklessness of today’s biological scientists, and perhaps because of the incredible complexity of human biology. In the next three years, the large pharmaceutical companies will lose approximately one-third of their current revenue stream as patents expire, so, in a perverse yet understandable response, they have begun the wholesale liquidation of the research departments that have borne so little fruit in the last decade and a half. [...]

The single most important economic development in recent times has been the broad stagnation of real wages and incomes since 1973, the year when oil prices quadrupled. To a first approximation, the progress in computers and the failure in energy appear to have roughly canceled each other out. Like Alice in the Red Queen’s race, we (and our computers) have been forced to run faster and faster to stay in the same place.

Taken at face value, the economic numbers suggest that the notion of breathtaking and across-the-board progress is far from the mark. If one believes the economic data, then one must reject the optimism of the scientific establishment. Indeed, if one shares the widely held view that the U.S. government may have understated the true rate of inflation — perhaps by ignoring the runaway inflation in government itself, notably in education and health care (where much higher spending has yielded no improvement in the former and only modest improvement in the latter) — then one may be inclined to take gold prices seriously and conclude that real incomes have fared even worse than the official data indicate. [...]

College graduates did better, and high-school graduates did worse. But both became worse off in the years after 2000, especially when one includes the rapidly escalating costs of college.[...]

The current crisis of housing and financial leverage contains many hidden links to broader questions concerning long-term progress in science and technology. On one hand, the lack of easy progress makes leverage more dangerous, because when something goes wrong, macroeconomic growth cannot offer a salve; time will not cure liquidity or solvency problems in a world where little grows or improves with time.

HT: MarginalRevolution

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