Tuesday, January 26, 2010


What Is This Harvard Student Smoking?

Mark Weber passes this NYT story along, explaining that Hayek is spinning in his grave. At first I didn't see what a story about Mexican drug cartels had to do with Hayek, but then it hit me:
It may seem strange to examine this shadowy world with equations. But mathematics is transforming the social sciences. In the same way that physicists can predict the movement of atoms in space, we can use mathematics to model how individuals and groups will make decisions and interact in a society.

It used to be that social scientists relied on intuition to understand social problems. But human intuition can go wrong. It is difficult to keep track of every factor in the interaction of millions of human beings. Human logic can be deceived by personal points of view, and, as psychological research has shown, humans see false patterns even when randomness is the norm. Mathematics is cold-headed; it cannot go wrong.

So here I am, waiting at the border, on a mission to understand, with my equations, who is at risk of becoming a drug trafficker, how labor incentives affect crime rates and violence, why kidnapping and extortion and homicide have spiked in recent years.
But wait, it gets better, such that I looked back at the top to make sure this was a real article:
In this violent world, with the man in the blue Chevy whispering at me behind the window, math is my shield. Speaking up about drugs is in these parts a dangerous game. But not if you speak in the language of sigma and conditional expectations. Math protects me from the immediacy of the violence, and it protects me from them.
I don't know what to say. Math has protected this writer from my wit.


Haha, people who claim math is infallible and ignore the fallibility of the human wielding it (themselves) are committing the same fallacy as the people who dogmatically insist that they are superior to people who cling to dogma because they don't.
I can't wait to see people like her try to sell their labor when the credentialism/big education bubble pops and the economy faces its day of reckoning, mercilessly cutting out the fat.

(Captcha: exusers)
This is one of the most idiotic articles I've ever read. This is so epic in its stupidity, I'm almost rendered speechless.

The author is a political scientist. Is this the current state of knowledge in this discipline? A bunch of idiots claiming genius because a hackneyed mathematical model with a billion assumptions gives a cardinal answer?


Man, how depressingly stupid. Alright, enough rant.

Bill Y.
Silas, I said "this writer" because I wasn't confident of the sex that the first name denoted. But I see you are going with "her" which was my first choice as well.
"At risk of becoming drug traffickers"
Similarly, the interviews I've had recently increase my risk of becoming employed.
The person who "hides" behind her math due to a false sense of increased intellectuality doesn't understand math. Perfect.
Political Science is rubbish. I have seen big names make statistical correlation analysis with N=12 when trying to explain how countries turn into presidential dictatorships.

Political Science is for historians who try to be relevant. It's even greater rubbish than "economics". I have a degree in it, I should know.
They are the same kind of jerks who bring up Heisenberg when discussing human behavior. I always check the index of contemporary PS books for Heisenberg. When he's in the index, I check the page, and unless it explains that Heisenberg cannot be used to explain anything in social sciences, I put the book away, unread - it would be a waste of time.
That's very funny James, I do the exact same thing!

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