Bookblogging: The final instalment

I’ve finally completed a near-final draft of my book, although some bits, such as the following ‘Reanimation’ section of the chapter on privatisation are still a bit rough.

I’m getting some good comments from readers here, and through more conventional academic channels, which should help me sand down the rough spots a bit. Anyway, thanks to all for the comments I’ve received. It’s made a huge difference to me, and made the production of this book a much less daunting undertaking than laboring alone.

Remember, before pointing out stuff that is missing, that an earlier draft is online here and may be worth reading to see where I’m coming from.

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What’s wrong with Austrian Economics

In my email today I got an invitation to a conference on Austrian Economics in the 21st century, to be held in Argentina. Details here for those interested. What struck me was the list of topics, namely

– Economics
– Epistemology
– Methodoly (sic)
– Political Philosophy
– Readings on the Austrian School of Economics

That is, 80 per cent of the conference is to be devoted to meta-economic issues of one kind or another, and only 20 per cent to the entire field of economics (much of which will probably also be taken up with meta-discussion). A focus on meta-issues is a characteristic problem for heterodox schools of all kinds, but Austrian economics takes it to an absurd extreme. At some point, surely, they need to stop worrying about methodology and history of thought and start actually doing some economics.

Leaving aside the obvious silliness of worrying about epistemology in the context of a massive financial crisis, there’s the irony of holding the conference in Argentina, something of a poster child for failed free-market policies (admittedly, before that it was a poster child for failed protectionist policies). Surely the conference could manage a theme on what went wrong in Argentina and how Austrians would do things better next time.


My namesake, Tom Quiggin has been in the news lately, debunking the idea that Al Qaeda cultivates sleeper agents and also tracing to its source the urban myth that Osama Bin Laden used a private fortune of $300 million to promote the group.

He’s sent me some reflections on the sloppy research that’s been used to promote some of these ideas, noting

. A disconnect between the statement in the body of the article and the sources in the footnotes which do not back up the statement being made,
2. Strong statements which are made, but which are built on weak foundations or on assumptions which cannot be shown to be valid,
3. Information from two different situations is overlapped or mixed together, leaving the reader with a false impression about the nature of a particular problem or situation,
4. In a limited number of cases, information provided in articles is simply false.

The faults he points out are, I think, found to some extent in every field (I’ve certainly found plenty of instances in economics, though the prevailing flaws are a bit different), but fields like the study of security issues have the added problem that replication and verification are particularly difficult. Processes such as peer review, replication and empirical testing aren’t panaceas, and errors will always slip through, but they work pretty well in the long run.

List of the clueless

As I’ve mentioned, the “No significant warming since 1995” meme provides a convenient basis for identifying people who are too dishonest (if they deliberately confuse statistical insignificance with insignificance in the ordinary sense), too ignorant (if they don’t know the difference) or too gullible (if they simple recirculate the Daily Mail “no significant warming”) to be take seriously on climate change, or on any other issue that involves reasoning about data.

One to add to this list: Des Moore, formerly a senior Treasury official, and of course, Quadrant. Moore and Quadrant get extra bonus points for using the word ‘flawed’, which is usually an indicator of lazy thinking at best.

The good point about this is that Moore’s pronouncements on economic issues, which might have some credibility due to his former position can be safely disregarded – if you can’t get basic stats right, you can’t get economics right either

Some more predictable additions to the list, people you would expect to get this kind of thing wrong, but still taken seriously by many.

Glenn Beck
Sarah Palin
Alan Moran
Piers Akerman

More to come …

Also, my list of self-described sceptics who’ve got this one right. Additional entries welcome

{List ends}

Bookblogging: the reanimation of trickle down

The deadline for the manuscript of Zombie Economics (last complete draft here) is only a few weeks away, and the zombies are popping up faster than I can knock them down. I’m adding a section on reanimated zombies to each chapter. Over the fold is the social mobility defense of trickle down economics, as animated by Thomas Sowell. There’s still time for me to benefit from your comments.

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Birds of a feather

The similarity between creationist ‘scepticism’ about evolutionary science and rightwing ‘scepticism’ about climate science is obvious to nearly[1] everyone, whether pro-science or anti-science. So, it’s no surprise that creationists have sought to combine the two issues, and that, conversely, opponents of climate science have pushed ‘teach the controversy’ legislation modelled on those of the creationists. Here’s the NYTimes describing the US scene.

In Australia, Quadrant offers the whole package – anti-science climate delusionism, and historical revisionism as well as anti-Darwinism. This recent book review by DM Armstrong , echoing the ‘science is not settled’ line on climate change, says ‘let us not regard the case is closed’, gives a sympathetic reference to Behe, then rather bizarrely goes on to endorse sociobiology. In between he cites Ian Plimer against climate science.

Update An interesting feature of this process is the emergence of anti-vaccination as a cause embraced by the right, pushed by figures such as Glenn Beck and the unofficial leader of the US Republican Party Rush Limbaugh. As a commenter here pointed out, itseemingly started with vaccination of girls against HPV. The final trigger seems to have been the mass vaccination campaign against H1N1 flu, which hit even more hot buttons for these guys – big government, the WHO, preparation against something that might not happen and so on. Anti-vaccination used to be one area of anti-science thought where lefties predominated, and it still has some support on the fringes of the left, but not from anyone comparable in influence to Limbaugh. But it’s rapidly becoming part of rightwing orthodoxy.

In particular, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they will get vaccinated

fn1. Except in Australia, where lots of people who will accept just about any anti-science talking point on climate science get unaccountably riled when it is suggested, by consistent thinkers on both sides of the debate, that they ought to accept the parallel talking points on evolution (gaps in the data, alleged frauds by evolutionists, evolution as a religious belief etc etc).