Friday, September 22, 2017

Science and Economics

Economics claims to be a science. The problem with this claim is that the scientific method depends on the ability to do repeatable experiments. For example, chemistry advances by checking if hypotheses are correct by doing experiments that are repeatable. If a hypothesis fails repeated experiments, it is deemed not to be true.

The problem for economics is that is a subject that deals with the behaviour of people and society, so it is usually not possible to set up an experiment to test whether an hypothesis or theory is correct. People do not like being experimented on. An economist cannot do experiments on an economy, because every economy is different, and changes over time, so any experiment would not be repeatable.

The best that Economics can do is establish models that approximate how the economy operates. Economists use their models to explain historical events, or to make predictions about what will happen if certain changes occur. Unfortunately, the same historical events can be explained by various models. What happens can usually be explained by several different models, so making a correct prediction or explanation does not prove a model is correct. Most predictions by economists are wrong, so faith in their models is risky.

Economists tend to rely on the weight of opinion to decide which is the correct model. They sometimes reach a consensus about which model is best, but they never reach full agreement. Consensus is good, but unfortunately, it is not the same as using the scientific method.

Models have to be a simplification of reality. This means that economics is not really a science, in the true sense of the word.

Climate change faces the same problem. Climate scientists cannot do repeatable experiments, so they have to rely on models, too. Predictions about future climate change depend on the accuracy of climate models. The outcome of the model depends on the assumptions built into the model, and there is often disagreement about these assumptions.

Environmentalists often say that people should accept the weight of scientific evidence for climate change. The problem with this is that climate models cannot be tested in the way that the scientific method requires. It is not possible to set up repeatable experiments, because there is only one world, and it is not possible to repeat climate situations to test the model.

The best that climate scientists can do is to test their preferred model to see if it can explain weather events in the past, or to make predictions and see if they happen. That puts them in the same boat as economists. Weight of opinion is not the same as scientific method. Using the word “scientific” to make the case for climate change is a bit misleading.

Evolutionary theory has the same problem. It is not possible to do an experiment to test if humans could evolve into apes, because this is not repeatable in a laboratory. Small steps in the evolutionary process can be tested in artificial conditions using the scientific method. But the overall process cannot be tested using the scientific method. For this reason, evolutionists often resort to depending on consensus of scientific opinion. However, that is not the same as scientific method.

When climate scientists and evolutionary biologists speak of the weight of scientific evidence, they are playing the same game as economists. Judging by the reliability of economic models this is not a very effective method for arriving at the truth.

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