Saturday, August 22, 2009

How the world likely views arguments among academics

I am guessing that, to the extent that it cares, the broader world sees the current argument between Richard Posner, on one side, and Paul Krugman, Brad Delong, Mark Thoma and Menzie Chinn, on the other, as some sort of esoteric pissing contest. This is because all of these people are very smart and write very well.

The problem is that Posner is just plain wrong--I mean, he gets his arithmetic wrong in so many ways, it is breathtaking. For instance, he doesn't understand the difference between a quarterly growth rate and a quarterly annualized growth rate. This does not particularly surprise me--very good lawyers are often not good at math. One of my dearest friends is a brilliant lawyer (and political analyst), and he couldn't calculate a present value if his life depended on it. He was also amazed that one had to strip the casing off of speaker wire before one hooked up a stereo. The other thing about lawyers is they are not particularly good at admitting when they are wrong--their entire training teaches them not to do so (although the friend I just mentioned is endearingly modest).

In the current context, this is a problem, because Posner is hurling ad hominems [h/t to William Adelman for correcting the spelling] while not knowing what he is talking about.


rjs said...

you're right! if i told my friends that Richard Posner, on one side, and Paul Krugman, Brad Delong, Mark Thoma and Menzie Chin on the other were having an arguement on the blogs, almost all would say "who?"; thats why i will never link to this type of article...

Uncle Billy vs. Mont Pelerin said...

This could work on television...

A reality show. We drop everyone on an island for a week and film them to see which ideas survive.

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Anonymous said...

I don't think academics are particularly good at admitting when we're wrong. Our training doesn't favor that either, and our publication-media-seeking behavior favors positive results rather than negative results, so disproving is way harder than it probably should be.

Richard Green said...

Fair point, Lisa. Although we are supposed to respect evidence--even if it contradicts what we once thought.

residential real estate said...

You got a point there!!!

William Adelman said...

One more correction:

"...Posner is hurling ad hominems..." [h/t to William Adelman for correcting the spelling while not knowing what he is talking about.]

Anonymous said...