Friday, May 16, 2008

Our Understanding Of Ourselves Advancing Or Retreating

Two adherents of the dismal science took a look at the other social sciences and their progress in recent times.

Tyler Cowen on 4/1/08 discussed Gordon Tullock's The Organization of Inquiry and provided the full Tullock symposium here), in a Marginal Revolution Why are the social sciences backward?

This post is a summation of the original Marginal Revolution post which was itself an entry point to further reading or study. The topic is far too complex to fit into a few computer screen's worth of text . Unfortunately, the source materials are not available without cost. What this post can provide is some additional links and consider how this fits with what has been learned before.

Tullock next turns to what he considers to be the real reasons behind the backwardness of the social sciences:

  • Differences in the social organization of natural versus social science.
  • The relative absence of applied research:
    • One example given is that there is no way to patent new sales technique?
  • Many fewer checks from the applied side on pure social science research unlike the natural sciences
  • The second motive for research, curiosity, is in the social sciences "likely to get distracted to essentially non-scientific ends."

According to Tullock, this is because in the social sciences: there is a strong possibility of artistic distraction. Literature of all kinds is quite frequently based on careful observation of human beings. A large number of brilliant men led by their curiosity to study their fellow men have produced great literature instead of science (p. 151).

Professor Cowen also brings into the discussion Mises and Hayek, to whom in Tullock is responding , who thought that the social sciences were different because matters of human affairs are more complex and because of the subjective dimension of human choice and expectation.

More can be found at the original post with an interesting link at complexity by Bruce Edmonds of the Centre for Policy Modelling, Manchester Metropolitan University Business School,

Professor Cowen goes on to argue that "that while economics lags behind physics, we understand the economy better than we understand the human brain or for that matter the deep ocean. "

I see complexity of the topic and accessibility to information as determining the progress of a science; I am not so far from Hayek's view, although he underestimated how much progress quantitative and experimental economics could make.

It seems there were even ancient computers, not to mention advanced philosophy. So the point remains: the absence of a developed economics until the mid-18th century remains a startling anomaly in the history of ideas. Why was that?

An Addendum
to the original Marginal Revolution post provides EconLog's Arnold Kling's perspective.
Stephen J. Dubner via Freakonomics back on 4/8/08 questioned, "How Much Progress Have Psychology and Psychiatry Really Made?" in a Freakonomics Quorum

The debate about the effectiveness and safety of psychiatric drugs rambles on while new (if not conclusive) psychological studies come out with the frequency of fad diets. We invited some people who think a lot about such issues -- David B. Baker, John Medina, Dan Ariely, Satoshi Kanazawa, Peter D. Kramer, and Laurie Schwartz

Again, as with the Tyler Cowen post above, this is far too complicated a topic to do the original post justice without simply repeating the entire article, so this is not a substitute. It does bring up though the same argument emphasizing the differences between social and natural sciences, but this time within the same arena. There isn't a lack of progress but an ever increasing complexity within the fields as different disciplines cross over one and other.

for John Medina:

My personal hero in the exodus away from mental superstition is a large bolus of ego named Emil Kraepelin (1856 to 1926). He had the audacity to assume everything that was psychological was simultaneously biological.

Dan Ariely, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Behavioral Economics at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management, principal investigator of the MIT Media Lab’s eRationality group, and author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions takes the view"

“This, in my mind, is another important lesson that psychologists have learned — that our intuitions about what drives our behavior are not always correct.”

It seems to me that Professor Cowen's claim that our knowledge of economics is less than that of physics but far greater than the human brain pays too little attention to point that economics is able to smooth out the variables it studies to arrive at general principals, while modern neurosciences such as neurochemistry cannot. Economics is also arguably the consequence of the decision process by biological creatures. While we can make generalized predictions with economics, do we really understand the process if we don't understand the organisms that make those decisions?

This post has dealt with complexity, irrationality and mentioned the concept of artistic distraction, all in the course of studying economics, definitely food for further thought.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Unthinking Urbanization Cities Without Thought

Back in January, this weblog had a post on How Should We Be Thinking About Urbanization? Are We? based on and inspired by a Freakonomics quorum and supported by other links. There seems to still be a good argument that we are not despite the efforts of some.

Here are perspectives from two major newspapers of two urban centers on two sides of the continental United states regarding the urbanization of cities. This first deals with policy of city urbanization and the lack of attention.

"The New York Times" OPINION Editorial: In Search of a Real Urban Policy
For more than a generation, presidential aspirants have mostly resisted acknowledging the importance of the cities' well being.
The second deals with the result of that neglect.

Urban renewal project in L.A. begets blight instead By Ted Rohrlich Los Angeles Times Staff Writer April 27 2008, 10:38 PM PDT Visit latimes.com
The city has little to show for the millions of dollars paid to a developer for the Santa Barbara Plaza project in the Crenshaw district.

It was supposed to have been a model of urban renewal -- a mix of housing and classy stores to replace a decaying 20-acre shopping center at the foot of the affluent Baldwin Hills.

Being Human, Working, Writing Stories, Being Human

My weblog recently featured two posts that together speak to a perspective that I have been formulating over time regarding the Internet.

The first was from this weblog's blogroll Rough Type: Nicholas Carr's Blog: McLuhan's web - Diigo Annotated His blog post has all the links.

diigo tags: mcluhan, writing, storytelling, blogging, marketing
My column in today's Guardian looks at Marshall McLuhan's second life as a prophet of internet media. A couple of my references had to be cut from the column for space reasons.

According to Nicholas Carr, "Reading, to put it simply, is a lonely pursuit, while speech is a social one." So what does that make blogging? Carr talks about sacrificing our shared, tribal consciousness and became locked into private consciousness. I have to believe though that the rise of individualism, as it relates at least the cognitive ability that would later be applied to the specialization of jobs in factories, came before printed text. I would go so far to speculate that cognitive individualism gave rise to the need for the printing press.

Kevin Kelly, one of Wired’s original editors, suggests that what McLuhan “was really talking about was the Internet—two decades before it appeared.” Paul Levinson, in his book Digital McLuhan, argues that McLuhan’s ideas help explain the “dynamic of increased and enlightened human control” that characterizes “our digital age.”
The internet doesn’t really fit into McLuhan’s “hot” and “cool” dichotomy. It is, as Scott Rosenberg wrote back in 1995, a “lukewarm” medium. It encourages participation but it also sucks up our attention and dominates our senses. When we gaze into a computer screen, we tune out everything else.

Are we becoming part of an electronic tribe when we tune into the computer screen and tune out from everything else or are being confined to our own individualistic and to a great extent self-created web identities or is it a fusion of both.

That would depend on how we use the web to communicate because that is what the Internet basically is, a form, a medium for communications. Which raises the question, what is the purpose of that communication? That brings up the second post from Seth Godin.

Which comes first (why stories matter)
via Seth's Blog by Seth Godin on 4/1/08 Storywork
Most of the time we do the work. The work is our initiative and our reactions and our responses and our output. The work is the decisions we make and the people we hire.

The work is what people talk about, because it's what we experience. In other words, the work tells a story.

...if you decide what the story is, you can do work that matches the story. Your decisions will match the story. The story will become true because you're living it.

The story creates the work and the work creates the story.

It is both the work and the story that makes us human. The story more so, because it is what we use to connect with each other. There are different ways of telling the story and different means of telling the story. Millions have chosen the net and web 2.0 as the most viable means. The loss is when we stop telling our own story and let the machine define us rather than the other way around.

The Next Move Post Career

Work has a tendency to define the flow of our days. There will still be a day though when it is time to find other pursuits. So some time needs to be devoted every now and then to think about the future. The following website professes to offer a possible pathway for Baby Boomers.

Encore: Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life Diigo Annotated

diigo tags: encore, work, career, 50Aspire

Baby boomers are inventing a new stage of work. As their numbers swell, they are transforming work itself – and creating a society that works better for everyone.

So there is a pathway, but how do we move to it from the one we are on? Penelope Trunk, the Brazen Careerist offers Steps to figuring out your next career move.

For me, it is post career move, but I can still find some applicable points within her post with some revisions.

1. Eliminate stuff: Cross off your list opera singer, Chicago Cubs Owner - If it hasn't happened by now it is not going to. That leaves fun but even if it probably will never pay well it doesn't matter: working in local government - been there, done that, working in a nonprofit - has possibilities, being a travel writer - or maybe a blogger, but it would have to be far different from this one to make money.
2. Look at what’s left: risk-taker then entrepreneurship, not a risk-taker then corporate life, third option not-as-much-to-risk then maybe change-agent or social-entrepreneur.
3. Just because you love something doesn’t mean you need to get paid for it. Especially if you are retired.
4. Be honest about what you love. If you’re not making time to do it regularly unpaid, then you probably don’t love it. Well, there is eating and paying the mortgage and right now its the best job I can find that fits all of my parameters.
5. Admit if you lack a clear passion. OK, I lack clear passion or at least hot passion. I am a slow-simmer-the-spaghetti-sauce-all-day type.

6. Get busy. Doing anything. The best way to find yourself is to start doing things. When it comes to ourselves, we find by doing, not philosophizing. This weblog is a small start.
diigo tags: careerist

Choosing the next company you work for: Leverage research about how Gen Y is parenting via Brazen Careerist by Penelope Trunk from 3/28/08

The odds are working a post-career job will mean working with a different generation at the helm.


One of the hardest parts of managing your career is getting clear on what's most important to you in the work you do. And it's ironic that the true-but-clich├ęd exclamation from new parents – "the kids force me to see what is really important in my life" — comes after we have navigated a big chunk of our careers.

Your generation is never a perfect mirror of you, but it's usually fairly accurate. Otherwise people wouldn't continue to pay for the research, right? Well no, they can pay because they like what they hear. Like so many others, I claim to be the exception.

Parenting styles reveal one's true values, so reading this research is like giving yourself a jump-start on self-knowledge that usually comes after you've slogged through your twenties. Based on research about values that guide new millennium parenting, here are three things to seek out in new millennium work.

1. Look for good flow of information Generation Y sees information as a personal differentiator, as employees, having access to premium information in their field, and being able to share it in a productive way, is very important to feeling fulfilled.

I am not one of those Baby Boomers who think good advice comes only with age.

I have had my fill with offices that use "hierarchy as a way to make people feel useful and important."

2. Make sure you can customize your environment. In the workplace, customization is a must in order to feel like you are being recognized for your authentic self by co-workers

You won't feel like you are making an authentic connection with your workplace if the workplace does not make an effort to address what is different about you.

3. Surround yourself with people who have faith in the future. Gen Y deals with the uncertainty of the future by living more in the present.

In the workplace, these values play out in the quest for lifelong learning.

Make each day one where you learn and have fun because putting that off for some maybe-payoff (like making partner at a law firm, or getting a fat paycheck) will make you feel like you're not being true to yourself. This is all the more true when your "someday" days are now behind you.