Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mathematical masturbation over calculus porn will grow hair on your palms

I'm not an economist, but I certainly feel this is how psychology works. The author, an economist, argues:
I am shocked at the behavior of my fellow economists during this (financial) crisis. They are claiming to know much more than they do about causes and solutions. Rather than trying to understand and explain what is going on, they are engaged in a fierce battle over narrative.
He suggests a flaw with economics is that it focuses more on math models than useful statistics and research, with the following point (worded just wonderfully):
the economics profession for the past thirty years (has) focused on producing stochastic calculus porn to satisfy young men's urge for mathematical masturbation.
I see a similar flaw in psychology. As much as I love statistics, a lot of psychology statistics do seem to be mathematical masturbation (which might be great if you're trying to finish a dissertation by wowing your committee with stats, but potentially not so great for really learning important things). More importantly, whenever there is a crisis where psychology expertise might be involved, we're brilliant at claiming to know more than we do about causes and solutions. The author's last sentence could easily apply to psychologists following any school shooting or terrorist attack:
(Psychologists) ought to admit that we do not know much about what is going on today...Of course, the market demand is for "strong" leaders and for "strong" (psychologists), who can fool the public into believing that they have great knowledge. The ones who do this best are those who have fooled themselves.

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