Here is a link to the very fascinating New Yorker article, “The Truth Wears Off” about the problem known as “the decline effect.” In short, it’s an increasingly common phenomenon reducing the repeatability of scientific experiments of all sorts. I read this last week and was reminded of a meta study on the VERY questionable efficacy of many (if not most) psychiatric drugs. A Newsweek article on the study is here. Then I just came across this piece at bloomberg.com (h/t Naked Capitalism links) about the continued use of fusion surgery for back problems, a procedure that seems to have little to recommend it other than generating massive billing for the hospitals and surgeons involved (the use of the procedure has doubled from 2002 to 2008).
This all perhaps points to the reasons that so many even basic concepts in economics seem to be about as easy to pin down as a tarp in a hurricane. Namely:
– Straight greed (see this video clip from the fantastic documentary “Inside Job” for how many “studies” by PHD economists are straight paid PR work)
– Peoples’ inabilities to simply admit they were wrong. The older I get and the more I learn, the more I realize how primal and intense this human flaw is. Discussed in the New Yorker article, this is also something almost anyone can relate to.
– The incredibly anomaly-ridden real world we live in. Reading how many intensely controlled experiments with basic behavioral science on mice and whatnot still show a ridiculous lack of correlation just makes one laugh at the idea that some economist can say that some event X proves that some theory Y is wrong (i.e. “Stagflation in the 70s proved Keynes was wrong” etc. etc. etc.)
Taken together, all this certainly points economics back in the direction of philosophy rather than further down the road of quasi-science.