Natural Scientists and Economics

by Don Boudreaux on April 18, 2011

in Cleaned by Capitalism, Complexity & Emergence, Curious Task, Economics, Environment, Science, Scientism

Commenting on this post, Notalawyer writes that he (or she) is seriously concerned about global warming especially because

many natural scientists consider this to be a serious and existential problem. Its [sic] entirely possible that global warming could open up more space for human habitation, crop growth etc. But most scientists believe it will have large detrimental effects.

While no one has more respect for the natural sciences than I do, I am not persuaded by Notalawyer’s reasoning.  Meteorologists, biologists, horticulturists, zoologists, physicists, entomologists, physicians, and other natural scientists are not economists.  (Each might well, and rightly, use as a pseudonym ‘NotanEconomist.’)

While there are some exceptions – Indur Goklany, for example – of natural scientists who understand economics, far too many of them see the world as posing physics or engineering problems rather than as posing economic ones.  The two problems are very different from each other.

And the economic way of thinking – studying economic history; pondering the role of entrepreneurship; reflecting on creative destruction; being attuned to the fact that so many social phenomena are the results of human action but not of human design; understanding the fact that market-determined prices both signal important information about resource availabilities and give consumers and producers incentives to change their actions in accordance with changes in resource availabilities – gives economists a different perspective from that of natural scientists on the range of likely economic consequences of climate change.  One manifestation of this different perspective offered by economics is that the prospect and possibilities of productive human creativity seem to be more readily grasped by the typical economist than by the typical natural scientist.

Natural-scientists’ track record on predicting the economic impact of environmental changes is poor – at least, this is my off-the-cuff sense.  Most famously, the scientist Paul Ehrlich has been consistently and magnificently mistaken about the effects of economic and population growth on human well-being.  Likewise, Jared Diamond, for all of his undoubted brilliance, fundamentally misconstrues the most basic features of globalization.  (See also here.)  So, too, the great E.O. Wilson (whose 1994 autobiography Naturalist, I enthusiastically add, is among the most enjoyable of that genre that I’ve ever read).

Albert Einstein – no slouch when it comes to science – was a terrible economist.

I don’t blame natural scientists for their frequent failures to grasp even basic economics.  Each of these scientists is a specialist in his or her own field.  It would be as out of place for me to criticize, say, a scientist who specializes in the study of ants for his poor grasp of economics as it would be for the ant-specialist scientist to criticize me for my poor grasp of the biology and behavior of ants.  The difference is that I don’t fancy that my expertise in economics equips me to speak with any authority at all on ant science or on other natural-science matters.


Here’s what my colleague Jim Buchanan wrote in December 1976:

The principle that exposure to economics should convey is that of the spontaneous coordination which the market achieves….

I recently talked with a prominent economist who mentioned that one of his colleagues had reported having several conversations with the then presidential candidate Jimmy Carter.  This colleague passed along his view that Carter was a “good systems analyst,” and my friend added, more or less as an afterthought, and “hence, a good economist.”  I very quickly and very emphatically put him straight, saying that nothing could be further from “the economic point of view,” properly interpreted, than that of the systems analyst.  Indeed, this is precisely my own fear about Carter, that he is, in fact, a good systems analyst without the remotest understanding of the principle of spontaneous order. [James M. Buchanan, What Should Economists Do? (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1979), pp. 81-82; original emphasis].

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Don April 18, 2011 at 4:34 pm

But Don, I know how to use money and I can balance my check book, therefore I must be an economist ;^).

A similar fallacy exists among non-programmers, that if you know how to write code, you MUST be a programmer. This explains why there’s so much bad software out there.

It’s also interesting that were you or I to pose as experts on rocket science, laymen would immediately call us on it, but with economics, this appears to NOT to be the case. A passing familiarity with what is assumed to be the topic at hand leads people to have far more confidence in their knowledge than is deserved, and if the opinion expressed is in line with their beliefs (rightly or wrongly), then they have no reason to question the person expressing it.

Seth April 18, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Our degree of confidence in our own knowledge and abilities in certain areas is often inversely related to the proportion of direct costs we assume for being wrong.

BZ April 19, 2011 at 9:43 am

Upon reflection, is that really so in this case? In my experience, most people don’t spout off random opinions on particle physics, chemistry, or anatomy; but defer to experts in such things. In matters of economics, EVERYONE knows price gouging is immoral, rent control helps the poor, and that Something needs to be done about outsourcing and the poor state of American manufacturing.

Seth April 19, 2011 at 11:18 am

Good points, hence my use of the words “certain” and “often” in my post.

Justin P April 19, 2011 at 12:43 pm

It happens in the Chemistry field a lot. People assume that a degree = knowledge in all parts of Chem. A lot of green analysts come in to my lab, thinking they are the dogs bollucks, only for a few months of on the Job to show them how little they really know. It’s more a function of real world experience than anything else. The more you work at something, the more you realize how little you know.
Most scientists don’t work at economics, so they naturally think they know everything about it.

Eric Hammer April 19, 2011 at 2:05 pm

There probably is a bit of a curve for that. At very low levels of knowledge most people probably realize they don’t know much of anything. Get them a bit more, from say magazines or a few college classes and they will think they know everything. A little farther along though and they realize there are areas of knowledge they are completely unaware of and quite possibly will never be able to master due to sheer volume.

Of course, I suspect that self reflection and feedback definitely affect the shape of the curve. Some people never realize they don’t know anything about a subject, even if they will say the words, and sometimes a lack of feedback will allow you to think and believe just about anything without finding out you are wrong.

Justin P April 20, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Feedback is the key, that’s what experience is, right?

WhiskeyJim April 19, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Umm. It doesn’t appear to have deterred Bernanke and the Keynesians in any way at all.

In fact, is there an example of Keynes that worked? I mean obviously worked without resorting to bad statistics. Conversely, I can think of a number of instances where they were horribly wrong.

Dan April 20, 2011 at 12:29 am

I am wonder if those employing Keynes really believe in the theory or find it politically expedient in it’s use. Like FDR, the funds are simply being used for patronage. I am not convinced that Bernanke has prioritized stability of dollar, which I understand, is one of the Feds main goals. Tightened monetary supply in a recession is not helpful, but I question intent and if the inflationary effects on world markets has marxists ecstatic and if now a box to check off as ‘accomplished’ for team Obama.

Frank33328 April 18, 2011 at 4:38 pm

But from an economic perspective, isn’t any environment cost an externality to the person/persons doing the (supposed) damage? Or at least mostly an externality. If so, isn’t it a moral/political question more so than just one of purely economics?

Don Boudreaux April 18, 2011 at 4:43 pm

The point is that the question is not strictly, or even principally, a scientific one. The very best article on this matter ever penned, in my humble opinion, is Carl Dahlman’s “The Problem of Externality,” in a 1979 issue of the Journal of Law & Economics.

Tom April 18, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Dahlman, Carl J. (1979). The Problem of Externality. Journal of Law and Economics, 22(1), pp. 141-162.

Justin P April 19, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Is there an electronic copy out there? Ungated of course.

Frank33328 April 19, 2011 at 1:35 pm
Justin P April 20, 2011 at 3:14 pm


WhiskeyJim April 19, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Stunning paper. Thank you for that. Always thought I was missing something when it came to the implications of Coase.

Frank33328 April 19, 2011 at 4:36 pm

From page 156, “What is involved is a value judgment, if you believe that markets internalize everything, you will believe that externalities do not exist; on the other hand, if you believe that markets do not internalize side effects, you will believe in the persistence of externalities as deviations from the attainable optimum. This is not science; it is metaphysics:” and “It is doubtful whether the term ‘externality’ has any meaningful interpretation, except as an indicator of the political beliefs and value judgments of the person who uses the term.”

Whoa… I would love to hear a podcast on this subject.

vikingvista April 19, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Can it be an externality, if nobody cares?

Darren April 18, 2011 at 5:56 pm

” The difference is that I don’t fancy that my expertise in economics equips me to speak with any authority at all on ant science or on other natural-science matters.”

But that doesn’t stop moron politicians to question global warmings existence. I’m sure there are many different ways to approach global warming and legitimate arguments about its severity but to deny it’s existence is tantamount to flipping the bird to the scientific community.

John Dewey April 18, 2011 at 6:27 pm

“But that doesn’t stop moron politicians to question global warmings existence.”

Given that the scientific community is asking politicians to interfere with the freedom of citizens, I think politicians have an obligation to “question” the basis for findings of those scientists.

“to deny it’s existence is tantamount to flipping the bird to the scientific community.”

Not all scientists believe that global warming is primarily caused by human activities. Not all scientists believe that global warming will be harmful. Not all scientists believe that the prescriptions of some scientists will have any appreciable impact on climate change. The “scientific community” you seem to believe is united in their beliefs are not united at all.

Dallas Weaver April 18, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Every field has its nut cases. I could even find economists who believe that spontaneous order (in both natural and economic systems) isn’t real and price information is irrelevant.

That very few working scientists (not PR activists who happen to claim to have a relevant scientific education) is relevant and a few nut cases are irrelevant. Just like in economics.

Don, I think you are confusing the environmental activists and their predictions with real working scientists, who seldom get headlines or make silly predictions. Many of the eNGO “scientists” haven’t practiced any real science since grad school and, now days, they may not even get any real science in grad school in fields like “environmental and social ecology”.

I always viewed engineering as natural sciences with a $ as another variable. Many engineers have a good understanding of both micro-economics and the natural sciences.

Justin P April 19, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Dallas excellent point about Engineers. Could it be because most “Activist” Scientists get their funding through the croony political process or from “activist” organizations, that they don’t really need to understand econ. While Engineers usually work for private groups and corporation so if they didn’t understand some econ they’d go broke?

JohnK April 19, 2011 at 8:09 am

“Given that the scientific community is asking politicians to interfere with the freedom of citizens”

Sometimes I wonder if the politicians are asking the scientific community to give them a reason to interfere with the freedom of citizens.

Are climate research scientists paid to find the causes of “climate change”, or to prove that politicians need to regulate every human activity?

John Dewey April 19, 2011 at 11:57 am

I think many environmental groups and scientists have become tools of the socialists. Here’s how Paul Magel decribes one prominent environmental advocacy group:

“The Bullitt Foundation, whose stated mission is “to protect, restore, and maintain the natural physical environment of the Pacific Northwest for present and future generations”, directs its grants almost exclusively to radical environmental organizations whose ultimate goal, as writer Michael Berliner explains, is “not clean air and clean water, rather . . . the demolition of technological/industrial civilization.” This philosophy is certainly aimed at using the environmental movement to further the group’s advocacy of destroying capitalist industry in favor of the establishment of socialism in the western nations.

John Dewey April 19, 2011 at 12:08 pm

“We’ve got to ride the global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing — in terms of economic socialism and environmental policy.”- Timothy Wirth, former U.S. Senator (D-Colorado), and current President of the United Nations Foundation and the Better World Fund

The mission of the United Nations Foundation includes these points:

• Leading work to develop the UN framework for the post-Kyoto climate negotiations through a close partnership with the UN’s leadership and retired heads of State throughout the world (The Club of Madrid);

• Advancing aggressive standards for energy efficiency in the U.S. and abroad with the U.S.-centered Energy Future Coalition

Justin P April 19, 2011 at 1:01 pm

It’s unfortunate that the MSM in this country won’t expose these guys for the two bit charlatans that they are. It’s not wonder the internet is the main source for information and the thorn in the side of the AGW cult. No wonder why they want to censor the information on the net. You can’t raise sheep if they are allowed to roam free right?

Dan April 20, 2011 at 12:39 am

Do they really believe socialism will be successful in egalitarianism or just in ensuring their control over the contemptible ignorant masses?

yet another Dave April 19, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Are climate research scientists paid to find the causes of “climate change”, or to prove that politicians need to regulate every human activity?

I’m not prone to see conspiracies in such things, but the incentives are clear enough. Politicians want to DO something, so they’ll happily pay “experts” to tell them they have to DO something. They won’t eagerly continue to pay those saying DON’T DO.

JohnK April 19, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Exactly my point. I’m not trying to tout some conspiracy. Conspiracies are hidden. This is a plain-as-day case of incentives at work.

yet another Dave April 20, 2011 at 10:34 am

John – We are in violent agreement, but maybe I should have been more clear. I didn’t think you were making a conspiracy point. I only mentioned that to make sure nobody took that meaning from me either.

Curt Doolittle April 18, 2011 at 7:39 pm

I monitor a number of climate blogs just for this reason. And innumeracy is endemic.

And regarding the issue of engineers versus economists: When a physical process is engineered, the problem is solved, and people USE the engineered solution because it provides everyone who uses it with a discount. The moment something in economics is engineered, everyone games the solution until it is subverted – such as creating a black market. Because every engineered solution in an economy introduces costs on someone who seeks to subvert it. (Think of what it cost to produce the institution of several property.)

However, we should be clear: innumeracy among members of the scientific community is rampant. And if you simply look at the work in the physical or social sciences by randomly picking out papers, you’ll see that we, in our field, are far more self conscious of logical errors than are the natural sciences.

Remember that the reason we made such progress in the physical sciences first, is primarily because it is much more SIMPLISTIC than economics. Hydrogen and oxygen will not refuse to make water at any given point because of animal spirits.

Harold Cockerill April 19, 2011 at 7:48 am

“Innumeracy is endemic”. I love that. I’m going to put that on a T shirt. My all time fovorite is the pledge to “Eschew Obfuscation”.

Scott Murphy April 19, 2011 at 12:14 pm

“When a physical process is engineered, the problem is solved, and people USE the engineered solution because it provides everyone who uses it with a discount.”

This is as much a simplified view of engineering as an engineer might create for an economic model. Most engineering problems are inverted. Design a system for this set of constraints. The system design is in constant flux. People find ways of doing it that make old system designs obsolete. It is no different than any other field.

Dan April 20, 2011 at 12:43 am

Wouldn’t, an education in the basics of economics for majority of the population neutralize much of the under handedness of crony economics?

Dr. T April 18, 2011 at 8:21 pm

“Notalawyer writes that he (or she) is seriously concerned about global warming especially because… many natural scientists consider this to be a serious and existential problem.”

It’s bad enough to argue by appeals to authority. It’s worse when the “authority” lacks knowledge of the issue. Polls of scientists on global warming tell us nothing except that too many scientists lack appropriate skepticism and accept conclusions without thoroughly reviewing the data and methodologies of the studies. (I’ve done both, and I was appalled by how bad the “science” was in the studies on CO2-related global warming and by how much the IPCC fudged its climate model to reach the desired “prediction” of Antarctic ice cap melting.)

Justin P April 19, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Don’t forget these are the same scientists that want to ban Dihydrogen Monoxide because it is one of the dangerous chemicals known to man.!

brotio April 19, 2011 at 11:09 pm


That’s one of my all-time favorites.

vikingvista April 18, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Modern biology is all about emergent order. There is no place for design in understanding biology, and biologists the world over have been making that point explicitly for over 100 years. So it isn’t that they don’t have a conceptual framework for thinking about emergent order. It’s that they choose not to.

muirgeo April 18, 2011 at 9:21 pm

(Meteorologists, biologists, horticulturists, zoologists, physicists, entomologists, physicians, and other natural scientists are not economists. (Each might well, and rightly, use as a pseudonym ‘NotanEconomist.’)

The meteorologist says increased energy in the atmosphere will cause more storms ( ie hundreds of tornados) and floods and fires ( Texas)
The biologist says loss of biodiversity could cost us potential resources.
The horticulturist suggest crop yields could suffer.
The zoologist suggest a sixth great extinction will ensue.
The physicists says the oceans will rise causing loss of costal areas and flooding of cities.
Physicians suggest pandemics and new diseases outbreaks could be a disaster.
The economist says… not to worry none of them are economist like me. The price mechanism will work everything out.

On what basis is the presumption made that economics is all that matters? Or that it somehow reigns supreme or has the most certainty.

An economy is the result of ALL the other professions working to make the real world livable and civil… they are ALL telling us to pay attention… Economist.. the economic profession for the most part completely missed predicting the current economic collapse. As a profession they have failed us miserably and maybe even impeded our progress by decades. They are the ones with the least credibility practicing a discipline that is the least certain and most divided and most politicized. They should be the LAST ones we trust for answers on how to approach our future. ESPECIALLY when they say the best plan is no plan at all. That’s NOT how we made it this far. If anything it’s a worldview that has massively hindered the progress of civil society.

tkwelge April 18, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Re read Don’s post. He never made the argument that economists are the only people that we should be paying attention to, nor did he make the argument that economists are more consistently “right” than non economists. In fact, Don has made the opposite argument. The point is that you cannot view economics and the natural sciences as being similar nor can you deny or ignore either discipline.

I like how leftists inevitably look for the “fight” in every argument or discussion. They’ll completely misread statements in order to find something to get angry about. Sigh…

Methinks1776 April 18, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Re read Don’s post.

Re-read Muirdiot’s post. Do you think re-reading Don’s post will do any good? Your post won’t enlighten that twit either.

W.E. Heasley April 18, 2011 at 10:45 pm


Ah yes! Another in a long series of twit sightings.

vidyohs April 19, 2011 at 6:24 am

muirduck is the only creature I have ever seen that can shoot itself in the foot over and over, feel no pain, and never take its finger off the trigger.

The duck can’t even read his own mewlings and make sense of them, much less read the words of Don, you, or I, and begin to understand them.

Muirpidity #1 the beginning of a long list of stupidities and one I hounded him for well over 18 months to address and explain:

All of these are stands alone stupidity. Context is not necessary to understand that the person who created these is mentally defective.
1. “The rising income discrepancy is what prevents people from obtaining affordable housing.”
Posted by: muirgeo Nov 2007

When he finally specifically tried to explain this is the idiocy we got:
18. It’s called Gentrification. It’s a well described social economic / market phenomenon.
” Rising housing costs in gentrifying districts may ensure that poor residents who do move leave the neighborhood, rather than settle elsewhere in it. Since their places usually are taken by more affluent, better educated people, the neighborhood’s character and demographics change.”
: the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents

Wasting time on muirduck is a waste.

Gil April 19, 2011 at 12:27 am

Au contraire! Free-market economists know best!

Ken April 19, 2011 at 12:39 pm


The point, Gil, that you assiduously remain purposefully ignorant of is that free market economists recognize how little they know. In particular, they recognize how little they know of others preferences or how other people will react in certain situations.

What free market economists do know is the limit of their ability and the limits of others (natural scientists) who claim to know other people’s preferences and reactions. Free market economists know that the best people to deal with a certain situation are the ones that know most about the problem and who are most directly affected by the outcome.

When talking about the affects of some scientific discovery or phenomena on other people’s reaction to it, these scientists have consistently been wrong. Very wrong. Many scientists have been pooh poohing the free market and economic progress for will over 5000 years, yet they have always proved wrong on the consequences.

In the mid-20 century we had close to 50 to 60 years of hand wringing over global cooling, then in the last 30-40 years we’ve had hand wringing over global warming. Now we’re experiencing hand wringing over climate change since the previous hand wringing has decisively been shown to be nothing more than bad for one’s hands.

Why does anyone (I mean you Gil) continue to listen to natural scientist’s opinions on the affects of whatever scientific discovery or phenomena on the economy?


Gil April 20, 2011 at 1:29 am

Hence free-market economists know best and everyone should listen to them!

Ken April 20, 2011 at 11:27 am


Scott Murphy April 19, 2011 at 12:52 pm

There are lots of similarities between econ and the natural sciences. One of them being, that complexity is often ignored in any system so that a simpler version of a problem can be solved.

Linearization through, localization, averaging, quasi-equilibrium and several other methods.

Great for natural science, and seemingly similar to be the tools of macro-econ.

tkwelge April 19, 2011 at 11:32 pm

“Linearization through, localization, averaging, quasi-equilibrium and several other methods.

Great for natural science, and seemingly similar to be the tools of macro-econ.”

Species and scientific principles tend to change very slowly over time if at all. Not to say that there aren’t species that do go through rapid changes for all sorts of reasons, but the core of natural science is based on studying things that tend not to change.

Macro-econ revolves around studying the actions of individuals whose own desire and logic change CONSTANTLY for an infinite number of reasons.

Scott Murphy April 20, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Scientific principles aren’t the systems studied though. They are what describe the systems studied. The principles of econ also change slowly.

Natural systems are also very complex (in most cases) and most change quickly. Most of what science has been, is finding the rare cases when the systems are finally simple enough (for some sample space) to analyze with the above tools. I was pointing out that this is similar to what macro econ does with GDP, GNP, and the other cumbersome and inaccurate tools of aggregation.

Dan April 19, 2011 at 11:55 pm

At least, the intentional misrepresentations of your statements allow you to refine and become even better at articulating. Or, you become better at convincing.

Dan April 20, 2011 at 12:59 am

Ice age by 2020


Lowered north pole ice caps and no significant increase in the south pole

X-flu will become pandemic and cause thousand and thousands of deaths

Crop yield will suffer so have no worries about the increase usage of corn ethanol or govt policy to discourage crop yields

All are errors by the professional know-it-alls in their respective fields.

By the way, economists had rung the warning bell, but MSM shut them out, and politicians looked the other way.

crossofcrimson April 20, 2011 at 10:06 am

“the economic profession for the most part completely missed predicting the current economic collapse.”

And meteorologists almost ubiquitously miss out on predicting large weather events before they actually start happening. It’s largely because weather systems are notoriously chaotic – with order emerging on an ever-changing basis, dependent upon countless variables. Their notorious inability to accurately predict such events does not negate the insight they have regarding how and why certain things happen.

It sounds very close to the precarious nature of another profession…

Emerson White April 18, 2011 at 9:26 pm

I came to economics from biology, and I think that you are selling biologist short. While economists might be better equipped to look at how resources will be reallocated for humans to adapt to the conditions involved in a changing climate biologists, especially ecologists, are better equipped to look at the way in which ecosystems will change and species will be endangered.

tkwelge April 18, 2011 at 10:21 pm

I think that Don’s point is that you need both, because both economists and natural scientists contribute important, but incomplete.

Daniel Kuehn April 19, 2011 at 8:14 am

Perhaps he’s commenting on the irony that so many economists are willing to second guess the climate science but then get upset when ecologists and others do the same.

I agree with Don on what economists contribute, but for precisely the same reasons I get a headache from all the second guessing of people that know the climate data considerably better.

Methinks1776 April 19, 2011 at 9:36 am

And I get a headache from all those who think we must submit to the guesses of economists and/or hard scientists – educated though they may be.

I recall in the 1970′s we were headed toward a new ice age and the plan was to melt the ice caps. I know we have better computers, models, etc. now. But, in the 1970′s we had better models and computers than in 1900 and in 2050 they will be better still.

WhiskeyJim April 19, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Don’t forget Eugenics.

There is not a computer system on the face of the earth powerful enough to model the complex system that is the atmosphere, assuming we even knew all the variables.

That all climate models are performing worse than chance is quite damning, since it means there are false assumptions somewhere. Hmmm. I wonder what they could be.

JohnK April 19, 2011 at 9:16 pm

“There is not a computer system on the face of the earth powerful enough to model the complex system that is the atmosphere, assuming we even knew all the variables.”

There is not a computer programmer or team of computer programmers capable of that feat.

Computers to not make mistakes. All they do is add 1 and 1 and get 10, or some other form of binary math. Computers do exactly what the programmer tells them to do.

It’s the programmers who make mistakes.

A computer program is only as good as the programmer, and since all programmers are human and all humans are fallible… you get the drift.

yet another Dave April 19, 2011 at 11:38 am

Scientifically literate people with brains get headaches from all the nitwits criticizing those who second guess sloppy climate “science” because we don’t just blindly accept the statements of “people that know the climate data considerably better.”

Danny, if you don’t want to study the issue, or don’t have the knowledge (or time) to do so, fine. But if that’s the case, to decide one group of “experts” is correct and disregard those who’ve reached different conclusions is a really dumb position to take.

Justin P April 19, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Even smart people make stupid mistakes.

tkwelge April 19, 2011 at 11:37 pm

“While economists might be better equipped to look at how resources will be reallocated for humans to adapt to the conditions involved in a changing climate biologists, especially ecologists, are better equipped to look at the way in which ecosystems will change and species will be endangered.”

Emerson White accused Don of “selling biologists short” and this was his explanation. Don never made any statement selling biologists short nor did he argue that we shouldn’t listen to the scientists about the science.

You bring up something completely unrelated to the conversation.

Dan April 20, 2011 at 12:02 am

If only the feigned ‘concerns’ of climate change, a.k.a global warming, were not politically motivated with the promise of billions in grants and funding or to enrich well-connected businesses that have already made huge investments into products that will benefit from the imminent regulations to follow.

tkwelge April 19, 2011 at 11:33 pm

Crap, this was supposed to go under another comment. WHoops.

tkwelge April 19, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Actually, my last post should be ignored. Where the hell is that edit button.

SheetWise April 18, 2011 at 10:55 pm

“… especially ecologists, are better equipped to look at the way in which ecosystems will change and species will be endangered.”

Be endangered … or thrive! Or, something else will thrive because of their efforts to save what is endangered, which will endanger something else — you get the point. It seems some people must believe that what now exists has to be the best balance. Neither their record of prediction, or their data sets are remarkable or convincing.

W.E. Heasley April 18, 2011 at 9:28 pm

“…the historically important central puzzle of economics was to explain how independently acting people in an unplanned decentralized, private ownership economic system allocate their resources and, in particular, to explain how it is that the uses they seem to make of resources seem to be well coordinated”. – Harold Demsetz

Scott G April 18, 2011 at 11:00 pm

E.O. Wilson’s autobiography (Naturalist) is one of my favorite in that genre also. I was so inspired to become a scientist after reading it. 3/4 of the way through my PhD preliminary examination studies in optical sciences produced a revelation in me however that I prefer some combination of history, economics and political science. 3 months later I dropped out of my graduate program and have been studying economics as a hobby for the past 2 years.

Dan April 20, 2011 at 1:03 am

Interesting. Just couldn’t let go of the economics to stay focused on your first goal?

Andrew_M_Garland April 18, 2011 at 11:46 pm

“AGW Science” has lost its credibility because it is not Science. It is a religion that has adopted a scientific tone, using equations and graphs, but based on selective date cooked through handcrafted computer programs.
The Difference between ‘True Science’ and ‘Cargo-Cult Science’
07/27/10 – pajamasmedia by Frank J. Tipler

The great Nobel Prize particle physicist Richard Feynman defined science this way, in extra large type, in his article “What is Science?”

Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts

Feynman: “When someone says, ‘Science teaches such and such,’ he is using the word incorrectly. Science doesn’t teach anything; experience teaches it. If they say to you, ‘Science has shown such and such,’ you should ask, ‘How does science show it? How did the scientists find out? How? What? Where?’ It should not be ‘science has shown.’ And you have as much right as anyone else, upon hearing about the experiments and after hearing all the evidence, to judge whether a sensible conclusion has been arrived at.”

Feynman also observed that real science was a method for discovering facts about our world, and required bending over backwards not to fool others, and especially not to fool oneself. He said it was particularly easy to fool oneself, and so required the greatest dilligence, openness, and invitation to disproof to avoid being that fool.

- -
From the National Review article ->
The Dog Ate My Global Warming Data

Phil Jones and Tom Wigley authored the first comprehensive history of surface temperature, in the early 1980′s. They worked at the United Kingdom’s University of East Anglia, Climate Research Unit. Their paper served as the primary reference for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) until 2007. It supported the IPCC claim of a “discernible human influence on global climate”, a warming of 0.6° ± 0.2°C in the 20th century.

Jones and Wigley used data from ground weather stations not designed to monitor long term trends. Many stations were placed near trees, in parking lots, and near heat vents. Changing urban settings surely biased readings. They modified the temperature data before using it in climate models. But, Jones and Wigley did not report their original data or how thay had modified it.

The Australian scientist Warwick Hughes wondered where the error estimate of “± 0.2°” came from. He wrote Phil Jones in early 2005, politely asking for the original data.

Jones responded “We have 25 years or so invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?”

SheetWise April 18, 2011 at 11:57 pm

“Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?”

That’s classic.

Krishnan April 19, 2011 at 10:10 am

Signal from someone who has commited fraud. Asking someone, anyone to “believe me and my analysis because I am a scientist and have data but will not show it to you” is a sign that the person is neither a scientist NOR has any data supporting his/her claim

yet another Dave April 19, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Jones responded “We have 25 years or so invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?”

And these are the people we shouldn’t second guess because they “know the climate data considerably better.”

KD April 19, 2011 at 12:52 am

Stephen Hawking is probably the most brilliant mind the world has known since Albert Einstein, but he is such a person who is prone to making silly statements about the fate of humanity when he says that Man needs to begin colonizing space because Earth will soon be doomed.

While I was taking a calculus course at a community college a few years back, the teacher presented a graph of the human population over the next. I had to raise my hand and point out that humans do have an upper limit as to how long they…umm…I mean we can actually live and also that as incomes rise, birth rates decline. Her response was “Hmm. Interesting point.” That’s academic speak for “What a jerk!”

KD April 19, 2011 at 12:54 am

“…over the next several decades.”

Silly typing mistake on my part.

SPE April 19, 2011 at 8:54 am

Paul Krugman – no slouch when it comes to economics– is a terrible economist.

Dan April 20, 2011 at 1:09 am


Far more knowledgable than I will ever know. Most here have me at a disadvantage, but Krugman has gone into the world of allowing politics and stats to cloud his judgement, if ever he adhered to non- theoretical economics.

Philip George April 19, 2011 at 9:38 am

Nice line: Albert Einstein — no slouch when it comes to science

Preston Speed April 19, 2011 at 10:01 am

I have found that AGW alarmism and macroeconomics have the same shortcoming. Both study extraordinarily complex multi-variable systems and attempt to isolate the effects of single variables. But in each system, there is only one reality – there are no “control” systems for comparison.

Did the Stimulus Bill give a jolt to the US economy at large? It did indeed have a primary effect – the companies receiving monies were indeed stimulated.

Does additional CO2 in the atmosphere warm the planet? It does indeed have a primary effect, as more terrestrial radiation is absorbed/re-radiated in the select frequencies that CO2 can absorb.

The primary effects can be measured scientifically. The important question, however, is how to measure the TOTAL aggregate effect: primary, secondary, tertiary, etc. This question, unfortunately, is often answered using the political (not scientific) method.

Beyond the stimulus, was there a Keynesian multiplier effect that reverberated through the US Economy? Or did the opportunity cost of the stimulus (more uncertainly, reduced private capital) outweigh any potential gains?

Beyond CO2-induced warming, does the Earth’s climate system amplify the primary forcing through positive feedbacks (more water vapor, reduced ice-cap albedo) – or do negative feedbacks dominate (increased cloud cover, increased convection)? Scientists simplify the Earth’s response to forcings to a multiplier called “climate sensitivity.”

Is the Keynesian multiplier (climate sensitivity) large or small? Is it positive or negative? The lack of scientific answers is why these questions are bouncing around the political arena.

Krishnan April 19, 2011 at 10:07 am

Not ALL “natural scientists” believe in the Al Gore/James Hansen theory of the “man caused disaster” named “Global Warming” (which has morphed into “Climate Change”).

For an alternate view of global temperature data, climate/rainfall, CO2 levels and a different perspective, I recommend reading Roy Spencer’s Book “Climate Confusion” (Roy Spencer by the way is a “natural scientist” with a PhD – worked at NASA/Marshall and has collaborated with John Christy (also a PhD) (Christy was (may still be) a member of the IPCC that got that “Nobel Prize” – Spencer and Christy’s take on “Global Warming” is not what you may read in the main stream media … ( is a good place to start and the many blogs linked by Matt Ridley in

JohnK April 19, 2011 at 10:32 am
muirgeo April 19, 2011 at 10:44 am

Spontaneous order….. sounds a little like the pre-Darwinian spontaneous regeneration.

No we definitely need to order the basics of our economy…. it doesn’t arise spontaneously from dead meat. My mantra… policy matters.

JohnK April 19, 2011 at 11:00 am

You know, you’ve got a point.

If there were no carefully written government policies regarding the buying and selling of goods over the internet, then it would be utter chaos.

Except that those policies don’t exist. The internet is an unregulated economy.

Never mind.

Ryan Vann April 19, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Not for long though. Government will soon come to rescue and fix the unbroken.

JohnK April 19, 2011 at 9:04 pm

And the muirdiot will believe that it was all centrally planned and designed by the politician who just ran up to the front of the parade and pretended to be leading it all along.

Arcaster April 19, 2011 at 11:13 am

You’re right, it “doesn’t arise spontaneously from dead meat.” It arises from from individuals acting in their own self-interest. Why do you want to intervene in mutually beneficial trades between people?

Dan April 20, 2011 at 1:16 am

Does a mutual exchange of wants require govt establishing an order?

Scott Murphy April 19, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I have done work in machine learning and random signal processing. That is what caused me to become more interested in economics. This kind of scientific field is much closer to econ. than most. Also, it is starting to permeate other sciences as a means of solving complex design problems.

Here is another question, why do so many ppl who have faith in free markets, discount evolution or vice versa.

Both are emergent systems based on competition.

Ryan Vann April 19, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Might be loaded question, with false premises, but one hang up might be a distinction between sentient actors in market complexity and assumedly non-sentient matter involved in organic complexity. Just a stab in the dark, as I’m not one of the people you outlined.

Kurlos April 20, 2011 at 1:21 am

What do you mean “faith” in free-markets? How much more evidence could there be?

Scott Murphy April 20, 2011 at 9:26 am

“What do you mean “faith” in free-markets? How much more evidence could there be?”

Having faith in something doesn’t require there to NOT be evidence.

I have faith in my brakes because they have always worked in the past.

Harold Cockerill April 19, 2011 at 4:31 pm

The evidence that the planet has warmed is all around us. The evidence that man is responsible for at least some of this warming may exist. The evidence that government is capable of doing something about global warming doesn’t exist.

Dan April 20, 2011 at 1:22 am

Is there evidence that cyclical warming and cooling trends are non-existent ? We have only been keeping temp records and other specifics for just over one hundred years. How can it possibly be concluded that any recent changes to avg. (based on one hundred years of the Millions and millions of years) climate are defying the millions and millions of years of our constantly changing earth?

yet another Dave April 20, 2011 at 10:46 am

Is there evidence that cyclical warming and cooling trends are non-existent?

Very much the opposite (although the old temperature data are all based on proxies of some sort). For example, the third graph down here supports the conclusion that current warming is very much normal for our planet.

yet another Dave April 20, 2011 at 11:05 am

trying again for the link:

I add my voice to the choir seeking an edit button…

Dan April 21, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Not to mention what ‘average’ means………

Mr. Econotarian April 19, 2011 at 8:07 pm

Einstein’s essay is very odd. Near the end, he argues:

“A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. ”

But starts:

“we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems”

So in other words, scientific method can’t solve human problems, but hey, let’s try to use science to plan every aspect of our whole economy.

His very last statement: “Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?”

It turns out, it can’t, and this has been proven by example after example.

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