What Is the Most Misunderstood Idea Ever?

Longtime friend of Dispatches Ron Brown asks an interesting question at his blog: What is the most misunderstood idea of all time? He offers an initial suggestion that the most misunderstood is Descartes’ famous statement cogito ergo sum, but I think his second idea is even more misunderstood:

* That evolution is driven by random chance. While genetic mutations occur at random, natural selection is the exact opposite of randomness.

* That evolutionary theory or Darwin himself ever argued for eugenics. Evolution is a theory of what is, not what ought. Further, in On The Origin of Species, Darwin specifically spoke against human eugenics.

There are so many misconceptions of what evolutionary theory means or requires that I would nominate this as the clear leader for the most misunderstood idea ever. Very few people understand what the theory of evolution is, what it entails or how it happened. How often do you hear people ask, “If we evolved from apes (or worse, monkeys), why are there still apes?” Anyone asking that question doesn’t have the first clue how evolution works, yet it is staggeringly common. There are more myths and false perceptions of evolution than any other idea I can think of.

61 comments on this post.
  1. rturpin:

    Quantum mechanics.

  2. michaeld:

    Quantum probably deserves a mention….

  3. StevoR, fallible human being:

    @ ^ rturpin : Well quantum physics is legitimately weird and metaphorically very hard to wrap you head around!

    Sadly I feel like I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to this particular category..

  4. jamessweet:

    * That evolution is driven by random chance. While genetic mutations occur at random, natural selection is the exact opposite of randomness.

    I’ve gotta think that a nearly as common misconception is laypeople who are unwitting hyper-adaptationists, UNDER emphasizing the role of chance in evolution. In the same vein is the idea that evolution is some sort of progression towards a pinnacle of progress — in fact, that misunderstanding is so entrenched that it has changed our language, giving us the expression “more evolved”. Which, if you parse it literally, is an incredibly silly thing to say. :D

  5. peterh:

    Trying to discuss evolution while neglecting and/or refusing to abandon theistic notions is a hole down which much sand has been poured.

  6. nigelTheBold, just some guy on the internet:

    I’d say the idea of science is misunderstood. You’ve got layfolk (and some scientists, even) who don’t grasp that knowledge is contingent on reality, and not the other way ’round. That’s why you get shysters like Ken Ham patiently explaining that he uses science — he just interprets the data differently. As if reality needs an interpreter.

    If I had a nickel for every time I’ve attempted to correct someone’s misunderstanding of how science works, I’d probably have a couple of hundred bucks. Or, I would’ve spent it all on beer. So I nominate science to the island of misunderstood ideas.

    Oh, and that whole wands/allegiance thing in Harry Potter.

  7. raven:

    “If we evolved from apes (or worse, monkeys), why are there still apes?”

    If Protestants evolved from Catholics, then why are there still Catholics.

  8. dingojack:

    String Theory?
    Dingo

  9. slc1:

    I would have to agree with commenter #1. Quantum Mechanics is the most misunderstood concept, mainly because nobody understands it. A few quotes:

    Richard Feynman: If you think you understand quantum mechanics, then you don’t understand quantum mechanics.

    Steven Weinberg: Quantum mechanics is a preposterous theory which, unfortunately, appears to be correct.

    Lawrence Krauss: Nobody understands quantum mechanics.

  10. Marcus Ranum:

    Magnets. How do they work?

    I’d say economics is more misunderstood than quantum mechanics. I mean, even Deepak Chopra can understand QM…

  11. Reginald Selkirk:

    One vote against quantum mechanics. Nobody understands it, but most people realize that they don’t understand it. The best contenders will be ideas that a lot of people think they understand, but are mistaken.

  12. dingojack:

    Tides.
    Tides go in, tides go out*,… you can’t explain that!
    Dingo
    ——-
    * the tides play pinochle on your snout

  13. concernedjoe:

    I’d add re: Evolution the popular (miss) attribution of superiority via strength, selfishness, and roughness to fitness as in “survival of fittest”.

    Dangerous because In that mindset the importance of intra and inter species cooperation, and diversity, as primer survival drivers and enablers is minimized or lost in the discussion.

    Thus the erroneous attribution gives an appealing (but wrong) foundation to things like eugenics and unbridled Capitalism.

  14. rturpin:

    Economics is an interesting candidate. For it, there’s the fact that most people aren’t much interested in it, and pretend not only interest but expertise as part of political argument. Against it, is that it isn’t really an idea, but a field. One might propose, say, comparative advantage, as a frequently misunderstood idea. And it is. But most people wouldn’t know it from Adam’s off ox, which isn’t misunderstanding, just ignorance. Of course, the same is true for quantum mechanics.

  15. nigelTheBold, just some guy on the internet:

    Reginald Selkirk:

    One vote against quantum mechanics. Nobody understands it, but most people realize that they don’t understand it.

    +1. I was going to write almost exactly this. We have a well-defined ignorance concerning QM, and most folks who claim to understand it do so with full knowledge of that ignorance.

    That is, except for those modern-day snake-oil salesmen like Chopra. I suspect for the most part they don’t think they really understand it. I suspect they use it as a metasyntactic variable, like God. I think to them, it’s just WD-40 on the gears of their money-making machine.

  16. dobby:

    Science is probably the most misunderstood idea. Most people have no idea what a scientific theory is. They think it is anything from just a hypothesis to a step on the way to a scientific law.

  17. Reginald Selkirk:

    Unfortunately, many of the people who misunderstand economics are economists.

  18. sqlrob:

    That first statement makes me think that randomness is the most misunderstood. Random != equal probability.

    How is natural selection not random? Yes, less fit is less likely to reproduce and more fit is more likely. If a lion chases an antelope herd, is it always, without exception, going to get the least fit?

    Randomness does not imply unpredictability of a system (see: Evolution, Statistical Mechanics, Radioactive Decay, Gas Law…), and determinism doesn’t imply predictability (see: “Free” Will, n-body problem)

  19. raven:

    Economics is an interesting candidate.

    For sure, very widely unknown and ignored.

    It isn’t taught in high school, and there isn’t any consensus. For every 4 economists, you always get 5 different opinions.

    I’ve been reading economics lately and gone from an idiot to an tyro amateur economist. A lot of people in my cohort are starting to do it.

    With the Great Recession and the Bush Lost Generation, it has become necessary for our continued well being. Bush slaughtered tens of millions of 401(K) plans and an autopsy was indicated.

  20. vmanis1:

    Some slot machines in a casino are `lucky’, while others aren’t.

    More generally, probability and statistics.

  21. neonsequitur:

    Can I nominate feminism?

  22. raven:

    Economics is an interesting candidate.

    I haven’t seen any indication that the GOP/Tea Party understands basic economics.

    Bush cut taxes, increased spending wildly, and started two expensive wars. It was a disaster.

    Darth Cheney: “Deficits don’t matter.”

    Romney/Ryan never presented an economic plan. It was always so vague you would have to guess. Either they didn’t have one or it was so cuckoo, anyone sane would have been horrified. This would have been no big deal if they were running for dogcatcher. But they were running for the leadership of the USA.

    The current group in congress wanted to increase taxes and cut spending during a recession hangover. The so called recovery is barely happening and fragile. Several times since 2008, the economy seemed to be on the way to recovery and then drop back.

  23. Reginald Selkirk:

    The biggest problem with modern macro(economics)…

    by Cullen Roche
    … But any progress that’s been made shouldn’t completely overshadow the major problem at the heart of macroeconomics – political ideology.
    ….
    Most economists don’t build their models around an understanding of the monetary system. They build their understanding of the system to fit an ideology in a classic case of confirmation bias…

  24. Subtract Hominem:

    · The difference between socialism and communism.

    · For that matter, the tenets of various styles of socialism and communism themselves. And fascism, while I’m at it.

    · Free markets.

    · “Misogyny,” “Homophobia,” etc. and how they don’t have to literally be hateful or fearful if the effect of a person’s (or society’s) behaviors is indistinguishable from one holding those emotions.

    · Fuckin’ magnets (how do they work?)

  25. gingerbaker:

    Misunderstanding of evolution doesn’t rear its ugly head in the circles I travel, but misunderstanding of the placebo effect seems to run rampant.

    If I hear another “Why not allow people to use a therapy that helps them, even if it IS a placebo?” I may scream.

  26. Jane Roe:

    How about Christian ideas misunderstood by Christians? To wit:

    1. The Second Coming. When Jesus said he would return on clouds of glory to judge the earth, and that he would do so within the lifetime of those present, he meant it all literally. It didn’t happen, ergo Jesus was not God.

    2, The Virgin Birth. Biblical scholarship has established that the virgin birth is based on a mistranslation of Isaiah 7:14.

    If these ideas were universally properly understood, there would be no more fundies.

  27. Michael Heath:

    raven writes:

    For every 4 economists, you always get 5 different opinions.

    Thank-you for providing an illustration supportive on how economic theories are the most misunderstood ideas.

  28. Michael Heath:

    rturpin writes:

    Economics is an interesting candidate. For it, there’s the fact that most people aren’t much interested in it, and pretend not only interest but expertise as part of political argument. Against it, is that it isn’t really an idea, but a field.

    I started out in college as an econ major and while I always found my classes fascinating, switched to a degree in management though I continued to take more econ electives than necessary. One observation I made attending econ classes was how so many non-econ majors hated their economics classes; to the point they’d go out of their way to exclaim how much they despised the topic. The only other topic business majors took which rose to this level of ire was statistics, another topic I thoroughly enjoyed.

    I attempted to google a relatively recent thread in Ed’s blog of heddle mischaracterizing economics in order to balance raven’s misrepresentation of economists from the left with a standard-issue right-wing misrepresentation. For some reason I couldn’t find that thread. The topic there was my pointing out that Republicans couldn’t justify voting for Mitt Romney based on economic concerns since Romney didn’t run on economic principles but instead talking points, many of which were based on premises falsified by the evidence economists collect.

  29. Michael Heath:

    Reginald Selkirk quoting Cullen Roche:

    Most economists don’t build their models around an understanding of the monetary system. They build their understanding of the system to fit an ideology in a classic case of confirmation bias

    Citation empirically validating this factual assertion. Just because some guy said it doesn’t make it true.

    I don’t think economic ideas are the most misunderstood ideas. However if this up-thread was our only evidence that assertion would have to win me over.

  30. matty1:

    I don’t know if RTupin has read the original blog and is having fun with us or not but the first rule Mr Brown gives is

    Be specific. Avoid broad concepts like “God” or “Quantum physics”. What about God or quantum physics has been misapprehended?

    Being specific would probably also rule out economics and evolution as a broad field (as opposed to the specific examples he gives).

  31. Ron Rown:

    Hi Ed,

    Thanks for the favourable link :)

    I think I’ve been swayed. Evolution it is. Especially the random-vs-selection misunderstanding. Another misunderstood part of it that I could have included in the blog post was are the inter-related ideas that evolution is goal-directed, that over-time it progresses, and that humanity was the ultimate goal.

  32. Michael Heath:

    I think the most misunderstood premise is that of a confidently held scientific consensus. I don’t think most people realize the overwhelming weight of evidence coupled to the falsification of competing hypotheses which are typically present when scientists confidently concur.

    I find it disconcerting when authoritarians and other denialists who hold conclusions contrary to what science understands are presented with such evidence. Their typical reactions reveals the worst of human thinking.

  33. D. C. Sessions:

    While genetic mutations occur at random, natural selection is the exact opposite of randomness.

    Not quite “exact.” There’s a good bit of “whatever works” in selection, and especially with regard to sexual selection that can come down to a lot of randomness too.

  34. Modusoperandi:

    Michael Heath “I started out in college as an econ major and while I always found my classes fascinating, switched to a degree in management though I continued to take more econ electives than necessary. One observation I made attending econ classes was how so many non-econ majors hated their economics classes; to the point they’d go out of their way to exclaim how much they despised the topic. The only other topic business majors took which rose to this level of ire was statistics, another topic I thoroughly enjoyed.”
    I wanna party with you, man!

  35. chrisbryant:

    I was just positive that this was going to be about eugenics.

  36. Sastra:

    Ron Brown’s own candidate for Most Misunderstood Idea Ever was Descartes’ cogito ergo sum? That puzzled me, so I had to go there and read what he thinks I have been misunderstanding.

    No. I’m fine. Apparently the main thing I misunderstood was the fact that this phrase has been picked up by ‘feel-good pop psychology’ and translated into a version of “follow your dreams.” Really? Wow. That’s some misunderstanding, all right.

    I’ll also vote with Ed and others for the evolutionary misapprehensions — though I suppose I could suggest Constitutional Democracy: this idea does not mean “majority rules.”

  37. jws1:

    I think the Cogito is misunderstood. It’s a fantastic political, philosophical and ethical insult. It’s a shot across the bow of those who start from a position of 100% certainty, rather than an honest ambiguity.

  38. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven:

    the expression “more evolved”. Which, if you parse it literally, is an incredibly silly thing to say. :D

    It makes perfect sense as my Human Evolutionary Biology professor explained it, as an expression of phenotype divergence from the ancestral or typical phenotype for a group. By this standard, the most evolved primate is the aye-aye.

  39. andrewlephong:

    That first statement makes me think that randomness is the most misunderstood. Random != equal probability.

    How is natural selection not random? Yes, less fit is less likely to reproduce and more fit is more likely. If a lion chases an antelope herd, is it always, without exception, going to get the least fit?

    Randomness does not imply unpredictability of a system (see: Evolution, Statistical Mechanics, Radioactive Decay, Gas Law…), and determinism doesn’t imply predictability (see: “Free” Will, n-body problem)

    I agree. I think it is defensible to characterize natural selection as random, for certain definitions of random. Furthermore, it’s debatable how much of a role genetic drift plays in fixing random mutations vs. the role of natural selection, and genetic drift would qualify for random under most people’s definitions of what random is.

    I think the reason some people insist evolution isn’t random probably has to do with them seeing Creationists/IDers coming up with bizarre (im)probability calculations that rest on assumptions of equal probability, e.g. that the odds of a particular 100 amino acid protein sequence evolving is 1/20^100, as though all such possible sequences are equally probable. People will note that there is some faulty assumption here, and then just say it must be the assumption of randomness that is faulty.

  40. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven:

    though I suppose I could suggest Constitutional Democracy: this idea does not mean “majority rules.”

    But no one really misunderstands this; the people who loudly proclaim it when they’re in the majority suddenly develop a passionate fondness for the opposite when they wind up in the minority on something.

  41. tbp1:

    Off on a slight tangent—how about most misunderstood book? I’d nominate Animal Farm.

  42. Michael Heath:

    Azkyroth writes:

    . . . the people who loudly proclaim (constitutional democracy) when they’re in the majority suddenly develop a passionate fondness for the opposite when they wind up in the minority on something.

    Given, ‘the people, I observe doing this are predominately conservative Christians, I’m confident they’re oblivious they’re to their inconsistently. I think they’re instead thinking and arguing in the moment in a manner equivalent to how they practice cafeteria Christianity.

    One of the ironies of the past couple of decades is how contemporaneous voters who most emulate the thinking of the uneducated lower socio-economic classes, i.e., thinking in the present with little thought of the past or future, have become the most important voting base supporting the current plutocratic agenda.

  43. Michael Heath:

    tbp1 writes:

    . . . how about most misunderstood book? I’d nominate Animal Farm.

    While we’re treating this format in a qualitative manner, I’d argue either that or as a factual assertion would result in the Bible being revealed as the most misunderstood book. Starting with its most ardent champions.

  44. jnorris:

    From 2000 years ago: all that Jesus is Love stuff is totally misunderstood. Especially we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. the world’s battlefields are stained red from all that Christian brotherly love.

  45. Homo Straminus:

    Not quite in the same vein, but I’d nominate the idea every generation of humanity has had, ever, that the world was going to hell in a handbasket and would surely end in that generation’s lifetime.

  46. Rip Steakface:

    I vote against quantum mechanics as the most misunderstood idea. As said earlier, most people know they don’t understand quantum mechanics and don’t act like they do. Evolution, on the other hand, gets hordes of people (as in >50% of the US population) who seem to look at it, have it go completely over their heads, and then proceed to blather about how stupid it apparently is.

  47. Robert Bauer:

    Oh, quantum, absolutely quantum. Consider: of the Copenhagen interpretation, Many Worlds, and Hidden Variable, the three ways in which physicists understand quantum mechanics, in (by my estimate) descending order of popularity. They are mutually contradictory – at most one can be correct. Therefore, quantum mechanics is the only idea I know of that must be badly misunderstood by about half of its own experts, no matter which of the three interpretations is correct. And that’s before you even get started on the laymen, who often discuss quantmum mechanics as though it were sheer magic.

  48. Crudely Wrott:

    Most misunderstood? Today? Here (America)?
    Democracy.
    Hands down.

  49. Robert Bauer:

    @ Crudely Wrott:

    … you win. I wish it was only half of politicians who badly misunderstood democracy.

  50. sunsangnim:

    Evolution, definitely.

    Honorable mention: communism. Every time someone calls Obama a Marxist or communist, surely Marx rolls over in his grave.

  51. laurentweppe:

    Also: “social darwinism arose from misunderstanding darwin:

    No it’s not Social Darwinism is an ideology which existed before the publication of the Origin of Species and its advocate took the name “Darwinist” in order to look smarter than they really were.

    While we’re at it: the Cult of Ayn Rand took the name “Objectivist” in order to pretend that they gave a shit about reality and Nazis put “Socialist” in their name in order to pretend that they gave a shit about other people: The imposture of self-labeling, and the fact that this shit still works when it come t con people pisses me off to no end.

    ***

    Honorable mention: communism. Every time someone calls Obama a Marxist or communist, surely Marx rolls over in his grave.

    Speaking of communism, no one can be more marxist than right-wing bourgeois fighting for their privileges, for no group believes more in the inescapable reality of class-warfare. And, while we’re at it, let’s just stop pretending that the right is in favor of the “free market”: free market means free competition, when your party raison d’être is to rig the economic competition in favor of a de facto hereditary upper-class, you are not defending the free market.

  52. dingojack:

    “Nazis put “Socialist” in their name in order to pretend that they gave a shit about other people:”

    Actually when Hitler gained control of the NSDAP in July 1921, it already had National Socialist’ in it’s name for over a year*.. (Hitler became member 555 of the NSDAP in September 1919).
    Rather than making the party seem more ‘cuddly’ this was designed to attract members from both the right and left, and to reflect the German nationalist’s habit of espousing socialistic rhetoric and structures to achieve control (they saw how well it had worked in Russia for the Bolsheviks).

    I’d nominate Nazism.Hitler as a misunderstood/mislabeled/misapplied metaphor.

    Dingo
    ——-
    * since 24 February of the previous year

  53. left0ver1under:

    “If we evolved from apes (or worse, monkeys), why are there still apes?”

    If we were created from mud, why is there still mud?

  54. martinc:

    Q. What is the most misunderstood idea of all time?

    A. The infield fly rule.

  55. democommie:

    Most misunderstood?

    Easy, ME. Or, perhaps I should say my attempts at pedagogy on these threads. I have spent literally millions of hours figureativley, just trying to shine a little light on the incredible fucking stupidity that seems to envelop the minds of some people. Sheesh, you’d think I shot their cat! Well, Jeanius is never appreciated until after the genie is dead.

    Michael Heath:

    I don’t so much think that economics is misunderstood as I think that economics is as precise a “science” as meteorology. There’s a lot of fact and a shitton of (mis)interpretation. “Trickledown” theory feels and smells like somone’s pissing in my ear and telling me that it’s rain.That “theory’ was and is a touchstone of ReiKKKwing bizzaronomics. The facts were never really in dispute, but the process of analysis of those facts was/is heavily dependent on the analyst’s political beliefs.

  56. Michael Heath:

    democommie writes:

    “Trickledown” theory feels and smells like somone’s pissing in my ear and telling me that it’s rain.That “theory’ was and is a touchstone of ReiKKKwing bizzaronomics.

    You are referring to a right wing political talking point. It’s not an idea taken seriously by actual economists. The only economists who make such references as a serious idea are equivalent to creationism’s Kent Hovind or global warming denialism’s Richard Lindzen, i.e., frauds or discredited cranks.

    My comments were directed specifically to the field of economics, and not how conservative politicians misconstrue economics.

    I’m almost done reading Donald Marron’s, 30-Second Economics: The 50 Most Thought-Provoking Economic Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute. Dr. Marron has served in bipartisan roles (CBO) but also for the last Bush Administration. The only unfair bias I’ve encountered was not towards Marxism or some other failed liberal ideology, but supply-side theory. I found his ridicule was earned by politicians but not those economists or policy makers who did leverage their understanding of the supply-line to the point that knowledge is now leveraged by economists in general. For a good treatment on the incorporation of supply-side’s benefits while economists ignore politically motivated supply-side arguments, I suggest Bruce Bartlett’s,
    The New American Economy: The Failure of Reaganomics and a New Way Forward
    .

  57. eric:

    My vote: geometric and exponential growth.

    Human misunderstanding of these concepts underlies some of the general population’s biggest misunderstanding in economics AND evolution. Economics: people drastically underestimate savings and the power of compound interest. Evolution: people don’t think there’s been enough time for evolution to have worked. But in fact these are the same problem; people underestimating compound change.

  58. unemployedphilosopher:

    The Cogito is almost certainly the most misunderstood bit of philosophy. It’s a bit rough to teach because it runs right into the Cartesian Circle in the 4th meditation, but everybody’s heard it.

    As for most misunderstood idea? Probably either something about quantum mechanics or something about evolution. Those are, at least, the most loudly misunderstood ideas. Not a lot of people shout about Cartesian scepticism or Plato’s divided line.

  59. democommie:

    Michael Heath:
    Michael Heath writes:

    ‘I suggest Bruce Bartlett’s,
    The New American Economy: The Failure of Reaganomics and a New Way Forward.”

    I’m not so sure I want to read anything written by Mr. Bartlett unitl about 20-25 years after he writes it.

    This:

    “Bartlett became skeptical of Republican economic policies during the George W. Bush presidency, and he sent shockwaves through conservative circles in 2006 when he published Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.”

    is from here (http://billmoyers.com/guest/bruce-bartlett/)

    It apparently took Mr. Bartlett at LEAST 20 years to figure out that “trickle down” was a complete load of bullshit, something that David Stockman was saying nlt 1985 (although not for attribution).

    When I say economics is not anymore of a science than meteorology, I don’t mean that it doesn’t USE science to gather and organize data.

    I found the definition of economics by the authors here:

    http://www.econlib.org/library/Topics/College/iseconomicsascience.html

    to be a bit self-serving. For their part they ask:

    “In what ways is economics like an idealized science? unlike an idealized science? Does mathematical modeling make economics closer to being a science than, say, psychology? How can economists keep their own biases in check–and should they? Are there some ideas about which all economists agree? Do disagreements suggest that economics is an exciting, viable academic discipline or a perpetually unresolvable dispute?”

    I find their reference to psychology to be a bit of a red herring. Psychology, like economics USES science and it also uses analysis, in an artful sense, by practitioners.

    Physics, chemistry, aeronautics and biology, otoh, DO science. Phenomena are observed or theroized and then experiments are performed and, once results are in, hypotheses are formulated.

    Science says that if you heat water to 212 degrees fahrenheit, at sea level, it will turn to steam. It says that if you are moving through the air at a bit under 769 mph, at sea level, that you are travelling at the speed of sound. It also says that fire burns, cold freezes, light illuminates and darkness occludes. All of the phenomena in my examples above are observable by an overwhelming majority of humans–well above 90%. Those phenomena continue to be observed and do not become something else or have to be restated as to effect.

    Economic theory, unlike say, the theory of evolution or the law of gravity seems to be as rigid as a jellyfish.

    I kinda like what Harry Truman is purported to have said:

    “Give me a one-handed economist! All my economists say, On the one hand on the other…”

  60. Michael Heath:

    democommie writes:

    It apparently took Mr. Bartlett at LEAST 20 years to figure out that “trickle down” was a complete load of bullshit, something that David Stockman was saying nlt 1985 (although not for attribution).

    A rhetorical fallacy in lieu of an argument. Mr. Bartlett’s policy prescriptions through the H.W. Bush administrations weren’t merely successful, but stand-out against other eras since the start of the 20th century. The fact he led the effort to point out that the policies which worked in the early-80s through mid-80s wouldn’t work in the 2000s is worthy of praise. Especially since he got on the bandwagon for higher taxes to combat debt not in the early-2000s as Moyer falsely points out, but instead in the mid-80s and through the rest of H.W. Bush’s tenure.

    There was no, “figuring out” needed except that Mr. Moyer’s is an economic illiterate and revises history.

    And your argument against economics as a discipline is no better than a creationist is for biologists. It’s not as black and white as the natural sciences, it’s far more difficult. But that makes discovery of findings far more laudable, not less.

  61. Michael Heath:

    I forgot to add a paragraph or two about how laudable Bartlett’s been on his policy proposals over time. So many people look to their past accomplishments and argue, “more of the same”, when confronted in the present with a problem. They also refuse to adapt when current events turn into case studies with lessons to be learned.

    Mr. Bartlett has done the opposite on both counts; his leadership in the development of the reaction to stagflation worked. Now that prescription of austerity in the early-1980s was politically popular in the Republican party so, “big deal”, but when the debt became an increasing priority in the mid-1980s because stagflation was licked, he didn’t promote more of the same but instead a politically unpopular prescription of higher taxes. A position that cost his boss his job (H.W. Bush) and eventually led to his being ostracized by the GOP in the early-2000s. In spite of the fact the GOP’s greatest economic successes since the early-1980s were based on his input and their failures were due ignoring his advice and doing the opposite of what he prescribed.

Leave a comment

You must be