Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Comparing Physics and Economics

There's a debate going on at Political Animal on why economists are allegedly respected less than physicists. I disagree on the existence of this relative lack of respect. Lots of people are disrespectful of physicists. We can start with anti-nuclear-power activists and continue through young-Earth creationists, astrologers, people who think that quantum mechanics means that refusing to perceive something means it doesn't exist, etc.…

By the way, in the course of the comments at Political Animal, I saw an odd claim:

Physicists don't get cushy jobs at think-tanks as a reward for pushing theories that support policies that make their bosses richer.
Have you ever tried telling a liberal activist that depleted uranium is relatively harmless? (Given the ubiquity of trace amounts of uranium, the “completely uncontroversial facts about radioactivity” clearly imply that everybody has been killed by radiation and this is the afterlife.) You can think of that as an illustration that physicists are also disrepected when they're saying the “wrong” things.

By the way, how do we know minimum-wage laws raise wages?

I noticed an assumption by the liberal commenters in the debate at Political Animal: If there is any possibility of error by opponents of minimum-wage laws, then we can assume the downside can be disregarded. Can this be applied in the other direction? Can the same people who assume it is impossible for the Federal Government to enforce laws against abortion, or some drugs, or immigration automatically assume that it is suddenly able to enforce wage-setting laws? Maybe we just get bootleg wages or back-alley wages … Have there been enough studies showing an increase in wages? Maybe we can find cases of rising wages without minimum-wage laws. Maybe we can even find a study showing higher wage growth rates.

On the other hand, demand for evidence can be taken too far.


Blogger Francis W. Porretto said...

Physicists and economists are disrespected for essentially the same reason: our tendency to propose gedankenexperiments and reason from them as if we were talking about demonstrable reality. Since I'm one of each, I can say that with some authority.

You mathematicians, on the other hand are absolutely safe from this sort of thing, since the real world is irrelevant to your bizarre trade. It's just where you buy your groceries.

(tee hee)

4:34 AM  

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