Friday, June 26, 2009

transcending methodological allegiances, or alternatively titled, the progressive view of science

The field of economics is often derided for the precarious place it occupies in the social sciences. On the one hand, it prides itself in being a hard science in terms of the value it places in mathematical formalization and statistical technique. On the other hand, two highly able economists can still disagree about fundamental issues of policy, theory, or even empirics. Some disagreements arise due to the political persuasion of the economists, for example the debates between Krugman and some of his conservative colleagues in the blogosphere including Greg Mankiw and Judge Richard Posner. Some agreements arise from more ideological roots. For example, an overdeterminist such as Richard Wolff may disagree with Ben Bernanke on the effectiveness of monetary policy. The claim is made that in the other sciences, especially the hard sciences, these types of fundamental disagreements don't exist: to be a practicing physicist or chemist, you won't run into colleagues who disagree with issues central to their practice.

I'm unsympathetic to these claims because I think disagreements within a field are very important to working out the details of both sides of the debate. And, in the process we may find that there is more than one way to approach a problem: this is hardly a "stunning blow" to science since scientific fields thrive on creative energy. This is not to say there is no "right answer" ever; rather, the right answer is usually elusive enough that we will fail to resolve debates if we rely on ideological or political or other allegiances alone.

Given this, it is great to see articles like the one below, found via 3 Quarks Daily, which is a review of a book on psychiatry, and how practitioners in this field disagree on a very basic level about the nature of mental illness and how to solve it:

Enjoy the review and post comments if you'd like to share your views!

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