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TorgoX (1933)

TorgoX
  sburkeNO@SPAMcpan.org
http://search.cpan.org/~sburke/

"Il est beau comme la retractilité des serres des oiseaux rapaces [...] et surtout, comme la rencontre fortuite sur une table de dissection d'une machine à coudre et d'un parapluie !" -- Lautréamont

Journal of TorgoX (1933)

Sunday February 03, 2002
03:18 PM

Narcissistic pseudo-innovation!

[ #2624 ]
Dear Log,

My friend David went to grad school and was thus subjected to courses from "quantitative political scientists". These are people who dream up equations where you feed in a country's GNP and population density and literacy rate and annual per capita hair-pin consumption, and you get something predicting how many years will pass before that country declares war on Argentina, or whatever. It's all terribly scientific.

The only real value of this lost year of David's was (besides adding the letters "M.A." after his name) that it afforded a dazzling peek into the subconscious motivations of people in the "sciences".
But incidentally: while staggering thru required reading, he read an article that posited some explanation within a quantitativist ("quantoid") framework, developed it, showed that it worked, and then -- quite to the dismay of his professors -- ended by basically saying: it's all for naught, because you can't quantify power -- oh, maybe you can imagine you can, but you can't measure it, so fat lot of good it does you to quantify it. And so [it continued] maybe all these formalist models that we so love to spin using more and abstruse math that only by coincidence ever describes the real world, is just a bunch of fudge factors knit together with Greek letters and integral signs, all of it amounting to nothing more than "NARCISSISTIC PSEUDO-INNOVATION".

And when he told me about this article, and that wonderful turn of phrase at the end, I was struck dumb. And every time now that I see something very formalistic that contorts and elaborates, I wonder: is this trip really necesary? Does this "formalism" get you anything you couldn't just say more easily in plain English? The hassles you go thru to get your framework to fit your data (or vice versa!), is it worth it? Or is it all just narcissistic pseudo-innovation?

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  • I found this gem in the introduction to a book on classical mechanics, which the author used to slate the enemies of science, the traditional (religion, the inquisition) and the modern (social science): That one never has to vary G or introduce any fudge factors in order to fit emperical data illustrates the essential difference between the mere mathematical modelling of irregular phenonema and laws of nature: research fields that are totally disconnected from physics have no universal constants.