#143 Zombie Karl Popper

#143 Zombie Karl Popper

I had been considering doing a comic on this, but I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. Then a Facebook status update from Ben inspired me. The punchline (and thus the idea for Zombie Karl Popper) is taken almost verbatim from him.

In case you don’t have any idea what any of this is about (and wonder I am picking on a random economist named John Cochrane), check out an overview of the recent debate between Cochrane and Paul Krugman here at Leiter Reports. Or you can just go read Krugman’s piece in the New York Times and Cochrane’s reply directly.

And by the way, let me be the first to admit that I know very little about contemporary economic theory. But when someone argues that a theory is scientific and useful because it predicts that it can’t predict anything… well, something has gone awry. Here is a bit straight from Cochrane’s piece:

“It’s fun to say we didn’t see the crisis coming, but the central empirical prediction of the efficient markets hypothesis is precisely that nobody can tell where markets are going – neither benevolent government bureaucrats, nor crafty hedge-fund managers, nor ivory-tower academics. This is probably the best-tested proposition in all the social sciences.”

So yeah, that’s all I have to say about that.

Anyway I hope you enjoyed your Thursday comic, have a good weekend!


Discussion (23)¬

  1. Wm Tanksley says:

    I liked this comic, and I’m an amateur economist.

    IMO this error arises when people assume that science is the only valid field of knowledge, and therefore assume that if their field of study is to be valid, it must be somehow labeled “science”. Economics, like philosophy or history, is not science. It’s a different kind of endeavor.

    I think Popper would approve of my politely declining the label “science” for my own field, and right at the moment I’m very anxious to receive his approval, or rather, to not attract his hostile attention.

    -Wm

  2. Canuovea says:

    This makes me warm and fuzzy inside.

    Some economists like to think they’re scientists because they have graphs and maths. (I only did that so it would kind of rhyme). They in turn laugh at all the other social scientists because economics is supposed to be more certain (because of the maths and graphs). The actual Scientists laugh at them and the other social “sciences” too because Scientists do real, natural science, and it is more certain. The Mathematicians laugh at everybody because math is completely certain… Theoretically…

    At least that is a claim my ToK teacher (sort of) made. I would add that the Philosophers laugh at the Mathematicians because they know that most of what the Mathematicians do is often as abstract as philosophy and also useless. The hierarchy of knowledge is now officially a circle… Wheee!

    Legal disclaimer: I either actually believe all of this, some of this or maybe none of it… don’t hunt me down and try to cause bodily harm… Please?

  3. jj says:

    Canuovea: Interesting explanation about the different fields.
    Math is indeed useless on it’s own, but it’s a great tool for the other fields.

  4. chaospet says:

    Wm: Very wise, you don’t want to attrach the hostile attention of Zombie Popper.

    Canuovea: So long as it’s the Philosophers who ultimately get to laugh at everyone else, I am cool with this picture.

  5. rosostrov says:

    I really see the logic in your argument but I think you’ve painted your strokes

  6. Bryan says:

    Not to defend John Cochrane, but the proposition that no one can predict the market is falsifiable. Namely, if someone were to start accurately predicting the market, that would falsify the theory.

  7. George Berger says:

    This is a bit more “serious,” but still related. I was delighted when I read Popper’s The Open Society etc., way back in the mid-60s. The closing remarks about the virtues of social democracy pleased me. But about a year ago someone on the book’s Amazon advert page remarked that these passages had been excised. I’m in no position to make a comparison, so I would appreciate some information on this. I know others who would be interested.

  8. chaospet says:

    Bryan: Fair point, if someone came along and could consistently and accurately predict the market, the general claim that nobody could predict the market would be falsified.

    The sense in which I mean to say that Cochrane’s defense is anti-Popperian is insofar as he is referring to his own theory (the efficient market hypothesis, etc). He is in essence saying that economic theory isn’t even in the business of making specific predictions about the behavior of the market that can be falsified (or verified for that matter), because those predictions won’t be accurate – and nonetheless it purports to be a scientific theory about the behavior of the markets. Any theory of what the markets do that doesn’t make any testable predictions about what the market does cannot really be called a scientific theory in Popper’s sense.

  9. chaospet says:

    George: That is very curious if Amazon did remove those pages, but I don’t really have any information on whether they did, or if so why they would have.

  10. Roger Albin says:

    This is brilliant – Thank you.

  11. George Berger says:

    Hi Chaospet—You got me wrong. I meant that someone on the Amazon Popper page for The Open Society reported that LATER editions omit these sections. I have no idea if this is true or, if so, who did the cutting.

  12. George Berger says:

    p.s. A correction. The pages I’m referring to in the first edition were about social planning, or “social engineering.” Unless my memory deceives me they were not about social democracy as a form or doctrine concerning government.

  13. Borena says:

    Hi, I liked your comic, could I post it on my facebook?

  14. chaospet says:

    George: I see, yeah I have no idea either.

    Borena: Yes, feel free!

  15. kw says:

    I LOVE IT!!! That Popombie at the end was ok, but my favorite part is that straw man that jumps out in panel 2 immediately followed by the red herring, straw man combo across panels 2 and 3!!! Damn, triple whammy!

  16. [...] And finally, no carnival would be complete without some freaks, so here is Zombie Karl Popper as pre…: [...]

  17. Flahr says:

    You forget that Vince Cable predicted it all. He knew. He saw.

  18. Arsen says:

    Interesting and informative, thanks

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  20. antifreeze says:

    Really enjoyed this! Well done!