Sunday, December 05, 2004

I've gotta say, the first entry over at the new Becker-Posner blog, along with the accompanying citation, is just plain dumb.

In a nutshell: Posner says war is justified if the expected costs are less than the expected gains. He then illustrates this with a nice example: if the costs of inaction are 35 and the cost of war is 5, then war is justified.

No, this is not a joke (as far as I can tell - though Kieran Healy thinks differently).

The accompaning paper has some simple models and calculations of thresholds for when its OK to attack.

Obviously, all of this is silly and useless because in the real world, one can never know any of the parameters involved: the probability of an enemy attack, the costs of an attack, the number of casualties, civilian or military, the duration of the war, the economic effect, and so on. It would be nice if we could say, in any particular instance, that the cost is 35 but we will never be able to do so, not even approximately.

If this is what passes for scholarship in the social sciences, I'm pretty happy with the career choices I made.

3 Comments:

At 5:16 AM, Blogger angela said...

yet its ok for you to date in the social sciences...

the point of positivist theory is not to relate to your silly little subjective conception of the real world, no matter how rooted in actual events you may think it is. basically, theory is there to distill a complicated world so we can make predictions based on this knowledge. sure, you might lose some of the nuances, but youll retain the bits that are important (to you). at the end of the day, youll have this value-neutral nugget of truth that coincides perfectly with the real world.

i know you dont always accept my criticism of positivist scholarship, but at least you can see this piece of shit for what it is. the cute thing is that this dude wrote a book on the decline of public intellectuals in america, then wrote about how great blogs are for ideas. ha. yeah, hayek was obviously talking about blogs. right. this reminded me of the 2nd yr poli theory exam i took in which i linked habermas to blogging, in a stupid 'the revolution will be blogged' type way.

ugh.

anyway, im glad youre having fun on your science high horse.

 
At 2:24 PM, Blogger alex said...

Yes, I am having fun on my science high horse :)

OK, as you know, I'm in applied math/engineering, so all I do all day is construct a model for the real world and try to prove something about it. (Well, more like I take a model and spend a year trying to prove stuff about it). And this piece of "scholarship" offends me. Every model is going to lose a lot of the features of the real world. The question is how much you lose.

By assuming you can calculate every variable involved in the problem with good precision, you are making an assumption that will never, ever, ever be realizable in the real world. Not even close.

Yes, as you point out, this involves a value judgement for what features of the real world and important and what are not.

I remain hopeful that there is some positivist social science research out there that isnt this bad.

 
At 3:47 PM, Blogger angela said...

and by some positivist social science research that doesnt suck, you mean the habermasian critical theory? :)

 

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