The Science of Journalism

If I Had My Way
One Man's Opinion -- for what it's worth.


To: Paul Krugman - pkrugman@nytimes.com

From: Doug Skoglund - skoglund@pdmsb.com

Date: 17 Feb 2014 00:00 am CST

Subject: 2014005 - Internet Seminars...

Dr. Krugman: I have no way of knowing if this gets to you without some kind of acknowledgement -- please respond.

I am extremely sympathetic with your concern about the problem of abstruseness; however, there is a relatively "simple" solution, if one really wants to solve the problem, once and for all. The solution is "simple" to describe -- individual motivation is an entirely different matter.

I read the Kristof piece and I read the rebuttal and I am glad to read your opinion, because I have an opinion also -- the answer lies in an understanding of the full nature of The Scientific Process that I believe needs a lot more discussion. 

While not well defined the Process must be results oriented -- the mathematical modeling means absolutely nothing if it never gets to the policy makers. Obviously, you know that and are working the problem -- the wrong problem in the wrong way -- sorry, Doc.

You are attempting to get additional opinions into your writing; however, that is a mistake, since maximum learning comes from the process of massaging various viewpoints -- and your opinion about somebody else's opinion is still just you opinion.

You need to get people talking to each other -- an Internet Seminar. Allow me to quote (emphasis mine):

Take real business cycle theory -- I know it's a horse I beat a lot, but it's not dead, and it's a prime example within economics of what I have in mind. I still want to spend at least some time explaining that theory to my undergrads, so I've been looking for a simple, intuitive explanation by an RBC theorist of what's going on. And I haven't been able to find one!

I mean, I could do it myself. Strip the story down to basics -- make it a steady-state model, not a growth model, and drop the capital accumulation; what you're left with is fluctuations in the marginal productivity of labor, which have a magnified impact on output because workers choose to work less when the technology is bad and more when the technology is good. As I've written before someplace, it's the story of a farmer who stays inside when it's raining and puts in extra hours when the sun is shining.

But the RBC theorists never seem to go there; it's right into calibration and statistical moments, with never a break for intuition. And because they never do the simple version, they don't realize (or at any rate don't admit to themselves) how fundamentally silly the whole thing sounds, how much it's at odds with lived experience.

I once talked to a theorist (not RBC, micro) who said that his criterion for serious economics was stuff that you can't explain to your mother. I would say that if you can't explain it to your mother, or at least to your non-economist friends, there's a good chance that you yourself don't really know what you're doing.

Math is good. Sometimes jargon is good, too. But plain language and simple intuition are important to keep you grounded.

Sorry, that was rather long; however, great for starters. You will never be able to simplify the process by yourself -- that, of course is the ultimate purpose of The Scientific Process -- a collaborative effort to perform the steps necessary to yield results.

Obviously, the Kristof -- unknown scientist -- Krugman posts can be linked together; however, we need a better system. A system that we can discuss further, if you wish??

Thanks for your time,

Doug Skoglund skoglund@pdmsb.com

To be continued (I hope) 

I don't provide for comments since that is a system designed to control the communication process -- I do provide an e-mail address!! (Please put a [MYWAY] in your title to get my attention)

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