At James Montier‘s CFA presentation, he used one of my favorite quotes:


“Science advances one funeral at a time.”

-Max Planck


I would add to that:


If only economics were so fortunate . . .



Category: Philosophy, Really, really bad calls

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

37 Responses to “QOTD: How Knowledge Advances”

  1. DeDude says:

    I know. In economics dead people like Ronald Reagan keep popping up no matter have many times reality has driven its stake through his heart.

  2. ilsm says:

    I like Einstein’s definition of insanity.

  3. ZedLoch says:

    How true! Love it!

  4. AnnaLee says:

    I think poor Max was wrong. The latest recycle of ancient nonsense in science is called Creationist Science or Intelligent Design, I’m not sure which. But “belief” systems have endured as funerals have come and gone.

  5. DrSandman says:

    (sigh) Quit with the partisan posturing.

    The context is that old, rigid, tenured scientists have a lifetime invested in ideas. When something new and groundbreaking comes along, it is rare that the older guys change their belief system. Generally what happens is that the old guard dies off and the new ideas replace them, funeral by funeral.

    This is how it is with, for instance, my old field of Nonlinear and Complex Systems. Many of the old guard are still totally invested in the idea of Catastrophic Man-made Global Warming. Now that nature and reality has refused to follow their computer models for… well, almost 20 years now… the theories and mindsets aren’t changing. But new blood has been swelling the ranks, looking at the data as measured, not as they wish it to be.

    As documented numerous places, the old guard has been “cooking the books” and changing the old (and new) data to fit their models. How very Enron of them! As the world continues the solar-dominated cooling trend for the next 30 years or so, I’m confident that the Malthusian-ensconced scientists (and I use the term loosely), will continue to get more hysterical, and detached from reality, much like the economists today who argue that the solution to the debt problem is more debt.

    If I’m wrong, I will happily admit as much from my beach-front property in Northern Ontario. ;-)

  6. DrSandman says:

    @ilsm “I like Einstein’s definition of insanity.”

    It’s also called “practice” — doing something again and again hoping for a different outcome. You know like going to a batting cage to learn to hit a curveball, or trying to break the 5-minute mile by running laps, or practicing handwriting to get better penmanship…

  7. DrSandman says:


    More people believe in homeopathy, acupuncture, and chiropracty than believe in “Creationist Science”. But professing undying confidence in (e.g.) ID will merely get you laughed at, while treating cancer with homeopathy will kill you. ;-)

  8. AHodge says:

    we really require a lot of accounting funerals
    economics is optional
    they arent
    while i am, on the whole, ashamed of my profession
    I d rip an accountant laughing at us a rhetorical new one

  9. streeteye says:

    Max Planck also said

    “Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature [economics]. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are a part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.”

  10. AHodge says:

    if a CFA isnt an accountant
    its pretty close
    and thats most of what they use as raw material

  11. DeDude says:

    “As the world continues the solar-dominated cooling trend for the next 30 years or so”

    I guess nobody informed the arctic Ice-sheet about that cooling trend ( ), but that is just the observable facts not some unproven model spouted by an old rigid scientist. I would be happy to hear you admit that you are wrong but also extremely surprised, considering how invested you seem to a particular message, rather than simply observe what happens to ice all over the world.

  12. Pantmaker says:

    I always thought of this as the invisible hand of God.

  13. AHodge says:

    for efficient market economics
    and current accounting rules for complex products
    i recommend a mass grave

  14. Gatsby says:


    I agree with your analysis of Planck, I think that your are ironically displaying the behavior you are deploring.

    If anyone has been “cooking the books” it is the tiny scientific community funded by the oil industry and its friends. One regrettable incident does not erase the literally thousands of other studies that support man-made climate change.

  15. NeutralObserver says:

    Maybe that is because economics is based upon faith rather than science. When the scientist dies, all that survives is their theory. More data comes along, new experiments are performed, and young scientists have less perception bias, so theories are replaced. Not so with economics. Like religion, when the founder of the economic faith dies, their apostles continue proselytizing. Those who don’t believe are heretics and need to be silenced. After all, it isn’t like economics has simple equations that anyone can test anywhere at any time and get the same results every time.

  16. you know, as an OT “background piece”..

    Vivisimo was the /CMU-derived/ “Developer” of ‘Contextual Search’ — “Search w. ‘Clouds’ (the ‘Results’ Taxonomy found on the left-hand side of the Page(of ‘Results’))


    but, you know, if ‘Search’ isn’t “verbed”, it’s *Invalid..(riight..)

  17. 873450 says:

    Economics ain’t Science and it ain’t Law.
    But damn it sure feels good to be called a doctor or professor.

    We need more QOTD words of wisdom from Bo Derek.
    Her economic pronouncements are as accurate and valid as DrSandman’s.
    And a lot more interesting.

  18. jaymaster says:

    Call me an optimist, but I think the blogosphere might have made that phrase (those phrases) obsolete.

  19. JimRino says:

    Krugman has the highest batting average of the lot.
    Therefore, there is science to economics, if you want there to be.
    The right only uses “Economics” as a propaganda tool, and there lies the problem.
    The right is funded by the short term CEO, bent on doing his best to rip off customer, partner, shareholder and nation, for his own personal gain. Allowing these sociopaths to control the government, through lobbying and electing engineering, gives them the power to destroy the nation.

  20. yuan says:

    the fact that krugman has been so bloody right drives the wingnuts in both corporate parties batty.

    socialism is coming.

  21. lippard:

    You are misunderstanding the point — its not that “Science is a young man’s game” — its that the bad ideas that are embedded in tenured academia take so long to die — often, with their patrons death.

  22. Expat says:

    Many of the same principles apply to both economics and physics. For example:

    Bernanke Uncertainty Principle: Bernanke cannot know both the velocity of money and its total amount at any time with absolute precision. The more he prints, the less he knows about how it is used. The more he measures GDP, the less he can count all the money he printed.

    Blankfein Exclusion Principle: In investment banking a particle of morality and a particle of profitability cannot occupy the same place in space-time.

    DOD Laws of Physics: No matter its usefulness or relevance, a military project in funding remains in funding whether or not it is acted upon by another force.

    Congressional Tax Corollary: For every new tax force, there is an equal and opposite loophole reaction.

  23. mathman says:

    (from article)

    ” First let me lay out five categories of decline, from most traumatic to least:

    1) Complete population disintegration. The kind of decline described in Jared Diamond’s Collapse in my mind ranks as the worst, because a society experiences irreversible shock and the entire society breaks down. Easter Island is the most vivid example of this. By one estimate, the post-ecological destruction of the island allowed it to hold only a fifth of its population during its height [5]. Imagine the impact to civil society in America if 250 million of us starved to death tomorrow.

    2) Social and political disintegration. This is better than the previous category in that the population is allowed to recover so that a remnant of the civilization can grow after the deluge, but nonetheless the polity that once encompassed these people has completely disintegrated. I would place the Roman Empire in this category, because not only did it lose parts of the empire that were either peripheral or non-core (in that they did not share common linguistic or cultural traits, such as the Greek part of the empire), but also, even those parts where there were closer cultural bonds, such as Roman Gaul, eventually broke away. Italy proper also broke into multiple city-states. If America experienced this category of decline, then a few centuries from now our country would cease to exist, the Constitution would govern no one, and successor city states such as the Republic of Miami would vie against the Grand Duchy of Annapolis over things like control of the hinterlands and fight against each other’s navies on the high seas. The other example I can think of is the gradual disintegration of the Mongol Empire as it lost its Eurasian holdings and experienced tribal fragmentation by the 18th century.

    3) Decline into vassalage. The example I have here is Egypt, which went from an imperial power in its own right to a regional province that was fought over by other empires – from the Persians to the Greeks to the Romans to the Fatimids to the Ottomans to the British. Maybe centuries from now the United States will be annexed by Emperor Wayne Gretzky VII of Canada as its eleventh province, from which much of their potatoes will come. An ignominious outcome for the Stars and Stripes, but better than the previous case, in that while the polity might not exist, there is still a level of cultural unity that, should the opportunity arise, can leave that vassalage and become a cohesive entity again. Egypt itself was able to regain its own independence at various times. A more dramatic example is Poland, which became a single political entity 103 years after its initial partition by the Eastern European powers [6]. This political unity might seem like a cakewalk until you think about all the map-drawn countries that didn’t pan out so well [7].

    4) Imperial divestment. This is decolonization as the sun sets on the British Empire. However, this “decline and fall” is very different from the Roman Empire instance, in that England as a political entity remains as such, by and large: Manchester isn’t a rival to Liverpool outside of Premiere League soccer. The United States in this scenario would lose Puerto Rico and Guam, but I’m guessing most people would not consider that as a deathblow to American civilization. Other examples include post-WWI Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, post-WWII Japan, and all the European powers, who had to disgorge their overseas possessions in the intervening decades. This is probably the type of “decline” that we most typically regard as such.

    5) Relative decline and resurgence. In this I have in mind China, which experienced a relative decline from its height in terms of technological and economic prowess [8]. But China, despite periodic fragmentation, retained its social and political integrity to this day. Other examples include Iran as it descended from the Persian Empire and, to a lesser extent, India.”

  24. Mike in Nola says:

    @873450 you left out the fact that Bo was better looking than Krugman or Bernanke

    It took me a while to remember him since it’s been 40 years since I read about him, but Arrhenius is a prime example of the principle in the quote. He developed the theory that dissociation of molecules like salt in water created electrolytes, you know the stuff that things like batteries are based on, including the chemistry that keeps the heart beating. He almost wasn’t awarded a Ph.D. because his ideas were too far out and there was no way at that time to physically prove his theories. Were his teachers reasonably skeptical or just old fogeys? Fortunately, he was persistent. And he didn’t have to go up against Fox News.

  25. constantnormal says:

    1) When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

    2) The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

    3) Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    – A. C. Clarke

  26. constantnormal says:

    There is something in our make-up, possibly in the construction of ANY assemblage of “facts” that resists change, the larger and more complex it becomes.

    Infants earn at a frightening rate, and we decline in that regard in a steady and predictable manner, until as senior citizens we are unable to learn pretty much anything. This is a real and present danger in a democracy of any sort with an outsized aged cohort in the population distribution.

    We ought to limit the ability to vote to those under 60 (perhaps under 50), just as we restrict it to those nearing adulthood on the grounds that they lack sufficient experience, those beyond a certain point lack the ability to adjust to new situations. Either is dangerous in a democracy.

    Of course, this just ain’t gonna happen. But it ought to.

  27. constantnormal says:

    Mr Market is a creature born of chaos, and is certainly inhuman, just as we are more than mere “averages” of the colony of single-celled critters that make us up. He learns new ways to frustrate the puny humans daily.

    But people are a crafty lot, and have moved beyond bringing knives to a gunfight. We have brought SkyNets to deal with Mr Market (and sadly, with ourselves).

    We need to learn better ways …

  28. ilsm says:


    If your practice at hitting the curve ball g you a .080 avg, or someone starts throwing sliders, doing the same thing leads to failure, except on wall st.

    There are at least two compilations of Einstein sayings about philiosophy type stuff. You might try reading one.

    The corollary to ‘doing the same thing over and expecting different results’ is you cannot solve a problem with the same mind that caused it, except on wall st or in the US capitol.

    I could spend sometime on that one but remember what Yogi Berra said: “When you get to the fork in the road, take it”

  29. ilsm says:


    On DoD physics; perpetual motion occurs:

    New weapons are a perpetual motion rip off machine.

    Lockheed delivered the last F-22, number 183, one was lost so now USAF has 182 wonder machines. Did it come to $400M a copy or 250M, how many billion total?

    Now Lockheed rips off the US until the US goes broke, cannot happen in a fiat currency with nukes: “upgrades” ($11B nebulus class upgrades on the drawing board) to try and make it work and the non performance based logistics (PBL roundly criticized by GAO, but loved by the pentagon) con where they get paid time and materials for the unreliable, no tasks repair processes the government paid for and did not recieve.

  30. mathman says:

    The fact that we can actually measure something doesn’t trump anyone’s belief system since we’re basically emotional creatures and our “objective reality” is always filtered through that lens. Even scientists can be wrong (but consistently wrong is another matter).

    So explain away this:

    “The past twelve months were the warmest twelve months in U.S. history, said NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) on Tuesday, in their monthly “State of the Climate” report. Temperatures in the contiguous U.S. during May 2011 – April 2012 broke the previous record for warmest 12-month period, set November 1999 – October 2000, by 0.1°F. The past twelve months have featured America’s 2nd warmest summer, 4th warmest winter, and warmest March on record. Twenty-two states were record warm for the 12-month period, and an additional nineteen states were top ten warm. NOAA said that the January – April 2012 period was also the warmest January – April period since record keeping began in 1895. The average temperature of 45.4°F during January – April 2012 was 5.4°F above the 20th century average for the period, and smashed the previous record set in 2006 by an unusually large margin–1.6°F.” (lots more to read)

    and don’t think about any sort of “trend” it may imply (until we actually get there, at which time it will be too late to do anything but admit we were wrong).

  31. ToNYC says:

    Keep the word, “science” hard. Economics is based on the collective actions of humans, whose nature is constant, but only reproducible when the individualism is removed as in torture discovering truth.
    Faith-based means anti-science based, no thinking or continuous choice required to enjoy what one thinks one knows.

  32. willid3 says:

    not sure that we have seen all that much cooling. warming definitely. we had the second most hottest year on record last year here. and it only just barely missed the record. now what i wonder is just how much impact the great recession had on the environment. since we had an almost 10% drop in GDP back in 2007-2009, and that would reduce how much we pumped into the environment. and low and behold, the weather did get cooler. but just for a few years. hm, no cause and effect there for sure. now if some one can figure out how much nature increased its impact on the environment, and figure how much warming that would have without us being here at all. would the environment have gotten warmer without any human impact? or would it only have done so with it? and it really doesn’t take a lot of additional impetus to get the environment to change if nature has already added enough impetus that only 1% more would make it change. and the ‘we are destroying the world’ crowd really needs to get a new saying. cause we really can’t. even if we exploded every nuclear bomb on the planet. make it uninhabitable ? oh we can do that easily. and we have many times.

  33. S Brennan says:

    I agree with the author above, it would take a hundred death camps to purge economics of it’s mendacious fable tellers.

    Perhaps the problem lies in economics departments origins. Economics department started as a subset of the Philosophy department, which were in turn religious institutions within a University. Adam Smith’s first popular treatise [The Theory of Moral Sentiments] was in fact a religious document, from a man who taught religious morals.

    Religion, as opposed to faith in God, is about creating stories that reaffirm the order of the day. Go against the prevailing religion and you will be nailed to a cross. Prior to the Jewish holocaust, the largest genocide in world history was the murder of millions of Cathars by the Catholic Church*. It seems for every natural death of a economics/religious professor requires that hundreds of disbelievers [and ordinary citizens] must be sacrificed on the alter of the departeds sanctified theory.

    Science has it’s flaws which over time are corrected by it’s members passing this life, Economics/Religion has no such calculus, in fact, death seems to immortalizes error giving it an afterlife that transcends worldly interdiction.

    *To his credit, John Paul did apologize for the zealousness of the “purification”