Tom Slee on Adapt

by Henry on June 6, 2011

An “excellent and provocative review”:http://whimsley.typepad.com/whimsley/2011/06/an-uncertain-world-ii-adapt-by-tim-harford.html. The nub of the critique:

bq. Tetlock divided his experts into foxes (good at many things) and hedgehogs (good at one thing) and argued that hedgehogs are over-confident because they “reduce the problem to some core theoretical scheme’… and they used that theme over and over, like a template, to stamp out predictions”. And that’s exactly what Harford does here. He sees evolution as a fox-like strategy (trying many things and selecting a few) but doesn’t notice that at the level of individual species, evolution gives us both foxes and hedgehogs, and both do perfectly fine. Once the contradiction at the heart of the book is clear, it is not surprising that the book itself cherry picks examples where trial-and-error has succeeded, or where eggs-in-one-basket has failed. But such stories, while entertaining, make a notoriously shaky foundation for any kind of general structure, and so it proves here.

Or, to put it a little more abstractly, mechanisms of evolutionary selection and processes of wilful experimentation are not the same thing. Read the whole thing. I’m also looking forward very much to Tom’s forthcoming take on Duncan Watts’ _Everything is Obvious: Once You Know the Answer_, which I liked a lot (although I suspect that Kieran might have some “sharp words to say”:http://www.kieranhealy.org/files/papers/presumed-consent.pdf about Watts’ discussion of the effect of presumed consent defaults on organ donations).

… is a question that might be asked of Professor AC Grayling, the media don and pundit who has launched the “New College Of The Humanities, and who is proposing to charge undergraduates £18,000 per year for three years (by way of comparison, an MBA from the London Business School will set you back £49,900 for the full two year course). Further thoughts on whether this represents simple value-for-money, let alone a brand new direction for the world, below the fold.
[click to continue…]

Neo- and Post-

by John Quiggin on June 6, 2011

At afternoon tea today, one of my colleagues raised the point that, particularly in Europe, the prefix neo- is automatically taken to be pejorative, with neo-liberal as the obvious illustration. It struck us that the corresponding, positively weighted prefix is post- , as in post-Keynesian, post-Communist and so on. [1]

My thought on this is it reflects an underlying progressivist assumption, shared even by many people who would reject explicit claims about historical progress. Given this assumption “post-X” is good, since it represents an advance on X, while “neo-X” is bad since it represents a reversion to X, implying the existence of some Y which must be post-X.

Feel free to provide counterexamples, contrary explanations and so on

fn1. The exception that proves the rule is post-modern, which is now often pejorative, but was entirely positive when it was coined.