Aug 28, 2016

Crisis: "The Euro", Transformed Politics, Science and "Science"
Sections                                                                                             crisis index

1. The Euro
2. Trump and the Transformation of Politics
3. scathing indictments…

This is a Nederlog of Sunday, August 28, 2016.

This is a crisis log. There are 3 items with 3 dotted links: Item 1 is a review of a book by Joseph Stiglitz on the euro, but I didn't like it; item 2 is about some sort of transformation of politics, but it is all extremely vague and imprecize; while item 3 is a fine and interesting article about science and medicine by a pensioned psychiatrist: I liked this and wrote rather a lot about it, but part of the reason is that I am ill and a psychologist/philosopher. In any case, the conclusion is that much is rotten in current science, and I agree - and it is mostly due to corruption of scientists, I add: Many are much more interested in money and status than in science.

1. The Euro

The first item today is by Bethany McLean on Truthdig:
This is in fact a review of Joseph Stiglitz's (<-Wikipedia) latest book, that is called as said in the title, which also has a subtitle worth quoting: How a Common Currency Threatens the Future of Europe, and that is indeed what the book is about.

Incidentally, according to Wikipedia Stiglitz is currently the third most influential economist in the world - which I say because I didn't know (I did know he won a Nobel Prize in economics).

This review starts as follows:

The timing couldn’t be better for Joseph Stiglitz’s new book, “The Euro.” In it, Stiglitz recounts the tragic irony of how the euro, which was supposed to bring Europe together, is in fact driving it apart, or as he writes: “Economies that were supposed to converge have instead diverged.” When Britain’s decision to leave the European Union shook global financial markets recently, we were all reminded that what happens in Europe affects the entire world.

Stiglitz — who calls the eurozone “a beautiful edifice erected on weak foundations” — writes that “the cracks were clear from the beginning, but after the 2008 crisis, those cracks became fissures.” He notes the huge costs, including rampant unemployment and economic stress, of the austerity measures that have been deployed by the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (known colloquially as the Troika) purportedly to fix so-called crisis countries such as Greece, Ireland and Spain, whose economies were thrown into disarray after 2008. The resulting battle between creditor nations like Germany and debtor nations like Greece is creating “poorer growth and more divisiveness” than there would have been without any euro at all, argues Stiglitz, whose cogent conclusion is that “the European project is too important to be sacrificed on the cross of the euro.”

I say. I would not have put it thus, although I did not read the book.

But I simply disagree that "the European project" was a good idea, and I never thought it was. States have a long history, and are founded on territories, shared values and generally a specific language and specific laws; federations of states are new creatures without any real history and without any real identity.

Besides, speaking about the Euro (which is the title of the book): I think that
also was a major mistake, that is, apart from the really rich: for me, everything simply got 2 1/2 times as expensive in euroos as it was in guilders and the only reason I am as poor as I ever was and not poorer is that my income was made 2.2 times as much as it was before the euro. (And I can buy less for 1 euro than I could for 1 guilder, though 1 euro = 2.2 guilders officially.)

Next there is this, that Bethany McLean seems to dislike, judged by her phrasing:

At the root of the book is his deep contempt for what he calls “neoliberal” principles, or “market fundamentalism” — in essence, the belief that free-market policies will solve economic and social issues — which he says has been “discredited” and “flies in the face of a huge body of economic research showing that there is a need for a wider role for government.” The austerity measures undertaken by the Troika are based on this antiquated belief system, in his view.

I say, again. Well, I agree on this with Joseph Stiglitz, and I think that a reviewer who seems to seriously believe "that free-market policies will solve economic and social issues" is an incompetent because "the free market" is utter baloney.

There's more of the same level, but this is enough for me.

2. Trump and the Transformation of Politics

The second item is by John Feffer on Common Dreams:

This has a subtitle that is worth quoting:
Illiberal populists all over the world are benefiting from three simultaneous backlashes.
The article starts as follows:

The history of political parties is rather boring. Not much has changed since the French Revolution, which produced the the terms “Left” and “Right” to reflect where people sat in the National Assembly. The early 20th century saw the rise of Communist parties on the far left. Shortly later, fascist parties began to emerge on the far right. Aside from these challenges from the margins, most countries have produced some version of a conservative (Christian Democrat, Republican) party and a liberal (Labor, Social Democratic) party. These parties have alternated in power, sometimes even ruling in coalition.

I say. It happens to be the case that I mostly agree with the first paragraph, but it also happens to be the case that many on the left or "the left" have told me that the distinction between Left and Right is outdated, and should be given up. I don't like their arguments, but I have certainly seen, heard and read them.

Here is the first of the three changes in the subtitle:

The first is cultural. Movements for civil liberties have been remarkably successful over the last 40 years. Women, ethnic and religious minorities, and the LGBTQ community have secured important gains at a legal and cultural level. It is remarkable, for instance, how quickly same-sex marriage has become legal in more than 20 countries when no country recognized it before 2001.

That is one way of looking up the last 35 to 40 years, and congratulate oneself on what "the LGBTQ community" and other "minorities" have reached.

Another way of judging the same era is by saying that the poor got poorer; the rich got richer; democracy is dead or dying, as is the free press; and many individual freedoms and rights have been broken down because of "terrorism", while at present something like 4 billion people are secretly spied upon and made into dossiers by many secret services.

Possibly John Feffer wants to say none of that is "culture" in his reckoning. I merely note I disagree and move on to the second of the three changes:

The second backlash is economic. The globalization of the economy has created a class of enormously wealthy individuals (in the financial, technology, and communications sectors). But globalization has left behind huge numbers of low-wage workers and those who have watched their jobs relocate to other countries.

No. I am sorry, but "the globalization of the economy" is merely propaganda talk without content.

What really happened is that the rich invested a whole lot of money in politics; corrupted most politicians (left, right and center); and used that to deregulate the economy to get enormously much richer themselves, while making the poor poorer, and destroying the middle class by (more propaganda talk) "relocating their jobs to other countries" - i.e. stealing their jobs and destroying their factories in the West, and giving their jobs to the poor in
India or China
, because they were allowed to do so after deregulations, and these poor are much poorer than the poor in the West, which give the rich much more profits for themselves.

But I take it that may well be "too radical" for Feffer. Here is the third change:

The third backlash, and perhaps the most consequential, is political. It’s not just that people living in democracies are disgusted with their leaders and the parties they represent. Rather, as political scientists Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk write in the Journal of Democracy, “they have also become more cynical about the value of democracy as a political system, less hopeful that anything they do might influence public policy, and more willing to express support for authoritarian alternatives.”

I am sorry, but this is more baloney. You can't rationally judge "people living in democracies" like that. There are many hundreds of millions who live in the formerly rich formerly democratic West, and they differ a lot in intelligence, in education, and in values.

What does seem true is that quite a few seem to have lost their trust in politicians. If so, they are right, but again this is all too vague and too imprecize to be of value
, and indeed the same is true of the article.

scathing indictments…

The third and last item today is and isn't a crisis item. It is by 1boringoldman (in fact a pensioned American psychiatrist):
I think this is part of the crisis, but I am pretty certain I would not have found it if I hadn't been ill for 37 years now, which caused me to delve far more into
medicine and psychology and psychiatry and their justifications than I would have done if (1) I were not ill nor indeed if (2) I had been treated morally and intellectually decently by medics (but I wasn't, by the large majority), nor indeed (3) if I were not a philosopher of science with strong tastes for mathematics, logic and statistics.

In fact, I have been
treated morally and intellectually decently by medics, but only by a relatively small minority (3 in 30), and I have concluded from that that the majority of medical doctors (I have met, and generalizing: there are [1]) does not at all consist of patient-serving moral heroes, but of self-serving rich men and women, who destroy your individual rights as if that is modern medicine, and who nearly always lie, both actively and also - especially - very much by omission: You are almost always told the very minimum of what they could tell.

Incidentally, you need not believe me, but if you don't you have not been ill with an unexplained disease since 37 years, while almost nothing you said or wrote was even answered by anyone with medical or other power. [2]

This article starts as follows:
In spite of an undergraduate mathematics degree and statistical training in a subsequent academic fellowship, I think I had retained a relatively naive yes/no way of thinking rather than seeing various shades of maybe. My brother-in-law is a social psychologist who taught statistics and for a time studied the factors involved in voting patterns. It all seemed way too soft for the likes of me to follow. Like many physicians, I’m afraid I just listened for the almighty yes/no p-value at the end. So when I became interested in the clinical drug trials that pepper the psychiatric literature, I was unprepared for the many ways the analyses can be manipulated and distorted. I was unfamiliar with things like power calculations and effect sizes.
I say - which I say in part because I know 1boringoldman is smart, also statistically (unlike many medics and psychologists), and in part because I have been thoroughly bored by "power calculations" and "effect sizes" in the early 1980ies in the education I got to become a psychologist. [3]

And in fact that was a small part of the reason why I concluded then (in 1980/1) that psychology was not a real science (see here [4] for those who want an argument: it is not by me, but it is cogent), for what I learned was rather simply that in psychology experiments generally went the reverse way of how they should be done, mostly in order to compensate for the fact that there often were only minimally sufficient persons (other than first-year psychology students, to be sure [5]) to run statistical tests with any significant outcome.

Thus experiments were generally run with a minimal number of subjects, and with such tests as could find something significant in that, and they were very much less interested in proving truth than in proving a significant result that would strengthen the academic status of its psychological authors.

That was the science of psychology as taught to me: It was not a science, but it was a way for the few academics in universities to get status and money for themselves - and indeed in that respect (getting
status and money for themselves) it was quite successful as well, which is also why very few academics protested that real science is quite different: Doing so would have cost them in status, and it might have meant the end of their academic careers. [6]

But maybe you don't believe me. Here is the first item from which 1boringoldman quotes, and it is indeed quite good:
In this blog, I’ve been preoccupied with studies where scientific results have been manipulated on purpose for financial gain by the pharmaceutical sponsors of clinical drug trials. But there are other motives to distort research findings eg academic advancement «publish or perish». And then, of course, you can just do it wrong, misuse the complicated tools of statistical analyses. Ten years ago, John Ioannidis published a widely read article that focused attention on the magnitude of the problem:
Why Most Published Research Findings Are False
    [full text on-line]

I draw your attention to the facts that indeed the full text is on-line (but it is technical); that it was well received; that it covers all of science; and that is said that the majority of scientific research findings are false.

Now, you might incline (if you know some philosophy of science) to reason as follows: OK - and that is all of science, but doesn't science weed out false theories by doing replication studies for any interesting finding?!

Yes and no, it turns out, and this is the subject of the second item thay 1boringoldman quotes:

The gold standard for scientific research is replication – can an independent researcher repeat the study and reproduce the results. Last year, Bryan Nosek was able to engage colleagues to repeat 100 studies in academic psychology – with the cooperation of the original authors. The results were eye-opening, now known as the Replication Crisis:
Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science
Here is a part of the conclusion of that last paper:
A large portion of replications produced weaker evidence for the original findings despite using materials provided by the original authors, review in advance for methodological fidelity, and high statistical power to detect the original effect sizes.
This strongly suggests - I'd say - that the original studies were often not quite honest (and one is reminded of the Dutch psychologist fraud Diederik Stapel, although he was probably considerably more fraudulent than most, for he falsified everything - and got away with it for over 15 years [7]).

Here is the third item 1boringoldman gives, and this one is about psychology, cognitive neuroscience and medicine:

This week, Denes Szucs and John Ioannidis released a preprint of a study of 5 years of reearch papers in 18 prominent journals from psychology, neuroscience, and medicine, estimating a whopping 50% False Positive rate [or even worse in the cognitive neuroscience articles]:

Empirical assessment of published effect sizes and power in the recent cognitive neuroscience and psychology literature
   [full preprint online]
Again the full text is on line and is technical, and in fact the results for cognitive neuroscience are even worse than for psychology:
14% of papers reported some statistically significant results, although the respective F statistic and degrees of freedom proved that these were non-significant; p value errors positively correlated with journal impact factors. False report probability is likely to exceed 50% for the whole literature. In light of our findings the recently reported low replication success in psychology is realistic and worse performance may be expected for cognitive neuroscience.
Maybe you understand now a little better why I don't think psychology is a real science: Over 50% of its findings are false, and besides large parts of the findings cannot be properly replicated or fail when replicated.

And this is 1boringoldman's conclusion:

But the work comes from a solid source, is consistent with other investigations, and will surely add fuel to what seems to be a much needed look at how the scientific community conducts and publishes research. These are scathing indictments. I think I’ve been like one of those blind men feeling only part of the elephant, thinking this was a problem confined to the commercially sponsored clinical trials of pharmaceuticals. It’s obviously much bigger than that – maybe as big as the whole domain of science…
I think he is right, and the one qualification I have is that I think that much of what is taught as science, especially in non-mathematical fields, and that pretends to be science, in fact is not science, but is pretended to be science because those who are not educated in it usually cannot see through it, while those educated in it make much money by pretending to be scientists.

And there still are good scientists who are interested in finding the probable truth, but they are in a minority. The majority of scientists - especially in non-mathematical fields - are somewhere inbetween fakes and frauds, and are like anyone else doing a job for money: They are doing what they are doing because it makes them a lot of money, gives them easy jobs, and provides them with a lot of status.

Real scientific probable truth does not really interest them. What they are interested in, and normally get if they achieved an academic career, is money for themselves and status for themselves. And that is what most science is about these days: money and status for reputed scientists most do not have the knowledge to see through.

The result is that most of what counts as science is not science but "science", simply judged by its empirical results, which are mostly false.

Finally, the reasons for this differ rather a lot, for there are many ways in which one can be not quite honest or very dishonest or anywhere in between - and they seem to be all used, and the fundamental reason is that most scientists are much more interested in their own incomes and status (like ordinary people, that is) than in what they produce (again like ordinary people), which therefore  often is not real science, but is only "science" pretending to be science, because it enriches and empowers its authors.

I do not know what to do about this. [8]
[1] I do know this is a considerable generalization (from the scientists and pretended scientists I know, to all scientists) but it is based on such facts as I know (and I spent over 20 years in and around a university), and in fact is better founded than most psychological experiments I have seen, for it is based on considerably more subjects and considerably fewer presumptions.

One of the reasons medical people almost never answered anything I wrote or said is that in fact I am for them not a real individual with a real life and real interests, but I am merely 1 of N subjects diagnosed - somehow, by someone, with some medical degree - with X, and because of that diagnosis (totally disregarding all possible criticism and doubt) I cease to be a real person (if I ever was one) and am made into one of many Xs, without any individuality.

This was not the case before 1990 or so, but is so ever since, especially for patients with little known diseases.

[3] At that time, the study of psychology was supposed to take 6 years in Holland, and usually was a little more. At this time, the study of psychology is supposed to take 4 years, while the level of the students is even lower than it was in the Seventies and Eighties.

These are simply facts, and because of them I very much doubt there is as much statistics given as I and all other students did get in the late Seventies,
and if it is, it will very probably be limited to small groups of psychologists.
(But I am guessing, and haven't been in the University at all for some 12 years now.)

[4] In fact this is not "Is psychology a science?" but is called "The Scientific Paradigm". I got this when using a link for the former. A little more searching also delivered "No Theory, No Science". I suppose these two essays are the result of sharpening the original
"Is psychology a science?" which I can't find anymore - or at least not by Paul Lutus, for the question is posed by quite a few others on the internet.

[5] I did get three months of introduction to "scientific experiments", but found that all the psychological research I know that was done in the UvA was in fact done on first-year students of psychology, who were forced to submit to a series of experiments as part of their education (it was said).

I was as well and didn't mind - but I did find it strange that if anything was published, it was never said that all the subjects were in fact between 18 and 20 and first-year students of psychology: Everything was left out, other than that they were "subjects".

[6] It did, in my case, and was done quite effectively and illegally: After I had criticized my teachers of philosophy, I was simply denied the right of taking the M.A. in that, although this was completely illegal, which again was not admitted because the university simply did not reply to any mail or any letter I sent, which they did to evade all responsibility and all accountability.

And in psychology I was told, while I was publishing my Spiegeloog-columns, that (literally) "the teachers" - that is, the academic psychologists with extremely easy jobs that were very well paid - "love to see you dead".

This was not the case for everyone, but seems to have been the opinion of the solid majority. I did not think I could get a job at the UvA, and since I did not have the health to leave Holland, I gave up. (And indeed the professor who helped me most fled from the UvA in 2005, and emigrated to the USA, where he has since been professor.)

[7] The reference to
Diederik Stapel is the first of several, and is from November 1, 2011 (longer ago than I thought). In fact, he got off almost completely scotfree.

And it should be stressed that while Stapel falsified everything, including his data, most psychologists do a whole lot less, without really being honest, simply because there are many ways to make it seem as if one's findings are
more serious than they really are.

This is also my explanation for the facts reported by Ioannides: Something went wrong, something was exaggerated (or played down), but there are quite a few things that may have happened.

But if over 50% of the findings are false, the only conclusion I am willing to draw is that "sciences" which produce those results are not real sciences but pseudosciences (<-Wikipedia). (Then again, I also never earned even one cent with science or "science", so maybe that is why I am critical...)

[8]I tried hard as a student, but failed completely, for the simple reason that 19 out of 20 students were not interested in science, but only in the money they could make with a degree. It was the same for the lecturers and professors, though the proportion was probably different.

       home - index - summaries - mail