Cargo Cults

The easiest way to explain this idea is to contrast it, for example, with advertising. Last night I heard that Wesson oil doesn’t soak through food. Well, that’s true. It’s not dishonest;
but the thing I’m talking about is not just a matter of not being dishonest, it’s a matter of scientific integrity, which is another level. The fact that should be added to that advertising statement
is that no oils soak through food, if operated at a certain temperature. If operated at another temperature, they all will– including Wesson oil. So it’s the implication which has been conveyed, not the fact, which is true, and the difference is what we have to deal with.

…this type of integrity, this kind of care not to fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the research in cargo cult science…

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other
scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that…

One example of the principle is this: If you’ve made up your mind to test a theory, or you want to explain some idea, you should always decide to publish it whichever way it comes out. If we only
publish results of a certain kind, we can make the argument look good. We must publish both kinds of results.

Richard Feynman (h/t swong… get a blog dude!)

Deidre McCloskey famously charged that Economics was a Cargo Cult science (pdf). Here’s Davis Prof Kevin Hoover debunking some of her claims (pdf).

2 thoughts on “Cargo Cults”

  1. Eh, I don’t want to be one of those hosers who blogs about other peoples’ blogs about other peoples’ quotes.

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