Zombie Ideas: economics and science…

Science Hat tip to Recursivity for directing us to this hilarious post.
The upshot: the creationists at the Discovery Institute (Intelligent Design is just dressed up creationism) wanted permission to use a professor’s nature photos in one of their works. He responded this way:

So I replied:

Hello Andrew,

Thanks for your interest.

I hold the Discovery Institute in the lowest regard, and it sounds like the new book will be a further perversion of reason in the name of pseudoscience. As a science educator, I could never support such an effort! I will not grant reproduction rights to any of my photos or drawings to any creationist effort such as the one you describe here.

Best wishes for your good health, and the speedy demise of the sham institution that employs you.

Callan Bentley

Andrew might have left it there, as have previous creationists who asked to use my photos when I delivered a similarly pointed response. But he quickly responded:

Surf to Professor Bentley’s blog to read the rest; it is pretty funny. 🙂

This is an example of “doing it right”; that is, being an academic. Unfortunately all too many academics are willing to promote crackpottery for money, as Mano Singham points out. Professor Singham adds:

People in academia have a good life. The salaries, benefits, and working conditions are good and those who have tenure have enviable job security. This is meant to allow them to speak the truth and give unbiased opinions without fear of repercussions. But this carries with it a great responsibility to actually do so. The more academics start to look like paid shills, the less deserving they become of those privileges.
If academics do not do a better job of policing themselves and acting in ways that are transparently ethical, they will deserve the opprobrium that will be heaped on them.

Back to doing it right: Jerry Coyne has an interesting post about a type of insect that eats spiders. It attracts spiders by going to their webs and vibrating the web…and doing so in a manner that mimics a trapped insect’s vibrations! In other words, the spider “thinks” that dinner is served, when in fact…it is true, only that it is the spider that will be the main course!


Surf to Professor Coyne’s website to read more.

Evidently, conservatives try to set out economics as a type of morality play where businesses shouldn’t be told (at all) what to do. Don’t buy this bunk:

Some conservatives say “decency” has nothing to do with it. Who has the right to decide what’s decent? We should let the “market” decide what people are paid.

This is one of the oldest conservative canards in existence, based on the false claim that there’s something called a “market” that exists separate from society. But there’s no “market” in a state of nature, just survival of the fittest.

A society necessarily determines how the “market” is to be organized. Standards of morality and decency play a large role in those decisions.

We set minimum standards for worker safety and consumer protection. We decide young children shouldn’t be in the labor force.

We do our best to prevent certain things from being bought and sold — such as slaves, dangerous narcotics, babies, votes, sex with children, machine guns, nuclear material.

We decide citizens shouldn’t have to buy certain things that should instead be available to everyone free of charge (paid in effect by all of us through our taxes) – such as clean drinking water, K-12 schools, safe bridges, protection from violence, public parks.

Opinions may differ about what decency requires, and we hash it out in a democracy. We might decide certain minimum standards are too costly or inefficient, or can’t be enforced, or impose unwarranted constraints on our freedoms. […]

And they can’t help themselves; as Paul Krugman points out, they can’t even fake concern for working people. I wonder if social conservatism will be enough for them.

When they argue, they lie about the past:

There was another sad thing in that Holtz-Eakin piece calling me an orthodoxy all by myself (reference for Krugman’s opinion being labeled “orthodox”); it was really disappointing to see DHE pulling the old “Keynesian policies caused stagflation” line.

Needless to say, I get this all the time. But it usually comes from people who have some excuse for not knowing either what Keynesianism means or what actually happened in the 70s.

So, what people like me have been calling for is a temporarily relaxed attitude toward deficits as long as the economy remains depressed and monetary policy is up against the zero lower bound. What does that have to do with the 70s?


So, as you can see, during the 70s we had deficit spending that ran up the national debt, until Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 and restored fiscal soundness. Oh, wait; it’s actually the opposite.

The truth is that whatever you might say about economic policy in the 1970s, it had nothing to do with Keynesian fiscal policy — and did not involve increasing debt. People on the right tend to use “Keynesian” to mean “liberal stuff I don’t like”, but aside from that definition, the 70s tell us nothing about the issues we’re discussing right now.


But all the data in the world won’t stop them; conservatives see economic policy as sort of a non-falsifiable theology that is not subject to be checked by data or statistics. Hence they repeat the same zombie ideas over and over.


February 16, 2013 - Posted by | biology, creationism, economics, economy, evolution, political/social, politics, politics/social, religion, republicans | , , ,

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