another dialectic

Andrew Gelman reminds us of an an amusing thought.  Which I will paraphrase… Social Scientist explain surprising behavior in two ways.

  1. Yes, that is surprising, but here let me explain why that happens.
  2. Yes, that is surprising, but here let me explain how to tinker things so that doesn’t happen.

In Gelman’s version is a more focused.  The social science in question is economics.  For economists surprising is called “irrational” and is largely synonymous with costly, inefficient, etc; i.e.  it has monetary metrics.  He quotes Steve Levitt: “… economists … by training … (don’t) think.. about whether something is right or wrong, they think about it in terms of whether it’s efficient…”

What’s delightful about this dialectic is how these two are identical except for the underlying agenda of the social scientist.  In the first he’s adopted the role of naturalist observer and in the second he’s tapping into his inner entrepreneur.  While it is pretty trivial to switch back and forth; the trick is to be sure you do that efficiently and rationally.

In the end this is the dialectic between understanding and effecting.

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