Not Everybody Does It and Feynman Integrity

Paul Romer upended the apple cart with his broad statement Freshwater economists aren’t doing science or even trying to do science.

This is an unbelievably strong accusation of professional malfeasance. It basically accuses the Freshwater crowd of not doing their job.

Paul Krugman piles on – flat out providing examples of the biggest Saltwater economists acting on a much higher level of ethical integrity.

What is the level of integrity required? Richard Feynman said these incredible words:

“It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked–to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can–if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong–to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

I know this is all inside baseball, and really only a few people on the planet care about the ins and outs of who said what to who, and how they said it.

But the long term impact of this spat between a few nerds could not be higher. Even if the Saltwater people are kinda on the wrong track, applying Feynman integrity to their work will almost certainly lead them to better and higher quality real world knowledge. Romer says the Freshwater side deliberately puts out information which is misleading and wrong at best, and destructive to the world at worst.

The winners of economic debates shape policy over decades. And Paul Romer is winning this debate for the Saltwater side with just a few blog posts.


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