Well, yes

Mr Orlowski:

In reality, much of “behavioural science” was really a collection of anecdotes and hunches, given an impressive pseudo-scientific coat of paint. Often these observations are quirky and interesting (and irresistible to some newspaper columnists), but no more than that. As a science, this was a house built on sand. The so-called behavioural experts’ incoherent Covid response must surely be the biggest blow of all.

“People are weird and they do all sorts of shit”.

“Well, yes, but that’s not particularly useful as a management technique now, is it?”

Things like oddities of behaviour only work as tools if they are consistent. So, yes, we can say that humans are subject to hyperbolic discounting. To home investment bias. Not all, all the time, but enough often enough that it’s a general feature of a society. But it ain’t true of much it is said to be true about…..

17 thoughts on “Well, yes”

  1. There aren’t even enough lorry drivers to go round, let alone talented polymaths. Governments, the military, civil service, et al. will muddle through as always to the best of its (limited) ability, pseudo-scientific or otherwise.

  2. Hitler had no “behavioural science” bullshit. Just tried and trusted principles of lies/hate and human wickedness. But he turned his shower from a lone mug on violin in the street outside into a vast dance band inside the Hall so loud you could barely hear yourself thinking. Just using anger made by political scum via WW1 and Depression to build his Empire on timeless principles of human nastiness.

    Today’s scum are just as nasty as Adolf and have the same bullshit at their command. And convincing mugs that they are being worked over by “behavioural science” is just another tool of tyranny and evil.

  3. “SPI-B was concerned that the public would rapidly tire of lockdown, but two hundred more behavioural experts – not on SPI-B – piped up to disagree.
    Eventually, the physical scientists concluded that Sars-Cov-2 was indeed like earlier infections such as Sars – you might think the clue’s in the name – and required a more robust response. The behavioural experts then performed a 180 degree turn, and advocated what they’d cautioned against before: fear. ”

    This whole idea is something I profoundly disagree with. Revealed preferences trumped it. From my experience the vast majority believed the restrictions were something other people should comply with. For them, personally, there was always some priority exempted them. So people were not doing what the behavioural scientists said they were.

  4. One interesting example from behavioural science is monkey see, monkey do. For example many people (especially the young) aren’t particularly afraid of Covid-19 and don’t like wearing masks. But mandating mask-wearing means that they see masks everywhere, which leads them to believe that everyone else takes Covid seriously.

    A broad insight is “people respond to incentives”, which is economics 101. In France they had a problem with low vaccine uptake. On the 12th of July, Macron announced that vaccine passports would be required for bars & restaurants; and overnight nearly a million people went online and booked their vaccine appointment.

  5. We’ve severely diluted the word “expert”. For decades I’ve never described myself as an “expert” in anything, just things like “competently skilled” and stuff. With today’s debased currency I must be an expert in everything.

  6. ‘His solution to what he derided as “Oxbridge English graduates who chat about Lacan at dinner parties with TV producers” was to hire more maths-savvy misfits,…’ But Cummings is such an arse that he somehow persuaded himself that lockdowns work.

    And the trouble with the “maths-savvy” is that they often have no knowledge of the relevant scientific disciplines nor of accumulated medical experience. For example the Astrologer Royal, Ferguson of Imperial College, has a PhD in mathematical physics and clearly knows nowt of any substance about virology, about the history of epidemics, about the means by which Covid kills people, and about how the infected might best be treated.

    Yeah, it would help to have people who can think sceptically in the way that the sciences (used to ?)encourage, but preening “data scientists” and the like probably won’t be the answer.

    Why not hire someone who has designed and conducted experiments – he might have a clue about the difficulty of getting good data and of the imperfections of the data you can get. Hire someone with a decent command of statistics. Hire someone who has done grown-up mathematical modelling involving, say, chemico-physical systems where he has a chance of getting good data to input, and whose predictions can be tested against the outcomes of trials.

    Early on I remarked in a comment on another blog that currently I’d back my guesses about the progress of the pandemic against the output of the so-called mathematical modellers, but that I’d accept their predictions when they had obviously begun to do better than me. I am still waiting.

    As my dear old Dad would have said, they are a bloody shower.

  7. dearieme,

    “And the trouble with the “maths-savvy” is that they often have no knowledge of the relevant scientific disciplines nor of accumulated medical experience. For example the Astrologer Royal, Ferguson of Imperial College, has a PhD in mathematical physics and clearly knows nowt of any substance about virology, about the history of epidemics, about the means by which Covid kills people, and about how the infected might best be treated.

    Yeah, it would help to have people who can think sceptically in the way that the sciences (used to ?)encourage, but preening “data scientists” and the like probably won’t be the answer.

    Why not hire someone who has designed and conducted experiments – he might have a clue about the difficulty of getting good data and of the imperfections of the data you can get. Hire someone with a decent command of statistics. Hire someone who has done grown-up mathematical modelling involving, say, chemico-physical systems where he has a chance of getting good data to input, and whose predictions can be tested against the outcomes of trials.

    Early on I remarked in a comment on another blog that currently I’d back my guesses about the progress of the pandemic against the output of the so-called mathematical modellers, but that I’d accept their predictions when they had obviously begun to do better than me. I am still waiting.”

    The problem with many of these people is that they never left the teat. Mummy, nanny, school, university, government.

    Cummings puts far too much weight in science rather than incentives and results. There are people who do better modelling of bus demand at Stagecoach. Or planning stock at supermarkets. Because there are capitalists who want the Aldi stock control to be right. They will get rich if there is gin on the shelves, but not too much gin. These companies not only model, but analyse the success of the model, look for and test improvements to the model. They feed in things like local weather forecasts because that affects what people buy. They know that stores in Birmingham buy more rice than stores in Shropshire.

    Lots of scientists in academia and government produce crappy models because no-one cares. No politician has a stake in Fergusson’s model being garbage.

  8. Mr Ecks, I think there’s an interesting comparison to be made with the militarism of 20th Century dictators and the scientism of today’s anti-liberty politics. Starting (at least) in the late 19th-Century, the military, and military discipline, came to be seen as perhaps the ultimate sources of respectability, decency, and legitimacy. So, you had organisations like the Scouts, civilians going about in pseudo-military trenchcoats, “physical drill” as exercise, much more widespread military service, postmen parading for inspection every morning (oh, yes), and so forth. Of course charlatans of all chalks were going to latch on to that. And they did, not least in politics. Nobody can say that the Soviet Communists were any less flamboyantly militaristic than the Nazis.

    Today, we look on that period and wonder what the hell they were thinking. But nowadays science has replaced the military as one of the prime sources of respectability, decency, and legitimacy. Children must be taught “STEM”. People exercise alone on machines “precisely” calibrated by “sports scientists”. The geeks, we’re told, have inherited the Earth. (Where’s my bit?) And we’re going around with pseudo-surgical masks on our faces, more to prove our decency and respectability than for any genuine medical benefit.

    Now, I’m not saying both the Nazis and Soviets didn’t claim false scientific backing for their madness. (For centuries, ultimate authority and respectability came from the Church, and the militaristic era overlapped both that and the modern scientistic one.) But their public appeal came from the militarism, to an extent I don’t think we properly “get” in the 21st Century. Today, that appeal, that respectability, comes from scientists. Whether they’re any damned good at science or not.

  9. Another thought occurs to me: the 20th Century dictators dressed themselves up in military uniform, awarding themselves absurd arrays of medals having never served on the front-line in their lives. Jill Biden insists she’s a real doctor.

  10. the 20th Century dictators dressed themselves up in military uniform, awarding themselves absurd arrays of medals having never served on the front-line in their lives

    Interestingly, Adolf was the opposite: his uniform was unadorned, apart from the two Iron Crosses he’d won in WWI.

  11. True, BiW, and I wasn’t unaware of that. But I’d already written quite enough. 🙂 I think it actually emphasises my point, though.

  12. To be fair, Sam, Mussolini served at some of the Isonzo battles and was invalided out after a shell blew up nearby (1917, I think). Engelbert Dollfuss, the dictator of Austria, served on the opposite side with great distinction. And of course, Goering really was a fighter ace before becoming a fat bastard.

    There’s a strange dialectic where the 19th Cent British Army is concerned. Ordinary soldiers often only joined up because they were incapable of finding work in civilian life. Having a barracks in the town was good because of the extra trade but simultaneously bad because of the increased crime, prostitution and drunkenness that accompanied it. In other words the public (thanks no doubt to the media of the time) gave itself an idealised view of the Army ( and indeed the Navy) that was quite removed from reality. It wasn’t until the wholesale reforms of the Edwardian period, that the Army become anything like the “professional” body that we consider it now.

  13. Interestingly, Adolf was the opposite: his uniform was unadorned, apart from the two Iron Crosses he’d won in WWI.

    Not quite. He usually only wore the breast badge of his Iron Cross First Class and a WW1 wounded badge. He also wore his Gold Nazi Party badge.

  14. Today’s Times has an article by Little Lord Hague explaining why government must pick our next science and technology winners. I’ve made a comment pointing out that because there is essentially no science or technology expertise in any branch of government, the best thing they can do is keep well out of it.

  15. @Chris Miller
    Indeed. ‘Picking winners’ is an infallible guide to what will fail.
    Partly this is because anyone who goes into politics is a half-wit, incapable of earning a living, and therefore incapable of any rational judgement, but mostly because the only companies that will put up with the rules of the half-wits and their funding criteria are failing anyway. Winning companies just ignore the distraction and get on with it.

    There was a wonderful article I read years ago called “Why Uncle Sam always buys the worst cookies”.
    It was of a superlative level, in both the down-to-earth economics, and the grinding inevitability of its bureaucratic horror. Was it written by our host perchance?

  16. Late to this one, but never mind. Does behavioural science have a way to reverse the fear it has stirred up? The notorious government document on how they planned to do this has nothing on reversion to normal.

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