Tuesday, January 15, 2013

How Math Makes Economic Nonsense Appear Impressive To Some

Interesting article (thanks Edward for the tip) about how the use of mathematical formalism make people who do not understand the equations believe that the stydy/analysis is better, even though it is in fact worse. This was evidenced by how Kimmo Eriksson of M√§lardalen University in Sweden slapped on some mathematical equations completely unrelated to the subject (being taken directly from psychology papers) to papers in evolutionary anthropology and sociology.  People with degrees in Mathematics and other heavily mathematical subjects who knew the math realized that the equations made no sense in this context and therefore rated it lower, yet people who didn't understand the equations rated it higher, presumably because they believed that the equations somehow made it more "advanced". One psychologist explained it as follows:
"People who know math understand what other mortals understand, but other mortals do not understand them. This asymmetry gives them a presumption of superior ability."
This is likely one of the most important reason why academic economics insists on expressing theories in formal mathematics even though it is a distraction and reduces understanding of how the economy works. They believe that this will make others think they're smarter than they actually are while allowing them to get away with nonsensical theories