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100 Most Important Science Books

David Lloyd-Jones icomm5 at netcom.ca
Thu Nov 11 18:18:32 EST 1999

Nick Medford <nick at hermit0.demon.co.uk> wrote
in reply to my:
> >Adam Smith's 1776 "The Wealth of Nations" surely ought to be on the list,
> >and if it were my list I'd have Jane Jacobs's 1968 "Cities and the Wealth
> >Nations" in there as well.

> So you'd accept economics as a science, but not psychology? What
> of 'science' are you using?!


Not everybody's economics, certainly. Smith, however, hypothesized
structures, made falsifiable predictions from them, and found his hypotheses
confirmed.  Jacobs did even better, predicting on the basis of theory that
the earliest civilization to be found would be an obsidian trading and
manufacturing site probably in Anatolia. And six years later that's what
they found.

In the same vein, David Ricardo's Treatise on Taxation, which I think dates
from about 1740 (don't see where I've put my copy) is even today a standard
text on the Principle of Comparative Advantage -- a scientific principle as
solid as gravity, and as much responsible for our wealth today as any other
piece of paper of the same length in the entire industrial revolution.

> I think it was Karl Popper who said "physics is the only true science- the
> rest are mere butterfly-collecting", or words to that effect. Not sure
that I
> agree, but a point worth considering.

Since when was butterfly collecting not a science?

Popper's challenge to the pseudo sciences was well and good, demanding as he
did falsifiability of hypotheses. This brought down the claims of a lot of
cult work like Freud. The problem is that empirico-deducive science is not
the whole of science. Science can be simply "the intelligent setting in
order of the facts of experience," roughly misquoting Rutherford (who was in
fact a brilliant empirico-deductive). Thus taxonomy is a science, even if it
is nothing but a collection of judgements and consensuses.

Economics has been subject to a lot of attack from the deconstructionist
literary set, claiming that it is nothing but dogma dressed up in numbers.
My view is that their attack is mere dogma, undressed even of numbers; and
that economics does in fact collect, study, make falsifiable predictions,
and in general meet the criteria of a science by any rational measure.



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