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100 Most Important Science Books

Nick Medford nick at hermit0.demon.co.uk
Fri Nov 12 14:53:00 EST 1999

In article <J9IW3.189551$5r2.429657 at tor-nn1.netcom.ca>, David
Lloyd-Jones <icomm5 at netcom.ca> writes
>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.

OK- I stand corrected, and you clearly know far more about economics
than I do. (I'm reading this in bionet.neuroscience where economists are
somewhat thin on the ground.) In the same way I would argue that some,
certainly not all, psychology is truly scientific (falsifiable hypotheses
etc.). Indeed it could be (and probably has been) argued that some
aspects of economic theory are rooted in psychology :-)
>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.

I don't think Popper was referring to taxonomy when he spoke of
"butterfly-collecting". A butterfly collector does not really engage in
taxonomy- he merely checks the unfortunate creatures against a pre-
existing taxonomy or template, and labels them accordingly. Popper
seems to have felt that physics was providing such a template for all
other sciences. 
>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.
>                                     Cheers,
>                                          -dlj.
Nick Medford

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