By Arnold Kling
My latest essay summarizes some ideas I’ve been blogging about lately.
An empirical argument attempts to convince you using logic and observation. A trust cue threatens you with loss of membership in a valuable group unless you take a given position. One might hope that colleges and universities might espouse empiricism rather than excommunicate those who question dogma. However, the Lawrence Summers case offers a dramatic counter-example. His discussion of women in tenured positions in science seems reasonable from an empiricist standpoint. However, from the standpoint of trust cues, it was out of bounds…
What is odd is that an association of academics should find it productive to take an “official position” on anything. I do not need an “official position” of physicists to convince me of the law of gravity. I do not believe in the laws of supply and demand because they are the “official position” of the American Economic Association (to my knowledge, the AEA has never stated an official position in favor of them). A book or article that reports observations and analysis is a scientific statement. An “official position” is a trust cue.
In economics, the use of mathematical language has become a trust cue. Modern economists complain, rightly, that in the old days of “literary economics,” a lot of muddled gibberish found its ways into economics journals. Today, journals publish muddled gibberish dressed up with mathematical symbols.
Although I argue for empiricism, the concept of trust cues is not rigorously empirical. How can I define them and measure them?
I think I have an intriguing concept here, but it has some difficulties.