Paul Krugman on ID

I was wondering when he’d get around to this. Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman today writes a withering critique of ID, which he ties into other fake academic “controversies” that have been spawned, not within academia, but from without by the use money and politics.

Krugman begins:

I’d like to nominate Irving Kristol, the neoconservative former editor of The Public Interest, as the father of “intelligent design.” No, he didn’t play any role in developing the doctrine. But he is the father of the political strategy that lies behind the intelligent design movement - a strategy that has been used with great success by the economic right and has now been adopted by the religious right.

Here I might actually take exception. Irving Kristol and other neoconservatives probably had a lot more to do with ID than Krugman thinks. See Origin of the Specious for example. But Krugman’s point is that the ID movement is just following a political strategy that’s been successfully applied elsewhere when the science isn’t on your side: Just throw a bunch of money at some pseudo-academic think-tanks (e.g. Discovery Institute), have them spend their time producing sciency sounding stuff that won’t withstand informed scrutiny, yet fools the public, and then have them go on a media blitz promoting their ideas as the next best thing since sliced bread. And, voila!, you’ve got your own tailor-made controversy.

Now the reason why I’ve been wondering when Krugman would get around to addressing ID is that he’s no stranger to evolution. Whatever you think about him, even if you deplore his economics and politics, the fact is that he’s a self-professed “evolution groupie”. As such, he’s probably read more evolutionary biology texts than the whole ID movement put together. (I know, that’s not a very high bar.) Anyway, there are some things he’s written in the past about evolution and economics that are worth reading that I’ll link to on the flip-side…

The Unofficial Paul Krugman Archive contains a fairly good collection of Krugman’s past writings. The best (at least that I’ve found) concerning evolution is WHAT ECONOMISTS CAN LEARN FROM EVOLUTIONARY THEORISTS. Here he delves into how evolutionary biologists ply their trade and how it coincides with what economists do.

Another one is an amusing critique of people who coined some nonsense called “bionomics” that is supposed to be the confluence of biology and economics, but has little to do with either. (Sounds like something that George Gilder would promote.) Anyway, read about THE POWER OF BIOBABBLE.

And finally, Krugman discusses a sort of cultural divide within economics (and academia in general) between those who are mathematically inclined and those who take a more literay approach: ECONOMIC CULTURE WARS. In it, he compares those in the economic field who have eschewed hard mathematical models with those in the evolution field, particularly, Stephen J. Gould:

A similar situation exists in other fields. Consider, for example, evolutionary biology. Like most American intellectuals, I first learned about this subject from the writings of Stephen Jay Gould. But I eventually came to realize that working biologists regard Gould much the same way that economists regard Robert Reich: talented writer, too bad he never gets anything right. Serious evolutionary theorists such as John Maynard Smith or William Hamilton, like serious economists, think largely in terms of mathematical models. Indeed, the introduction to Maynard Smith’s classic tract Evolutionary Genetics flatly declares, “If you can’t stand algebra, stay away from evolutionary biology.”

I like Gould and all, but Krugman has it right: Much of what Gould said was wrong. (And, predictably, has been widely abused by creationists.)

Anyway, feel free to link to any other articles like this that you come across.