The Division of Labour & Climate Science Part 1

Bishop Hill displays to an excellent short video at TED by Matt Ridley, encapsulating the concepts of the division of labour and comparative advantage. One thing that Matt Ridley leaves out is the creative destructiveness of competition through supplanting the existing order. Specialisation leads to new products and processes. By implication, the established processes and products are overturned. (Joseph Schumpeter needs to be added to the list of Adam Smith and David Ricardo)

It is not just in the sphere of production that these concepts apply. It is also with empirical science, be it economics, medical research or climatology. With complex data and many facets to the subject, there is scope for division of labour into

–         Data collectors,

–         Data analysts & measurers,

–         Statisticians to validate the analysis,

–         Theoreticians to innovate or create new ideas.

–         Mathematicians, to provide tools for analysis.

–         Methodologists, to provide structures of meaning and assess the boundaries of science.

–         This is alongside the general sub-divisions of the subject, which may change over time.

–         Alongside greater specialists there is also scope for generalist assessors who get a total perspective of the corpus of knowledge, weighing up the status of competing ideas.

–         Academic competition (to gain status) leads to improvements, but can also lead to diversity in conclusions. It also tends to blunt the conclusions where data is ambiguous or fuzzy.

This makes things a bit messy. In economics there has ceased to be any dominant schools of thought or policy prescriptions. But in climatology we are lucky to have the IPCC, which divides the world into a small group of generalist experts (who agree their main conclusions) and the masses, who accept the wisdom handed down. A bit like the guild system, that kept England in the Dark Ages.

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