Archive for August, 2009


Scienceblogs has a nice review of a book called Unscientific America. Here’s the money quote:

Whereas good science is rewarded for being painstaking and nuanced, politics is the enemy of subtlety–political battles are fought in sound bites, decided in up or down votes. In this context, the politician often suspects that the scientist cannot see beyond his or her narrow specialty and spends too much time on minutia.

I actually think politics unfairly gets the monopoly on ridicule here. Or, at least, the behaviour of politicians is unfortunately all that is represented by the term “politics”.

Reinsurance professionals live in the awkward middle territory between ‘science’ (if actuarial analysis can be called such) and ‘commercial reality’. Sometimes the ‘science’ is right and sometimes it is wrong. Most times it is horribly, needlessly complicated and, perhaps tellingly, the people that ultimately make the decisions are not ‘scientists’ (though this is slowly changing).

Politics happens when you have the opportunity to exploit imperfect information. There’s a quote out there (Feynman? Einstein?) that goes: “if you can’t explain it to a 6-year-old, you don’t understand it”. Since 6-year-olds probably don’t understand much about actuarial pricing theory, I imagine there’s a pretty fair degree of error in it.

The message? Science can be overrated and, because of that, anyone with a view on something is a politician.


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