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Tim Harford, columnist for the Financial Times and author a new book, Adapt, will be delivering the opening keynote address at the NZAE conference on 29 June in Wellington. The main idea (apparently – I’m waiting until the conference to buy a copy) is that we need to adapt through trial and error, rather than relying on experts to design grand solutions.

Slate had an excerpt from the book that I found thought-provoking. It addressed the issue of how to design science funding systems that permit or even encourage new ideas, which are, by definition, unconventional. I have some sympathy for the view that science funding needs flexibility.

The Financial Times liked the book:

[Harford] has assembled a powerful combination of anecdotes and data to make a serious point: companies, governments and people must recognise the limits of their wisdom and embrace the muddling of mankind.

A review of the book takes on the central thesis, however, and finds it lacking (h/t to Crooked Timber):

Tetlock divided his experts into foxes (good at many things) and hedgehogs (good at one thing) and argued that hedgehogs are over-confident because they “reduce the problem to some core theoretical scheme’… and they used that theme over and over, like a template, to stamp out predictions”. And that’s exactly what Harford does here. He sees evolution as a fox-like strategy (trying many things and selecting a few) but doesn’t notice that at the level of individual species, evolution gives us both foxes and hedgehogs, and both do perfectly fine.

So, food for thought. I’m looking forward to hearing Tim speak. Won’t you join us?

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