Arnold Kling  

Charlton Controversy, Continued

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Niklas Blanchard adds interesting comments. Charlton follows up:,


The joke of the Texas Sharpshooter is that he fires his gun many times into a barn door, then draws a target over the bullet holes, with the bulls-eye over the closest cluster of bullet holes.

Charlton claims that solving a specific problem requires more skill than pursuing innovation and then proclaiming whatever you develop a success. I am agnostic about that. But I definitely would not pooh-pooh unplanned innovation. I think that unplanned innovation is extremely valuable.

I might be willing to concede Charlton's point that we have lost some capabilities to mount large, collective, centrally planned scientific/engineering efforts. However, it is not something that concerns me. Even Charlton seems unsure whether the issue is important.



COMMENTS (2 to date)
Mo writes:

The Texas sharpshooter story explains exactly how so much empirical economics is today. Get data and a cute natural experiment...mine it...write paper about the interesting stuff as if you were looking for it all along.

Setting out to solve a specific problem is so much harder than this. Many times you don't have great data or a clean natural experiment.

This helps me clarify why I am getting out of academia to work in private industry!

MernaMoose writes:

Charlton claims that solving a specific problem requires more skill than pursuing innovation and then proclaiming whatever you develop a success.

As someone who has to solve specific technology problems in industry, I'd very much agree with Charlton. Academic research was way easier, because you just keep shifting your focus until you find somewhere that you think you can make some progress.

The funny thing about hard problems is, they tend to remain hard problems. In industry, these buggers just stay right there in your way until you find solutions.

You don't get to shift your focus, and you don't get to say "well hey I can't solve that problem, but here's one that I maybe can solve". The fresh PhDs who work for me often have trouble with this, and I constantly have to tell them: but that's not the problem I told you to go solve.

In academia you apply for a research grant to go work on a general subject area. You promise to do great things. But you never, ever promise to solve one of those specific hard problems out there that we in industry cannot avoid.

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