I notice in Discovery an article [Link] laying partial blame for the Wall Street debacle to the “quants”, people educated as nerds – mathematics and science – who build models and crunch numbers for money people. The title of the article is “Are Scientists to Blame for the Financial Crisis?”
The answer to that question is, rather embarrassingly for this instrument of the traditional media, a resounding NO! That is not to say that the “quants” do not necessarily warrant some of the blame, but rather that the “quants” are patently not scientists.
The key factor here is that making and manipulating models is not in and of itself science. I run into people with business degrees every day who build and manipulate models. In almost all instances they do this abysmally poorly but a good portion of the blame for this depravity is the result of their general apathy and ignorance of maths. To most of these people model making is nothing more than collecting some data, with little consideration of how it is collected or what it represents, and subjecting it to some canned linear regression. The resulting set of coefficients is a “model” in modern business usage, poorly posed, inadequately composed, and absent comprehension. Scant wonder then that the pinnacle of the business apparat would turn to people with some maths and modeling capabilities.
One of the reasons that this is not science is that science has as its purpose to increase understanding for the good of the species. This effort failed in that its purpose was to enrich the financial tsars and their serfs. And unlike mathematicians, people trained in the sciences who do not do science are not scientists. Restated somewhat, scientists are not what they are, but what they do. What they are is physicists or chemists or biologists by education and training but unless they are doing science they are NOT scientists. These people were business modelers at best.
This does not eradicate the question of responsibility, but this is a question as old as humanity and society and civilization. Does the person who manufactures, sells, gives, transports, thinks up, …. a thing or idea that is used in the perpetration of a subjectively bad act responsible in some degree for that act? If this sounds like the argument over firearms, then you are perceptive. Are the people who manufacture firearms for defense, hunting, public safety, …. responsible when someone misuses such and kills another human? I have my opinion, and you may have yours; they may not be the same.
But what is obvious is that the argument here is neither new nor resolvable. The misuse of guns is bad, but forbidding humans to be able to own guns to protect themselves is also bad. The same, as we now recognize in this age of information, goes also for ideas and models and simulations and even data.
But we are still the same humans unable to resolve the question, or even determine if the question is actually irresolvable. And the matter is not helped by traditional mediasts using demagoguery to enhance their failing industry.