FOUNDATION trilogyWho wrote that the proper place for scientism is science fiction?

Well, that judgment is relevant to this story, of economist Paul Krugman’s indecent love for Asimov’s scientistic set-up to his most popular series, as related at iO9:

Even if you’re not a huge fan of Paul Krugman, the trouble-making economist and New York Times columnist, you should check out his introduction to a new edition of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. . . . He explains pretty succinctly just why these novels are great, and why they had such a huge impact on the young Krugman.

And then he talks about how the science of psychohistory means that every victory of the Foundation is predicted, in advance, by Hari Seldon. Which turns this into a “tale of prophecy foretold.”

That is all very well and good for fiction. I admit that Asimov’s literary art possesses attractions. But I will not admit that the goals and methods of psychohistory are good social science. They are fanciful. The reality is that prediction in the social realm will always be a limited, fragile art, not a rigorous “mathematical” science.

Krugman realizes that his economics is not up to the level of Asimov’s imagination. But I do not think he quite gets how far off it is. Consider:

I didn’t grow up wanting to be a square-jawed individualist or join a heroic quest; I grew up wanting to be Hari Seldon, using my understanding of the mathematics of human behavior to save civilization.

OK, economics is a pretty poor substitute; I don’t expect to be making recorded appearances in the Time Vault a century or two from now. But I tried.

Based on his idiotic columns, I would say he shouldn’t have tried.

Paul Krugman can’t keep scientism in its place.

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