Saturday, October 29, 2005

Butterfly Economics

I was browsing a book this morning, Butterfly Economics, and discovered the following in the opening paragraph:
"Scientific research can often seem obscure and even pointless to outsiders. This is not so much due to the intellectural difficulty involved in understanding such activity, for it is widely accepted that this will inevitably be the case. It is rather that many of the topics which are examined seem to be almost designed to incur the scorn and wrath of the lay person. Before sitting down this morning to write these very words, for example, my eye fell on a report in a serious British newspaper. An American psychologist had been visiting the country to carry out a study of rams in the English Lake District. His research was complete. 'Ten per cent of all rams', he proclaimed solemnly, 'are homosexual.' Readers no doubt took consolation from the fact that this finding was obtained at the expense of the American taxpayer and not themselves."
Alas, what consolation for the American taxpayer?

The 2nd paragraph was equally interesting:
"Nor are such examples confined exclusively to the sciences. I have long admired Emily Bronte's novel Wuthering Heights. The opening chapters, in which Lockwood first encounters the ill-tempered Heathcliff and his assorted household, seem to me to be one of the finest pieces of comedy in the whole corpus of English literature. Realizing that not everyone shares this opinion, and in order to improve my understanding, I recently opened a modern work of literary criticism on Bronte's masterpiece. It was completely impenetrable. Many of the individual words were quite new to me, and whole sentences, indeed whole pages, appeared to lack any coherent meaning. I sought solace in the preface, where I learned that the density of the text was deliberate. 'The analysis of literature and culture', declared the author, 'is a task no less difficult, and not less demanding of a specialized language, than the study of sub-atomic particles.' I hastened immediately to a textbook on orthodox economic theory in an effort to restore my sanity."

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