The recent “empirical” turn in economics should be known as an “applied” one and it is just one in a long series of related developments. Moreover, it is a move towards the historical roots of the discipline. Those are some lessons from Beatrice Cherrier‘s essay “Is there really an empirical turn in economics?“. Based on research conducted together with Roger Backhouse, she takes issue with the idea that there has been a revolution in economic research involving empirics. Some points I liked:
- Empirical work has been live and well, what has changed is its recent larger role in top journals. Besides, the view of theory as dominating in economics is based on looking only at the last 50 years – pre- and immediate post-war economics used to be a lot more empirical.
- Much theory has become more applied, often involving data. And John Bates Clark medal citations stress “applied,” often taken consisting of a mix of theory and empirics.
- Increasing availablity of data is a development that has been ongoing since at least the 1960’s. Hype around and criticism of new, large sources of data were the same in the 1970’s as today.
- Computerization is overrated, much modern empirical work is computationally and numerically very simple.
- Oscar Morgenstern (of von Neumann and Morgenstern‘s Theory of Games and Economic Behavior fame) proposed that to become a fellow of the Econometric Society, it should be a requirement to “have done some econometric work in the strictest sense” and be “in actual contact with data they have explored and exploited for which purpose they may have even developed new methods.”
H/t: Erwin Dekker.
The Heartbleed bug is everywhere, so it is nice to understand it a little. xkcd has drawn it, but a few words might help to interpret his comic. The “heartbeat” option allows a computer to check that it still has a connection to a server. The computer sends a message, for example “asdfgh” that the server repeats back to acknowledge that it is there. Now, the bug allows tricking the server by telling it that the message sent is much longer than it really is, for example saying that the message “asdfgh” is 64 000 characters. Then the server does not stop after “asdfgh,” but continues with further 63 994 characters from its memory. Since many people use one server, these extra characters may contain usernames and passwords that other people have entered. The heart bleeds.
More information and advice about how to protect oneself at Vox or thousands of other places.
Surveillance gets a bad rap these days, but here is another perspective, stated clearly for once: Stuart Armstrong writing in the Aeon magazine spells out what the benefits of total surveillance might be. Summary: less crime, fewer resources spent on police and military, prevent pandemics and terrorists, help disaster response, provide data for research, practical applications, more global trust. (And he duly notes: “these potential benefits aren’t the whole story on mass surveillance.”)
The coming of a sureveillance state dystopia has been predicted for some time. Ramez Naam writes a guest post at Charles Stross’ blog, and claims that the decentralization of technology has been responsible for the postponement. E.g., getting away with photoshopping images is a lot harder today than in Stalin’s time.
Naam spells out three technological trends that will help the little man even further: 1. Cheap cameras for self-protection. “[Camera] technology, when expensive benefits the big players. The technology getting cheaper becomes distributed, benefiting the citizenry.” “2. Crypto and Anonymity Blunt Surveillance Tools.” If someone is not looking for you in particular, anonomity tools are quite effective. 3. Information is becoming easier to spread. Naam ends by emphasizing that these trends will be no panacea, we will still need the law and proper oversight.