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The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error For Business, Politics, and Society

by Jim Manzi

Pub Date: May 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-465-02324-0
Publisher: Basic

In his debut, software entrepreneur and former management consultant Manzi provides a critique of using apparently scientific methods for social engineering.

Because societies are much more complex than the harder sciences like physics and biology, the author believes that attempts to apply the reductionist methodology will be doomed to failure. He writes that skepticism should be the order of the day in considering claims for the efficacy of new programs that ostensibly need scientific testing for validation. Manzi contrasts the application of the methods of the controlled experiment from the biological sciences with efforts to apply random-testing methods to criminal-justice, education and social-welfare programs. The author argues that the ultimate decisions on the application of such methods are “outside of science”—they are political and depend on answers to the question of “what kind of society we want to build.” Manzi recommends grasping the bull by the horns, as President Clinton did when he took on the question of welfare reform, and that responsibility be taken for (possibly unpopular) political decisions that will result in action, without sheltering behind apparently scientific studies to accurately predict the success or failure of social programs once they are implemented. What is done can always be modified if it doesn't work out right. The areas in need of the most urgent action, writes the author, are education, Social Security and Medicare.

A thoroughly argued, powerful study based on principles independent of the author's own conservative-libertarian views.