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'The Physics of Wall Street': The Most Arrogant Book in the World? Part 18


Thinking like a physicist.

Of course governments hire other science PhDs as well, but far more physicists. Moreover, physics jobs and research are more likely to involve gigantic expensive projects than other sciences. This leads us to expect physics PhD programs will be least costly for people who thrive in government employment, who can be trusted with expensive and dangerous equipment, who are comfortable networking within large organizations. People who can't keep secrets, who ask "what's the worst that can happen?" before throwing a random switch, who need unfettered intellectual freedom and cannot be polite to people they don't like, should find physics PhD programs intolerable.

This puts Weatherall's one-size-fits-all thinking in a different light. Observation, model, refinement, new model makes a lot of sense in a bureaucratic setting, or for a large, expensive project. It's stable and low risk compared to other methods of investigation like "try it and see" or "let's throw away the textbook and start from scratch" or that perennial favorite of fiction, "that's so crazy it just might work." What Weatherall really wants is a financial system run by certified salaried experts rather than the messy and wildly successful system we have staffed by annoyingly rich individualists whose only credentials are hubris and competitive success.

Okay, that's what a lot of people want. It makes him one more deluded high-IQ guy anxious to take a small step on the road to serfdom-nothing unusual there. What makes him arrogant is that he resolutely refuses to see that there is beautiful and successful theory as well as effective practice, and that it is done by serious thinkers with or without credentials. He squeezed finance into a narrow mold, which is not even all of physics, and finds the result pathetic. Then he writes a book without any effort to test his conclusions or discuss things with experienced practitioners, and asks the government to pay him to figure out the answers, which he's sure he can do better than the people who have worked and won their way to positions of influence today.

I hope this series has been useful. You don't have to read Weatherall's book to make sense of it, the same errors he makes are made by many other people. I thank Weatherall for expressing them so clearly because it makes them excellent springboards to the truth.

Links to previous stories in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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