The Corner

Uncontrolled Self-Promotion

I have referenced my forthcoming book, Uncontrolled, in this space previously. It basically argues that we have much less formal knowledge about society than economists and other social scientists often claim, and that therefore we need to rely predominantly on practical expertise, federalism and trial-and-error learning to make useful progress. 

It also proceeded from “forthcoming” to “published” on May 1st. I thought I would put up one post that gathered up reactions to date. I’ll put up further posts as more reactions come in.

David Brooks was extremely generous, and devoted his entire New York Times op-ed column to the book about ten days ago. Embarrassingly, he provided a better summary of its themes than I ever have — so that’s a good place to go to understand what the book is about. Here’s an excerpt from his column:

In his new book, “Uncontrolled,” Manzi notes that many experts tackle policy problems by creating big pattern-finding models and then running simulations to see how proposals will work. That’s essentially what the proponents and opponents of the stimulus package did.

The problem is that no model can capture enough of the world’s complexity to yield definitive conclusions or make nonobvious predictions. A lot depends on what assumptions you build into them. . . .

What you really need to achieve sustained learning, Manzi argues, is controlled experiments. Try something out. Compare the results against a control group. Build up an information feedback loop.

I’ve been very pleased with the seriousness of the reviews thus far: the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution, Andrew Sullivan, and Kirkus Reviews (Kirkus is kind of like the AP Wire of book reviews).

Nick Shulz published a brief interview that I thought got right to the heart of some of the meatiest questions in the book. I was also interviewed about the book last week on MSNBC

There is a brief excerpt published right here in the current NRODT.

Liberal outlets like The New Republic and Kevin Drum at Mother Jones have given it very thoughtful and generally positive reviews — especially considering that this is like guys at GM and Chrysler reviewing a new car by Ford. When I can devote proper time to it, I will post a reply to some of the very interesting points raised in these reviews.

I wrote the book to try to stimulate some discussion, and hopefully that’s starting to happen.

Jim Manzi is CEO of Applied Predictive Technologies (APT), an applied artificial intelligence software company.


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