Nassim Taleb recently criticized the Nobel Prize in Economics:
According to Taleb, there are a number of mistaken ideas about forecasting and measuring risk, which all contribute to events like the 2008 global crisis. The Nobel prize, he says, has given them a stamp of approval, allowing them to propagate.
It isn’t just economics. As I’ve said before, the Nobel Prize in medicine was not given for the discovery that smoking causes lung cancer. It was not given for the discovery that lack of folate causes birth defects. Both enormously useful. It has been given for several discoveries, such as the connection between teleomeres and aging, with (so far) little or no practical value.
This is no mystery. The Nobel Prize must be prestigious, therefore must honor high-prestige research. Veblen argued long ago that in academia high prestige correlates with low practical value. Just today I told a friend Veblen’s idea that professors use jargon for the same reason men wear ties — to show off how useless they are. The economics research (“Harry Markowitz, William Sharpe, Robert Merton, Myron Scholes, Robert Engle, Franco Modigliani and Merton Miller”) that Taleb is criticizing was high prestige. The so-far-useless biology that has received a Nobel Prize was high prestige; the highly-useful epidemiology that didn’t receive the prize was low prestige.
Thanks to Dave Lull.