Egg on their faces

Finweek English Edition - - Economic Trends & Analysis - HOWARD PREECE howardp@fin­week.co.za

ECO­NOMICS IS of­ten re­ferred to as a “sci­ence”. There’s some truth in that. But the events of re­cent months have again re­minded that that claim is also sub­ject to a great many lim­i­ta­tions. David Smith, busi­ness ed­i­tor and eco­nomics colum­nist of the Lon­don Sun­day Times, notes: “Eco­nomics hasn’t cov­ered it­self with glory in pre­dict­ing the sit­u­a­tion we now find our­selves in. The bankers’ mod­els didn’t work – and nei­ther did those of economists.”

A lit­tle more hu­mil­ity from all eco­nomics prac­ti­tion­ers is called for, at least in some ar­eas.

That ap­plies to many other “semi­sciences” – such as psy­chol­ogy, so­ci­ol­ogy, cli­mate, hu­man rights and many oth­ers. Mind you, “proper sci­ence” also needs con­stant mon­i­tor­ing.

Take this sim­ple but im­por­tant ex­am­ple. For gen­er­a­tions it was widely be­lieved that eggs were good, healthy food. Then a bunch of “ex­perts’’ con­cluded that in fact eggs – or the yolks, any­way – were ac­tu­ally ex­tremely harm­ful, be­cause they ap­par­ently caused an ex­ces­sively danger­ous build-up of choles­terol. That be­came un­ques­tioned re­ceived wis­dom, though lots of peo­ple took no no­tice.

How­ever, two re­searchers at Bri­tain’s Sur­rey Uni­ver­sity – Juliet Gray and Bruce Grif­fin – have now con­cluded af­ter ex­tended study 40 years later that the whole egg/ choles­terol the­sis is sim­ply “a myth”.

So should we be sur­prised eco­nomics is also com­pli­cated by fads and fash­ions that are of­ten pri­mar­ily po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated?

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