It's human nature to want some esoteric, arcane knowledge or process to differentiate you from all the rubes. This is Pride, one of the seven deadly sins. Thus, esoteric specialists can demonstrate how billionaire George Steinbrenner was a fool to keep shoveling so much money to Derek Jeter, as he collected four world championships in the process.
Of course, this is not to pooh-pooh data collection but to criticize the idolization of the model constructed from the data. Steinbrenner saw something in Jeter that wouldn't necessarily show up in the spreadsheets. Donald Trump has made the point that he can tell a lot about potential business partners based on how they comport themselves in a round of golf.
My favorite example of gnostic thinking is "climate scientists" who fancy themselves something more than mere meteorologists. When they venture out of their computer labs, they end up trapped in Antarctic sea ice which their models told them did not exist. Then they have to radio actual meteorologists to find out what the weather patterns are so they can determine if their food stores and power supply will last through their taxpayer-funded rescue.
Economics is another area where very bright people get bored with axiomatic things like the supply-demand curve or capital and the structure of production. Genius-level people find this the intellectual equivalent of ditch-digging (which has its own science, as any ditch digger who's had to be pulled out from under a collapsed ditch wall can tell you). So they develop a "macro" field of economics with models that supposedly will have society running like a top. Of course, when they venture out in the real world their models fail appallingly. Long Term Capital Management nearly brought down Wall Street long before Goldman Sachs and AIG. The best and brightest American economists nearly killed post-Soviet Russia, and we came close to the Great Reset when the quants forgot to account for the fact that housing values can plateau, and also decline.
It's quaint to recall Gary Larson's great Far Side cartoons with the archetypal "scientists" peering through microscopes and telescopes, or in pith helmets in the jungle. (Actually, a lot of the humor was in how quaint it seemed even circa 1980 - 1995.) Currently, a lot of science consists in running computer models. Field work can actually be dangerous, which was a big complaint from the subject of a recent post:
I still love rocks and I still dream of the ancient Aegean seas, but for the better part of my career I’ve sealed myself into a locked laboratory, a small well-lit world that I can control. I still do fieldwork, but I do it in “safe” countries like Canada and Ireland — where similar things still happen. Where would I have ended up had I been the first person to report the isotope chemistry of the aquifers that underlie the ancient city of Hierapolis? I’ll never know, because I’ll never go back. I’ll take my chances elsewhere and let my male colleagues study the travertine deposits of the Menderes River Valley. I will continue to do everything right, and it will continue to keep me inadequately safe.
(Note that what is apparently out of the question is marrying a male colleague, who can do field work with her and protect her from harmful sexual encounters with strangers.)
As I've observed (repeatedly), the whole climate change alarum is rather distant from what people used to call "environmentalism." Things like eliminating particulate and heavy metal pollution, solid waste management, flora and fauna preservation aren't consistent with globalism and require some politically incorrect thinking about human r-selected reproductive practices. So the environmentalists tiptoed away from all these real world problems to focus on things with ambiguous metrics like "climate" and "sea levels." (As opposed to "weather" and "erosion.")
I certainly agree that it can't be good for anywhere or anybody to be burning so many fossil fuels, like the acres of idling cars on concrete highways, headed for reflective heat generators in the form of huge steel and glass buildings. I can drive two hours and see that brown smudge in the air above Atlanta and the temperature difference from city to rural to realize something non-normative is going on. But whereas an "environmentalist" used to be making these real world observations and calling for something tangible, now he's sitting in front of a computer trying to craft arguments for government to subsidize energy sources that are way too diffuse to have much utility. Or worse, arguing for some complicated rent-seeking scheme.
"Gnosticism" infects a lot of areas, like the magic thinking that concludes The Gap is because we're not getting black children away from their taciturn parents early enough--instead of thinking about things like how to get iodine and vitamin D into poor people's diets, and laying out some really clear rules for high-risk groups. Or that AIDS has everything to do with a runaway-freight-train of a virus that could Kill Us All, and nothing to do with practices that put intolerable loads on human immune systems. Or what Haitians really need are nice white people handing out canned goods instead of building them a sewage system and putting the Haitian equivalent of Paul Kagame in charge of it.
But the root of it all, it seems, is Pride.
UPDATE: John Derbyshire, on exactamundo, all-fours point:
Professor Thompson—she teaches math at the University of California, Davis—proceeds to apply that careful scrutiny at 3,500-word length. She concludes:
To summarize, the paper “Groups of diverse problem solvers can outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers” contains a theorem that has neither mathematical content nor real-world applications, and a contrived computer simulation that illustrates the well-known fact that random algorithms are often effective. What the paper emphatically does not contain is information that can be applied to any real-world situation involving actual people.
Predictable as the effing tides.