The Surprising Payoff of Trial-And-Error for Business, Politics, and Society
By Jim Manzi
Basic Books (AZ), Hardcover, 9780465023240, 320pp.
Publication Date: May 1, 2012
In a powerful and masterfully-argued book, Manzi shows us how the methods of science can be applied to social and economic policy in order to ensure progress and prosperity.
David Brooks, New York Times
“[Manzi’s] tour through the history of government learning is sobering, suggesting there may be a growing policy gap. The world is changing fast, producing enormous benefits and problems. Our ability to understand these problems is slow. Social policies designed to address them usually fail and almost always produce limited results. Most problems have too many interlocking causes to be explicable through modeling. Still, things don’t have to be this bad. The first step to wisdom is admitting how little we know and constructing a trial-and-error process on the basis of our own ignorance. Inject controlled experiments throughout government. Feel your way forward. Fail less badly every day.”
“This challenging book highlights the astounding advances in science and technology that have started to be used in social-program evaluations.” Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic“If Uncontrolled were merely a restatement of the need for epistemic humility among wonks and legislators, interest in it might be confined to the right. The book is of broader interest, and may turn out to be important, because its author makes a compelling argument for an ideologically neutral method for improving policy, one that left and right might both plausibly embrace, even as it challenges both sides to rethink some of their reflexes…. [Uncontrolled is] the rare political book that goes out of its way to raise the most powerful objections to its arguments and to point out the limits of the reform program that it recommends.” Kenneth Silber, The Daily Beast“Jim Manzi’s Uncontrolled is an intriguing investigation of the power, limits, and varieties of empirical knowledge…. [A] substantial part of Uncontrolled’s value is in its sharp thinking about how various disciplines seek reliable knowledge…. Uncontrolled offers useful advice for navigating a hard-to-know world.” Arnold Kling, National Review
“The ideas in this book are important…. This is a provocative book for people who are interested in how social science relates to public policy.”
The American Conservative
“[A]s Jim Manzi persuasively argues in his insightful and well-written new book, Uncontrolled, humanity is terrible at foresight, and trial-and-error is the chief way humans develop reliable knowledge…. In Uncontrolled, Manzi provides an incisive and highly readable account of how trial-and-error experimentation in science and free markets lessens human ignorance, uproots bias, and produces progress.”
Steve Sailer, Taki’s Magazine“In his impressive first book, Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial-and-Error for Business, Politics, and Society, entrepreneur/intellectual Jim Manzi has the makings of an airport best seller in the genre of Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics and Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Indeed, Uncontrolled is far more reliable than those two sometimes-dubious tomes…. Uncontrolled offers one of the most lucid and sensible historical overviews of the philosophy of science I’ve ever read.”
Reihan Salam, National Review Online“[T]he most important book of 2012 (read it now so you can be ahead of the curve).”
David McKenzie, World Bank, Development Impact blog“[I]nteresting reading…. The lesson of trial-and-error with thousands of relatively low-cost experiments designed to make marginal improvements is one that could be useful in many government bureaucracies (and indeed in our own bureaucracy).”
Gary Gutting, The New York Times, Opinionator, The Stone“[Jim Manzi] offers a careful and informed survey of the problems of research in the social sciences.”