Three cheers for epistemic humility

In response to today’s conflicting jobs reports, David Leonhardt explains:

Any one jobs report contains a fair bit of statistical noise, as Neil Irwin and Kevin Quealy have explained. It’s a mistake to pretend otherwise. The best approach is to take all the evidence — both the household and business survey, as well as multiple months of data — and use it all to tell the most sensible story we can, based on the evidence. [emphasis added]

Right now, that story looks something like this: The labor market appears to be gaining strength. But there are enough conflicting signals that we will need more months of data before we can be sure.

I’m a big fan of epistemic humility, especially in today’s world that values certainty and absolutes. One of my guiding philosophical approaches to life is that since all human sources of knowledge are fallible, the closest any of us can get to Ultimate Truth is obtainable only through taking as wide a sample as possible of as many different perspectives as possible on a particular question or topic, then taking a weighted average of them all to try to come to a tentative (although never final) personal conclusion or belief in some truth, whether empirical or otherwise.

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