Not Wrong, Just Incomplete


Perhaps I’d heard it before, but the phrase “not wrong, just incomplete” didn’t stick with me until I encountered the Resilience Alliancewritings of Buzz Holling and colleagues.

It is the graciousness in this phrase that appeals to me. Not wrong, just incomplete. It recognizes value. Yet it insists that a broader perspective, a fuller accounting, would lead to a better hypothesis or sounder judgment.

Time is one confounder. It is easy to presume that conclusions based on current trends, patterns or mores will remain applicable or relevant into the future. Not wrong, just incomplete.

Holling and colleagues use the phrase to describe myths or ideologies (“caricatures”) of the human-nature relationship. One is the optimist’s view that nature is infinitely malleable to human intervention. Another is the declensionist’s view that all human interventions betray certain hubris. Neither is wrong, they state, just incomplete.

A host of familiar-but-pernicious myths are worth tagging with this handy rubric. Here are three from economics that, for a time, gained the status of dogma.

Not wrong, just incomplete. What examples come to mind for you?