Where is economics headed?

by on May 11, 2010 at 10:42 am in Economics, Education | Permalink

Andrew Oswald has a new and interesting paper on what kinds of articles now get published.  The piece starts off as follows:

When I was a PhD student, in Oxford in the late 1970s, I was taught nothing about the experimental method or how to weigh evidence, and indeed comparatively little about data. Consciously or subconsciously, we were encouraged to think of economics as a branch of (not very applied) mathematics. My first published paper relied on a fixed-point theorem; it contained no numbers. We were not exposed to, for example, any empirical findings from the psychology literature or the intellectual approach of researchers like epidemiologists.

Amazing, is it not?  Turn to p.5 to see one of his basic counts, which puts experimental papers in the lead.

josh May 11, 2010 at 10:55 am

Someday a real rain is gonna come…but for now, economics is headed toward whatever justifies a growing bureaucracy and of course the need for more academic economists. Oh, and professional official journalists to explain the universal truths discovered by these revered geniuses.

Tribsantos May 11, 2010 at 11:55 am

The link is broken. Can we find the paper anywhere else?

Michael F. Martin May 11, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Is it so surprising though given how expensive it was to collect and process economic data before digital computers and internet protocols became available?

Greg Ransom May 11, 2010 at 12:54 pm

To an outsider it looks like one damned scientistic fashion after another ….

Publish or perish, adding to the giant ash-heap of unread journals in the stacks.

k May 11, 2010 at 2:14 pm

“they have no coherent idea what the nature of the causal explanatory framework is in economics, or what explanatory problem it solves”

eh what?

Greg Ransom May 11, 2010 at 2:19 pm

k — so you tell me.

What is the empirical problem to be explained in economics. (Or what is the nature of the problem).

And what provides a causal mechanism which explains that problem.

Greg Ransom May 11, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Hayek’s example of Darwinian biology and other sciences of complex phenomena led Karl Popper himself to acknowledge that his “demarcation criterion” of science had bee falsified …

Tracy wrote:

“I would guess that most economists would recognise Popper’s idea of disproving hypotheses”

Greg Ransom May 11, 2010 at 5:40 pm

“I would guess that most economists would recognise Popper’s idea of disproving hypotheses”

This is exactly the problem.

As Hayek forced Popper to acknowledge, this account of “science” isn’t accurate and doesn’t handle cases like Darwinian biology and other fields addressing essentially complex phenomena (like economics).

Hayek described the effort of economists to imitate the false image of “science” derived from Popper or others as “scientism” — Hayek actually coined the word for that purpose.

Greg Ransom May 12, 2010 at 12:12 am

This isn’t what happened.

Ricardo wrote:

” Once [Popper] spoke to actual real-life evolutionary biologists, he certainly couldn’t claim that evolution was non-falsifiable”

Ricardo May 12, 2010 at 2:22 am

This isn’t what happened.

I’m not sure whether you are right or not — a citation would be helpful. It’s not really relevant except as an appeal to authority whether Popper was ever fully convinced evolutionary biology was a science or not.

Richard Dawkins was once asked what the best evidence for evolution was. His response was the way in which you can reconstruct a genetic family tree across species that matches very closely with the evolutionary family tree biologists had constructed before DNA had ever been discovered.

This places evolutionary biology squarely within the realm of Popperian falsification whether Popper himself realized this within his lifetime or not. Darwin wrote that evolution occurs by gradual changes within organisms without being aware of the exact mechanism. If it had been the case that we had discovered species that were supposedly close relatives to each other had wildly different genetic make-ups, Darwin would be in a lot of trouble. It wouldn’t be very plausible to posit gradual changes if we observed huge fundamental changes in DNA. We don’t observe this and Darwin in some sense predicted the result. Under Popper’s own definition of science, Darwin’s theories qualify as much as Einstein’s do (Einstein also made predictions about the implications of his theory that were validated by observation only much later — Popper makes explicit reference to this).

DG Lesvic May 12, 2010 at 2:29 am

By the way, that’s a trick question.

Let’s see how smart you really are, and if you can spot the “trick.”

DG Lesvic May 12, 2010 at 3:54 am

Tracy,

Congratulations! You’re right, that was empirical. Well, up to a point.

Here’s the proposition, again.

There’s demand for apple pies, but none for mud pies, so they won’t be worth a red cent, no matter how much labor has gone into them.

There’s demand for apple pies but none for mud pies.

Now, that’s empirical.

But,

they won’t be worth a red cent, no matter how much labor has gone into them.

Isn’t that logical?

And isn’t that the way all traditional economics is, starting out with the axioms, which are empirical, but, deriving from them the theories, which are all “logical.”

DG Lesvic May 12, 2010 at 4:09 am

And, by the way, the reason I put quote marks around the word logical was because economics, more properly speaking, was praxeological, the difference being that logic was out of time and space while economics, a part of praxeology, was about action through time and space.

Greg Ransom May 12, 2010 at 5:19 pm

Tracy, this is what I said:

“[economists] have no coherent idea what the nature of the causal explanatory framework is in economics, or what explanatory problem it solves. The have no idea what “science” is in their field of study (they attempt to impose a false understanding of “hard” science on their own complex human science — which explains the unresolved and always newly discovered pathologies — and constant need for a new “science” fashions).

Imposing Popper’s false account of “science” upon economics counts as an “attempt to impose a false understanding of “hard” science on their own complex human science”

Tracy wrote:

“Greg Ransom – you have changed your claim. Earlier you said that economists have no idea of what science is in their field of study. I suggested that most economists would recognise Popper’s idea, but asked if you had any evidence supporting your assertion that economists have no idea. You have not provided any support for your original claim, instead you have gone off and attacked the idea of Popperian falsity.”

DG Lesvic May 12, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Tracy,

I just noticed your response to me at that thread below about RCTs.

Would you like me to respond to it, or are you as exhausted as I?

DG Lesvic May 13, 2010 at 10:44 am

Tracy,

My choice is not to have to repeat Human Action for you people, but you sure need it.

Why don’t you just read it yourselves. To anyone who has, your discussions here are ridiculous.

Greg Ransom May 14, 2010 at 2:49 am

Tracy, the authors I cited supported the claims I was using them to support.

The game of changing the subject you can play with someone else.

TracyW May 14, 2010 at 9:34 am

Greg Ransome,
“you misread and twist in pretzels every sentence I write ”

I am terribly sorry for doing so, it was not intentional. Could you please tell me then for at least once of your sentences what it was that you intended to write?

“the authors I cited supported the claims I was using them to support.”

Luckily, there are links avavilable so anyone wishing to check which one of us is telling the truth can do so easily.

DG Lesvic, I will keep an eye out for the book you mention. If I am currently being ridiculous, then so be it, it won’t be the first time, nor I suspect the last.

Greg Ransom May 14, 2010 at 12:33 pm

What is next Tracy, Hitler?

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