How economists use Twitter

When using Twitter, both economists and natural scientists communicate mostly with people outside their profession, but economists tweet less, mention fewer people and have fewer conversations with strangers than a comparable group of experts in the sciences. That is the central finding of research by Marina Della Giusta and colleagues, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference at the University of Sussex in Brighton in March 2018.

Their study also finds that economists use less accessible language with words that are more complex and more abbreviations. What’s more, their tone is more distant, less personal and less inclusive than that used by scientists.

The researchers reached these conclusions gathering data on tens of thousands of tweets from the Twitter accounts of both the top 25 economists and 25 scientists as identified by IDEAS and sciencemag. The top three economists are Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and Erik Brynjolfsson; the top three scientists are Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Cox and Richard Dawkins.

Here is further information, via Romesh Vaitilingam.  But I cannot find the original research paper on-line.  These are interesting results, but still I would like to see the shape of the entire distribution…


Shorter summary: economists do puffery, while real scientists do real work. Except TC, who is accessible and usually does not use too much jargon. However, IMO a more fair test is to compare the tweets of historians, political scientists and social scientists with economists, and I bet these groups are roughly similar in profiles.

Puffery? The top scientist in the study is an infotainer.

NdGT is a clown. He went from grad school to Hollywood in a heartbeat. I love reading non- fiction and watching lectures on YouTube and science documentaries but NdGT turns everything into a joke. His jokes are not even funny. I am always amazed by his popularity.

"Economists" is a reasonably well defined term, but "natural scientists"? That's very broad. Is it because there were not enough physicists, or biologists, or chemists, taken in isolation, on the internet?

Suggests a biased sample to me.

The biggest bias is that they are aggregating so many different science groups that the "top" people are going to be biased to the popularizers whose main intent is communication to the general public. No matter what you think of them personally, there is no way one can compare the academic record (vs. popular views) of NdGT vs Krugman or Stiglitz.

If one looked ONLY at physicists say, or biologists, the differences would be less stark.

They should have distinguished between scientists and science popularizers -- Tyson is wonderful, but he hasn't been much of an active researcher since the early 90's. His whole job is to present astronomy and related bits of physics in a fun and digestible way. Obviously he's going to use more accessible language. Ditto Dawkins: his actual scientific research was in the 70's; since then, almost all his publications have been in the popular press, and what he does, day to day, does not resemble what most evolutionary biologists do. He's not totally inactive in research, but not nearly on the level of the economists cited.

Yes, and consistent with your theory, Brian Cox also looks like a nice guy as a presenter (a UK Bill Nye the Science Guy) but lightweight in research. The proper test is to see how many tweets a modern day Josiah Willard Gibbs, Carl Friedrich Gauss or Leonhard Euler send out. Them being prolific researchers who barely took time off for bodily functions, I suspect not that many. Which proves what exactly? Not sure.

What about T. Tao?

Not on Twitter, very clear and friendly for a mathematician but even in his outreach or expository writing, a lot harder to digest than Tyson or Dawkins (my guess is 2/3 because of the nature of the subject matter, 1/3 because he mostly writes for people who are willing to put in some work).

I had never heard of Tao until this post. That guy has an impressive CV! I'm going to search for one of his presentations on YouTube.

" The relatively low traction of economists in these public debates has been and continues to be an important issue: does the public not trust economists? Do they not understand what economists do and how they work? Is their work misrepresented in the media? And how do economists themselves interact with public opinion? " (from referenced UK)

economists get no respect from the general public. wisdom of the crowds.

Tyler has already stated why. The predictive power of macro-economics is very low. It is fun to talk about the subject but it isn't useful.

As for Krugman, his academic work can pretty much reduced to saying "trajectories matter". Ok, we know that. He is now little more than a PR guy for the left.

The really useful part of economics is behavioural economics, all the rest is fluff.

Harsh but probably true. However the 'rules' of behavioral economics probably shift over time. Recall in finance the "January Effect" from supposed tax selling in the stock market that disappeared as soon as some finance professors wrote a paper about it, and then vainly tried to capitalize on this rule.

"economists tweet less, mention fewer people and have fewer conversations with strangers than a comparable group of experts in the sciences"

It's almost as though economists tend to be aware of their self-interest and thus don't waste as much time interacting with random nobodies on the Internet ...

Talking to the general public is Neil deGrasse Tyson's job; that's what he's hired to do. It's Richard Dawkins job, too. It's just that Dr. Tyson has much better manners. It was never Gary Becker's job or Milton Friedman's (though Friedman did publish trade books from time to time).

So if it was never Friedman's job, what was Newsweek paying him for?

I'd forgotten he had a column. Good point.

The famous Friedman vs. Samuelson dueling economic columns. Back in Newsweek's glory days. The discipline of Friedman and Samuelson having to condense their arguments into a constrained column format produced great quality stuff.

Newsweek was sold and boy is it bad. Last week I was in an airport in Asia and Newsweek had a cover of China's Xi. So stupidly I thought it would have an in-depth look at Xi and the background story of the Constitution changes, maybe Communist Party politics... It had two bland pages on Xi that a high schooler could have written and 14 pages ranting on Trump. Yes. That's not an exaggeration. Two pages on cover story person Xi, 14 pages on Trump.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is a scientist the way John Stossel is an economist.

Except that one actually has a PhD in his field, has held academic research positions and made a career of communicating science to the public?

Uh, no. He's a planetarium director. His business is science education. However, he isn't the analogue of Bill Nye (who is a lapsed engineer without a research degree), nor is he the analogue of Megan McArdle. He's the analogue of a professor at a teaching institution. He's published very little in the last 20 years, but he does have a background in research (at Columbia, IIRC). The thing is, there are few astronomers in this country and those employed at academic institutions tend to be at research universities. Astronomy departments are atypical just about everywhere and rare at teaching institutions (Wellesley has one, I think). Every once in a while a teaching institution will stash an astronomer in the physics department, but that's about it.

Wonder which economists they studied. From what I have seen, the active economists on Twitter mostly virtue signal to the left in layperson language.

Recalibrate. Those are median voters with median values.

Likely an older version of

Cox is the British Tyson. So who will win: academics or celebs, and why couldn't Brian Cox stop Brexit?

"Their study also finds that economists use less accessible language . . . ." Some might react to this finding by making an effort to use more accessible language, meaning less jargon, not only in their tweets but in academic writing as well. My law school made an effort to reduce the use of jargon (and Latin!) by requiring all first year students to take a writing class that emphasized accessible language, the bible for the class being Strunk and White. Of course, communication is very important for lawyers (that's what they are paid to do), less so for economists. Indeed, jargon (and less accessible language generally) serves a purpose for the one (lawyer, economist, whoever) using it: obfuscation. When I was a young lawyer, the older lawyers in my firm would say they could tell when I didn't know what I was talking about because I would speak louder than normal (as if volume would convince the listener). Obfuscation (inaccessible language) is the equivalent of loud in written communication. As for Twitter, get off and stay off. It's the right (and left) thing to do.

Imagine, people working with rayward thinking he had no idea what he was talking about

+1 for your comment on jargon and talking louder.

This is consistent with economists being a bit on the autistic side, and missing out on valuable social interactions.

But on the bright side, they enjoy the math more.

Comment posted from a Raspberry Pi, so you know how to sort me as well TBH.

"the top three scientists are Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Cox and Richard Dawkins": it's the way you tell 'em.

Does "People write for their intended audience" fully explain the findings?

As elsewhere economists in India, with few exceptions, seem unwilling or incapable of communicating with people outside the discipline . An economist who is on the editorial board of a widely read daily in India told me that most academics who write for the paper are willing to modify their submissions as suggested by the editorial team. it is the economists who become annoyed when they are told that most of the readers of the daily will not know what they are talking about when they use expressions alike rent-seeking, PPP, the base effect, moral hazard and real income , unless they are clearly defined. He added that these economists seem to be more keen to impress their peers rather than to educate the general public.

I suppose economists still suffer from physics envy. That's quite droll; it means they haven't noticed that the caravan has moved on. Fundamental physics is stuck whereas molecular biology/genetics have been roaring ahead.

I suppose economists still suffer from physics envy.

No, they don't, except when contemplating the physics department's budget allocation and staffing when compared to the number of its majors and course enrollments. And, truth be told, only the Econ department chair is thinking about that.

Maybe the 5% who do DSGE models have physics envy. That leaves the other 95%.

Comments for this post are closed