+3 votes
asked ago in General Economics Questions by (290 points)
edited ago by
This survey collects views and beliefs about the relationship between economics and science from practitioners, students and any person related to the discipline. Its purpose is to provide the first systematic overview of economists' and non-economists' opinions on the topic.

It takes less than 3 minutes! Your participation is much appreciated.

Link: https://forms.gle/SjjpmCkbcmGFWDNX6
commented ago by (1.6k points)
The best definition of "science" I know comes from the Chambers dictionary: "knowledge ascertained by observation and experiment, critically tested, systematized and brought under general principles".
commented ago by (290 points)
Dear Prof. Dixit, thanks for the comment! I find this definition to be in the right direction but still incomplete, since it equates science only with a type of knowledge.

See what you think of the following definition, that I wrote into an essay on the topic:

"Science is a set of testable theories, a set of observations and evidence supporting these theories, and a set of systematic practices and protocols to generate measurements, categorize data, formulate new theories, and perform experiments."
commented ago by (1.6k points)
Your elaboration usefully clarifies that scientific inquiry is a process, not a static or settled state. But different parts of your statement apply to different extents, and in some cases not at all, to different areas or branches of different sciences. For example, performing experiments should not be a sine qua non, as that would exclude cosmology, geology and some other sciences and fields. And theories may emerge from volumes of data (evolution) or suggest new facts and data to look for (the positron). So I use the definition as a guide, but do not make it a dogma or a litmus test. What is science? "I know it when I see it" as Justice Potter Stewart would say.
commented ago by (200 points)
Economics is fast closing in to be at par with the discipline of Science. This  'Scientification' of a Social Science faculty is becoming possible because of the emergence of Big Data & IoT, dispersed sensors,ICT  & computing capabilities. These technologies are acting as enablers of 'Economics Laboratory'. The Economics -Lab  encompasses vast stretches of geographies,  diverse demographics, time scales from minutes to years accurately capturing  thinking & behaviour which are the key ingredients entering into any decision & economic acts. The cell phone is essentially an individual's & society's log of behaviour which can be developed & analysed for economics experimental data, check for repeatability, validation and theory testing.

2 Answers

+1 vote
answered ago by (6.9k points)
In 1999, Charlie Plott and I responded to an article in The Economist with letters to the editor that were not accepted for publication. We both thought that Economics is science.  You can find the (unpublished) letters at http://web.stanford.edu/~alroth/econsci.html  and at http://web.stanford.edu/~alroth/Plott.html
commented ago by (290 points)
Dear Prof. Roth, I have read both letters with great interest. While this question goes back many decades within the profession, I have never seen a representative survey of practitioners' opinion on it (thus my motivation to circulate this survey). I wonder whether the AEA be interested in institutionally sponsoring an online anonymized survey of opinions about economics and science. The results would be very interesting, in whatever direction it ultimately goes.
+1 vote
answered ago by (600 points)
edited ago by
Part of economics SHOULD be a science. Let me clarify...

Economics comes from a long and noble tradition dating back 2000 years, and being deeply researched since around the so-called Scottish Enlightenment. Political economy, as we now call it, wanted to see the disciple holistically...embracing the political and social (even historical?) forces that undoubtedly drive the variables in our models.

Marshall's revolution rightly tried to flung economics into the Comptian tradition of socio-dynamics...looking for an identifiable force to drive all observable phenonomen. Its those seeds that lead us today to scientificize (to coin a word) even love, dating, abortion and many other aspects of seemingly uneconomic life.  Yes, we drew on the same motivations and heros that the physicists drew on (and many of us like me are failed physicists).

So yes, we -- and most vehemently among the AEA - strongly adhere to the methods and appearance of science. The use of objective data. Impartiality. The teasing away of complexity through modelling. We hide our uncertainty and misgivings in pages of obscure details (which might be a scientist's attention to detail in so much as the hope to bury the sources of spurious regressions). We still use ancient looking tables and regression panels, when more attractive, illustrative methods could (and should) be used.

We train our students to be hyper-numerate and quantitative (like scientists)...but always spin a good tale, and offer real-world recommendations, like the Physiocrats (failed to) do.

So, yes and no. Many of our peers - especially in the AEA (no disrepect to my brothers and sister) cling to the accoutrements of science (try getting great European or Asian economics in the AEA's flagship publications). Yet, many of us, reject thus entire paradigm...calling it "the pretense of knowledge" (ie Hayek). They...and even I...wonder why we are "discovering" the biases and cognitive shortcuts (and awarding Nobel Prizes for these 'discoveries') which the psychologists and fish monglers of yesteryear well knew. We are good atlabelling everyday stuff with fancy monikers (from aversity, voracity and veracity effects to signalling).

Yet, as the biologists and paleontologists teach us, sometimes just labelling something makes it useful science.

PS - sorry, I just saw the link. I thought you wanted something more discursive. A perfect illustration of the problems of our discipline in deciding what counts as a survey and useful data :)