Is Economics a Science? From Nobel Prizes to Public Opinion

So, one of the questions that I like to think about on a lazy Sunday afternoon is, what makes something a science? By this I do not mean the philosophical question of what constitutes valid methods for uncovering truth, etc. Rather, I want to know why some disciplines/fields/courses of study are seen as scientific or science-like and others are not, and by whom. For example, do the practitioners think they are doing science? What does that mean to them? How about politicians? The public at large?

For example, I would argue that there is something of a debate within Sociology about the status of the discipline. George Steinmetz lays out a large piece of this debate in his article, “Odious Comparisons: Incommensurability, the Case Study, and “Small N’s” in Sociology.” Steinmetz takes up the side of critical realism against what he calls “methodological positivism”, which is a standpoint with a particular ontology, epistemology and methodology all inspired by a particular vision of science. Steinmetz also examines some postmodern critiques and contrasts them with both critical realism and methodological positivism. The details aren’t essential here, all I’m trying to show is that within Sociology there are related debates about both the meaning of ‘being a science’ and whether or not Sociology is or ought to try to be a science.

But what about economics? (more…)

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What Economists Knew About Knowing

In his excellent book, Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations, economics journalist David Warsh lays out the fascinating back story (in a broad sense) of a single important economics paper – “Romer 1990”. In this paper, titled “Endogenous Technological Change”, Paul Romer lays out a new model for understanding the growth of a nation which finally brought knowledge – in the form of improvements in technology – into the model. Previous growth models (such as the famous Solow model) had left such improvements to the ‘residual’, and thus failed to explain a great deal of the changes that occurred in 20th century economies.

(Warning – this post is rather lengthy!) (more…)

Hello (academic blogging) world!

About myself: My name is Dan Hirschman and I am a (budding) Sociologist. My interests range over a variety of topics but lately I have been very interested in Economics (both as a way of understanding the world and as a social phenomenon). I’m also interested in the Free Software/Open Source movement, Fair Trade coffee, and other examples of ‘ethical consumption’. My earlier work (of which there is very little) mostly focused on immigration from Latin America to the United States. I am also interested in the rhetoric of research, and in particular quantitative methodology. Lastly, I’ve spent a lot of time recently pondering the 2008 presidential race and learning how to cook.

About this blog: The idea of a commonplace book came to me from the delightful A Series of Unfortunate Events, by Lemony Snicket. This blog will hopefully serve as a sort of commonplace book for my thoughts on the above subjects. In particular, I hope to use it to motivate myself to read a bit more carefully, and post little book and article reviews as reminders to myself at least.