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…)