Thursday, October 24, 2013

On the Science of Social Science

There have been rumblings of late in the economic's community about just how scientific economics really is. In particular Raj Chetty opined here that economics is indeed a science while Krugman rebutted here that while economics may or may not be a science, economists are rarely scientists.

The heart of the debate revolves around three issues in particular. Firstly, economists are often wrong. Secondly, economists predictions are often difficult to test. Finally, many economists cling to dogmatic ideas that the consensus agrees are unlikely.

I have applied this same line of thinking to meteorology and concluded that as goes economics so goes the science of weather. If one is deemed by the public to be a science then both shall be and vice versa.  After all, weather forecasts are often incorrect much like economic forecasts.  Even more damning, weather forecasts predict only a couple weeks ahead while economists are asked to predict events months or years ahead of time.

Additionally, meteorological models are supremely difficult to test. In fact, the only real evidence for their validity is the aforementioned often in error forecasts.  This is in no way the fault of meteorologists of course. It's simply prohibitively difficult (perhaps impossible) to create a lab large enough to create full size weather systems.  Similarly unless an council of economists comes to power over a decently sized nation macro level experimentation is impossible. Still, no one questions the validity of meteorology as a science and economics is constantly questioned.

And if a minority population clinging to outdated ideas is a reason to invalidate a discipline as a science then all sciences will soon be declared a farce.  It would not take much research to find physicists that still herald the idea of the aether, astronomers than believe in heliocetrism,  and biologists that decry evolution as a falsehood. In any science, minority opinions are not only normal but necessary and healthy. Claiming that some economists holding to their beliefs in the face of contrary evidence invalidates economics as a science is ridiculous.

The fact is that economics is a science.  It is true that many economists are not scientists, but that is a trend that is changing day by day.  It is only in the past several decades that the tools for large scale analysis has arisen and it takes a commiserate amount of time to train new economists to use these tools. A generation of economists rooted in theory and thought experiments is moving on and a new generation has begun to apply the modern tools of rigorous analysis and experimentation to a still growing discipline. Regrettably it appears many seem determined to keep their gaze fixed upon the past rather than the developing future of the science.

That's all for this week. Until next time stay safe and rationale.

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