Greg Clark of UC Davis has a fascinating post at the Atlantic about the sorry state of contemporary academic economics:
as we have seen this year on the academic job market, macroeconomists had turned their considerable talents to a bizarre variety of rococo academic elaborations. With nothing of importance to explain, why not turn to the mysteries of online dating, for example.[…]
The debate about the bank bailout, and the stimulus package, has all revolved around issues that are entirely at the level of Econ 1. What is the multiplier from government spending? Does government spending crowd out private spending? How quickly can you increase government spending? If you got a A in college in Econ 1 you are an expert in this debate: fully an equal of Summers and Geithner.
The bailout debate has also been conducted in terms that would be quite familiar to economists in the 1920s and 1930s. There has essentially been no advance in our knowledge in 80 years.
It has seen people like Brad De Long accuse distinguished macro-economists like Eugene Fama and John Cochrane of the University of Chicago of at least one “elementary, freshman mistake.”
Recently a group of economists affiliated with the Cato Institute ran an ad in the New York Times opposing the Obama’s stimulus plan. As chair of my department I tried to arrange a public debate between one of the signatories and a proponent of fiscal stimulus — thinking that would be a timely and lively session. But the signatory, a fully accredited university macroeconomist, declined the opportunity for public defense of his position on the grounds that “all I know on this issue I got from Greg Mankiw’s blog — I really am not equipped to debate this with anyone.”
One of the things that has always struck me about economists is their willingness to whore themselves out for dubious causes. You won’t find many reputable scientists denying global warming, but you found plenty of economists willing to defend the Bush economic plan.
But none of this should come as a surprise. What would one expect of a group that chose the most lucrative and least one of the least intellectually meritorious field of academic study?
That’s an insult to honest whores. There are some things even they won’t do.
"Least intellectually meritorious?"
Not in any world where universities grant degrees in sociology.
What would one expect of a group that chose the most lucrative and least intellectually meritorious field of academic study?
The M.B.A. president?
I’ve always been a bit dismayed at the lack of integration between micro and macro economics. Every other field that studies people has focused hard on the "macro-micro linkage" because they know that what happens at one level is dependent on the other and vice versa.
Microeconomics established in the late 1970’s that the notion of homo economicus, the rational actor worshipped by the Free Marketeers, is actually a confused soul employing a range of short cuts (heuristics) in his or her mental calculations and then providing rationality to the decision after the fact. The lack of total knowledge and the use of heuristics means that the individual frequently makes mistakes in estimating the "optimal" outcome.
Microeconomics has known this for three decades, but macroeconomics continues to use homo economicus as its model for individual level behavior. Combine this fallacy with the complexity of higher aggregate markets and its no wonder no one knows what the fuck they’re talking about.
it’s all Freddie’s and Fannie’s fault.
I was suprised at first that you didn’t list sociology way ahead of economics as the "least intellectually meritorious" field of academic study, but then I realized that sociology failed the "most lucrative" test so miserably that economics is indeed the clear winner on a composite-score basis.
However, IMHO Princeton economist Paul Krugman has been presciently spot-on in accurately predicting and diagnosing the housing bubble and economic crisis, many months before anyone else with a significant reputationat stake speaking out in public about it. What he may not be quite so good at is reading the political practicalities of the situation – i.e. he’s likely correct that the current stimulus package isn’t quite as big and bold as needed to work well, but a bit obtuse on the political reality that Obama probably couldn’t have successfully maneuvered passage of anything bigger in one gulp than what just passed.
What kind of economist wouldn’t whore themselves out for money? Duh.
Awesome, the academic version of the Apple v. PC debate: “Which department is the least rigorous?”
Just kill me now.
@cmorenc: Sociology is far more rigorous than economics, but far less lucrative, by half I’d say.
Krugman is one of the economists I hear who understands that people are not rational calculators and he seems to take this into account in his thinking.
No one could have anticipated that calling economics the least intellectually meritorious field of study would lead to this.
But people are right: there probably are worse fields. So I changed “least” to “one of the least”.
I blame it on math.
Oh yeah? Prove me wrong.
Clearly, none of you have been to film school.
Yes, they are called "Software Engineering."
c u n d gulag
What I love is how surprised they all were (with a few notable exceptions) at the meltdown.
If a nitwit like me could see it coming (BA in Communications – no jokes please!), why couldn’t these halfwits?
Because they were kneeling at the shrine to Greenspan!
And give the guy who wasn’t equipped to debate some credit. At least he was honest. I wish more people would admit that. But then, who would CNN, MSNBC, and FOX have to fill their 24 hours?
Flying Pig Alert:
Care to guess who wrote the following?
Jonah Goldberg, that’s who. Bonus points for spotting the grammatical error.
It’s amazing how impractical math becomes once you get to grad school but everyone thinks we’re being hyperimportant instead of playing a game with rules that only a few people can understand.
It’s mostly because economics is a social science that wants to be a hard science. So its practitioners dress it up with all of the statistical apparel of a hard science without actually having the falsifiability and hard data of a hard science. That’s a ripe area for charlatans and nincompoops to hold sway because you can start spouting crap that sounds perfectly reasonable but is not falsifiable and sometimes not even testable. And drive your colleagues crazy as you do it because they know you’re wrong, and they might even be able to explain why you’re wrong, but there’s no way to "prove" that you’re wrong. Turns the whole thing into a religion with competing beliefs instead of an academic study.
It’s hard enough to avoid this stuff in the hard sciences, where you can perform experiment after experiment to finally show that your colleague who is spouting crap is wrong. Just the other week we got schooled in that yet again when it came out that Wakefield probably faked his results linking autism to vaccinations at the behest of lawyers trying to get a settlement from vaccination companies. Even with years of people producing reams of data showing that he was probably wrong, his faked results are going to live on in the psyches of people who are sure that vaccinations are dangerous.
Economics annoys me so goddamn much because it really could be a useful branch of social psychology, if they’d treat it like one. Instead too many economists want to treat it like a branch of quantum mechanics or statistics, with inviolate rules that must be obeyed. Because that’s where you get funding – nobody wants to fund social psychology, but lots of folks will line up to give you money if you can promise them that you can give them the secrets of the universe (as long as said secrets can either build a better weapon or make someone rich, that is).
@jenniebee: I was going to say "literary studies", because in film or software there is always the possibility that you will hit it big. Not many poets making 6-figures.
Economists are way too cocky when it comes to the maths. "Econometrics" is styled as this super-duper applied statistics, but its only advanced regression techniques using cherry-picked models. For real applied statistics you should see what the geographers and health people are doing.
Isn’t this the really important part of the story?
How can someone with that background not be equipped to debate the stimulus? Where did he get the degree? Are there others like him?
@NonyNony: To be fair, microeconomics has done a wonderful job testing hypotheses with experimental techniques. There work on decision-making and demonstrating the fallacy of the rational actor has been nothing short of illuminating.
Now macroeconomics, you are entirely correct, because all they can do is post-hoc analysis on events that already transpired and they also rely on the black-box model of the rational individual. The former is a week methodology and latter is a fallacy.
It’s rather silly to insult sociology versus economics, because a great deal of sociology has been dominated by the same philosophical underpinnings of economics — i.e., rational choice.
The awful and pathological assumptions justifying orthodox (the ordinary definition, not the specific debate within the field) economics over the last 30 – 40 years spread themselves throughout many academic disciplines.
Not that before that there weren’t lots of harmful assumptions, or that assumptions in general don’t change over time for reasons both good & ill – in all social science disciplines, even given the frequent over-straining in all fields to seem more and more like the ‘hard’ or ‘natural’ sciences.
But then, something publicly labeled "economics" supposedly justified the insane "Reaganism" we embarked on for the past 30 years, and it changed the destination of trillions and trillions of dollars of public and private wealth, so there was a great deal more at stake over the ideological domination of economics than there was with sociology.
‘Sociology’ (and often loosely employed to represent a range of social science disciplines like political science or anthropology, which is fine) was often employed politically as well, for example the ubiquitous pushing in law enforcement circles of "broken windows" or the "cycle of poverty" etc.
It just was nowhere near as significant at helping justify our nation’s wealthiest, most politically powerful, and most venal thieves as was ‘economics’, as publicly employed at least.
But even given the current debate and changed national circumstances, a lot of economics-related academics takes place in the business schools, and to me this would seem to mean that the institution will shape both the questions asked and the answers given.
North Dallas 30, is that you?
Yes. But to be fair he probably studies something other than financial crises. Of course its also fair to expect him to at least be able to discuss it, but at least he’s honest.
Economics, like law, has become a discipline marked (some might say "marred") by increasing specialization and sub-specialization. You wouldn’t trust a criminal defense lawyer to give advice on complex matters of international tax law, and if s/he has a lick of sense s/he won’t give it. Similarly, I take most everything Krugman says about the current macroeconomic crisis with a few grains of salt, because that’s not his area; he won the Nobel for ground-breaking work in the economics of international trade.
The disconnect lend (sic) credibility to the charge? Ya think so, Jonah?
What drives me crazy are the people who understand a very simple supply/demand model of economics and then use that to mock anyone who tries to explain that there’s a difference between the map and the territory. Yes, in your happy little simplified world it all makes sense, but out here we don’t just have a series of unrelated transactions where the only winning strategy is to maximize the profit on each one. Sometimes a higher profit today means that you can’t make any money in the future, but who wants to think about long term planning?
Is that Davis piece the same Davis piece Brad Delong (the Berkley economist) kicks around on his blog?
PS, it looks like Matt Y takes a wack at him also
If I have a link to another website, do I put the website address in the pop up window? The Big Picture has a decent video on the economy on hope.
We can all agree that Chemical Engineering is the department of the Gods.
@El Cid: Rational choice theory hasn’t been dominant in sociology since the 1970’s. It is actually highly marginalized now.
Criminology is far more politicized than sociology proper, mostly because a majority of sociology’s findings support progressive policies and they are thus labeled "commies" (even though true Marxists are even more marginalized than rational choice theorists). But criminology, which produced the idiotic "broken windows", gets pulled in all directions as money flows in from various sources. John Lott, who is an economics PhD actually, is a good example. His work is roundly discredited by every quality researcher I know, but he gets top academic jobs and barrels of money for speaking to right-wing groups because he says what they want to hear. The quality of his work is objectively laughable but it agrees with the Wingut worldview so he gets the lucre.
yes, you put the address there.
Here’s a link:
For that link I just made, I typed the "asdfasdf" into the comment box, highlighted it, clicked the ‘Ext. Link’ button, and pasted the http://www.yahoo.com into the pop-up.
The Other Steve
Look, if you are going to insult Software Engineering, I think it is incumbent upon you to prove your assertion is correct in all instances using First Order Predicate Calculus.
Give that man a prize. In fairness to Goldberg, I see junior people in our practice make that mistake all day, every day.
@Dave: Fields are so specialized that not only is it likely he doesn’t know how to make an informed comment, but that it is pretty awesome he admits it.
Take the field of political science. If you were to ask someone who had spent the past thirty years researching, publishing, and teaching American government to discuss the politics of Zimbabwe, I give you a 99% chance that they couldn’t. In the depth v. breadth nature of field specialization, they just don’t.
All across academia, there are departments that specialize in not in their field, but in one paradigm within that field. There are entire psychology departments on campuses that focus on behaviorism, other departments elsewhere specialize in other approaches.
Not only should the guy not be mocked, but considering the first step to knowing something is to recognize what you don’t know, he should be given credit.
At least that is my take.
edit- Didn’t notice he signed a letter opposing it. Forget what I said. You can’t have it both ways.
@amorphous: They certainly ain’t hurtin’ for salary.
@John Cole: Credit for admitting he didn’t know, but Big Deduction for signing his name to a letter claiming the stimulus wouldn’t work.
The prosecution rests.
If the answer to your second question is Liberty or Regent University, then that would explain your first question.
The Big Picture had posted this video and I thought that it was timely. Whoops, I’ll try again later. Sorry, John
As to Count Two of the indictment, relating to Entourage, how does the jury find?
"We find the defendants M****rf**kin’ Guilty, Your Honor."
I’m hoping to win the lottery myself. I’m just glad that DougJ didn’t go after the MFA in general.
I kind of do too. The two economists I know ended up in the field after essentially flunking out of math as undergrads.
But he signed a letter denouncing the stimulus.
@Incertus: I know some MFAs making decent bank, but they’re all in administration.
@Comrade Kevin: Thanks, I must have hit the ext link first instead of second. I’ll try again with another link later. Since I could not paste the address in the link, I initially typed in the wrong address. It is now corrected and you can link to it. It’s quite funny and Joe the Plumber would be proud. (Oh, nevermind, Joe the Plumber would not get it.)
@DougJ: Yeah, I missed that.
@DougJ: Well, they just need better instruction.
The best teachers I ever had were math teachers. I kid you not, it was just fun learning from them.
On the other end of the scale, sociology. OMFG. Those people can suck the brain cells right out of your head and not leave a mark.
@Incertus: I hate it when people attack the MFA. At many schools, it is a very tough degree to earn. I also heard people a couple weeks ago making fun of Landscape Architecture, calling them lawn jockeys who like to draw, and I have known a number of people who have earned a degree in that and it is no joke. People are just idiots.
Fair point. Didn’t consider the whole "narrow vs. wide" aspect.
But doesn’t he deserve to be mocked for signing onto something he can’t coherently defend?
I think that’s not far off in the case of these two.
@TheHatOnMyCat: My favorite teachers were always history or poly sci profs. One of the best classes I ever had was the History of Science. Loved that class.
Probably the best teacher I ever had was a guy named Gary Kappel at Bethany College.
What kind of fucking idiot ADMITS that? Furthermore, why’d Cato think that guy was worth including in their group?
@John Cole: Loved history.
Sort of liked philosophy.
Really hated ROTC field drill in September.
This post is one of the most poorly-thought-out I have ever read on this blog.
Economics is a social science. There are easily as many different perspectives and angles from which macroeconomists try to solve problems than from any other social science. Comparing it to climate science is a nonsensical, apples to oranges approach. Findings can only be as clear as the evidence, which in the case of climate change is pretty solid.
Having said that, I do think economists are wrong easily as often as everyone else is about their chosen subjects.
If sociology is such an analytically rigorous discipline (say more so than economics), why is it that it’s the leading choice of majors for full-scholarship athletes in the "revenue sports" particularly players whose biggest motivation for being in college in the first place is to hopefully use it as a springboard to the NBA or NFL? (Communication is another leading choice.) Why are economics majors in this demographic only slightly more common than say, electrical engineering majors?
Let’s just say these players choosing sociology as a major are making a quite rational decision, probably seconded by their "academic advisors" whose job it is to keep these players academically eligible for a full four years if possible. You do sometimes see business majors among athletes, but they are usually decent role players on the team, good enough to start or get significant minutes but who are realistic enough to know they’re unlikely to be able to go pro after college.
The above observations don’t negate in the least the many criticisms stated about economics being a soft social science that practitioners have attempted to wrap in the sort of advanced mathematical/statistical clothing characteristic of say, physics, in order to create the appearance of objective rigor. Math majors might tremble to casually flip through the pages of some academic economics journals. But you could wrap astrology in advanced mathematical hieroglypics, and it’s still just pudding-head goobldeygook. (Economics does have vastly more validity than astrology, but the analogy here does make a useful point about using math to make something appear sounder than it really is).
@TheHatOnMyCat: Hey! I resemble that remark!
Findings are quite solidly against supply side economics as well. They really are. Don’t let the Cato Institute fool you.
@cmorenc: Seriously? You’re comparing the rigor of each field based on the students?
Athletes are drawn to sociology because much of what they learn there resonates with their experiences. Most of these kids come from minority ethnic groups and the lower socioeconomic classes. When a sociology class explains how their experiences are actually part of a broader picture and not just some anomaly or their parent’s fault for not working hard enough, they get it. Put the same kid in a class with supply and demand curves and his eyes will glaze over.
That is beside the point, my argument about the relative rigor of sociology vis a vis economics, which our host points out is pedantic at best, is based solely on the research. Sociology uses a more diverse array of methodologies, investigate a more diverse array of phenomena, and have better models of the individual and her relation to society than economics has ever had. Economics is still assuming the rational actor! Sociology got over this in the 70’s. At the macro level sociology is miles beyond macroeconomics.
The kind who doesn’t want to be decimated publically in a debate.
They thought he was an economist who agreed with their ideological position and happened to have a pulse. No further qualifications necessary (pulse optional).
There’s a difference between defending the Bush economic plan (or facets of it or whatever) and signing on to CATO’s anti-stimulus letter. The latter is much more akin to similar group letters you see trying to lend authority to the claim that the science is still pending on global warming; I suppose the fraction of scientists signing onto such letters is probably an order of magnitude smaller than the fraction of economists signing onto this, but that’s probably because almost all scientists in the world are interested in common sense on global warming and a smaller fraction of economists are interested in the domestic politics of the stimulus.
DougJ: I’m not "fooled" by supply-side economics. But you don’t distinguish the Cato types from the rest of macroeconomics or even microeconomics (a different animal entirely, as others in this thread have noted) in your post. I object to that in light of the tremendous heterogeneity in the field.
cmorenc: I was referring to this comment: "You won’t find many reputable scientists denying global warming". Do you think (honest question) I interpreted it incorrectly?
Thanks for your responses folks!
This is one of the most hilariously naive comments I’ve read here in quite a while. Are you a sociology professor? Is this what they tell you (if so, your suck-up radar must not be functioning). There’s not necessarily any contradiction here that they sometimes may find some of their classes moderately interesting, but I assure you that’s not *why* most of them picked sociology.
My daughter is a scholarship athlete (in one of the non-revenue sports) – not a sociology major herself, but she knows how the system works for the athletes at her school who are there to cruise through the paths of least resistance.
Defenders of the economic approach to studying human behavior typically argue that you need to make the self-interested rational maximizer assumption in order to "constrain" your thinking. Otherwise you end up like a typical humanities person with willy-nilly thinking that has no structure.
Basic problems with this include:
1) the assumption that non-economists are incapable of thinking critically (this is just self-serving arrogance)
2) the assumption that mathematical models truly serve as a substantial constraint on thought (anyone clever can write a simple model to justify just about any conclusion)
3) the assumption that "constrained" thought is actually correct thought (what do you do when your model only kinda fits the data…)
. . . that it is dead wrong.
I’m not sure I see the relationship between the difficulty of undergrad classes and the difficulty of research in the field. People generally take classes as part of a general education process, not to specifically train as researchers. Some subjects are closer to ordinary human experience than others; this is why psychology, sociology, history, and English are easier to study than mathematics, physics, and chemistry. But just because people have a built-in "folk psychology" and don’t need that much training to have an opinion on psychological and sociological matters doesn’t mean that research in those fields isn’t difficult or rigorous. In some sense it’s much easier to send a man to the moon than it is to disentangle the relationship between poverty, education, and crime.
Speaking as someone with degrees in Anthropology and Law, I can say with some authority that the Economists are pikers when it comes to fruitcake theorizing and shameless whoredom.
Hey, at least in film school we got to spend our time watching movies, which in retrospect was much more productive than pretending that the markets are completely rational and predictable and making up mathematical models to "prove" it.
Who would you rather listen to a lecture by in their respective fields of expertise, Spike Lee or Greg Mankiw?
Awww, c’mon man, you had me until you tried linking scholarship athletes to a rigorous…something.
I’ve personally always thought of Sociology as being akin to playing bass; you can take it as far as you desire and talents will allow–like say Stanley Jordan, or you can just chug out root note pedal tones–like say the guy in most hair metal bands.
To be fair, there are lot of fields that allow for "phoning in" as it were. At my alma mater that was how we viewed mass communications BTW.
It’s up to us to figure which kind of practitioner we are looking at.
Geology however, is obviously above reproach. ;)
Don’t forget, at some schools (UCLA pops into my head immediately), the economics department is the de facto business school that feeds you directly into MBA programs. It’s really not in their interest to rock the boat and contradict the latest-and-greatest thinking about how best to maximize your company’s profits by laying off your employees.
Yeah, that is a less flippant way of putting my comment.
It’s cute how you use an anecdote (your daughter) to grant yourself expert knowledge in something you clearly just don’t get.
While there might be some truth in bootlegger’s explanation, it accepts your original assertion as fact – that the presence of more athletes in undergrad sociology than undergrad electrical engineering is proof of lack of merit in the discipline.
That’s just fucking stupid.
Electrical Engineering, particularly based on school is a terminal degree. A B.A. in sociology is never, ever viewed as a terminal degree.
The rigor will vary on the undergraduate level, but undergraduate experience has absolutely nothing to do with graduate level research.
Heh, but what do I know I’m not only a geographer but also a marxist (frankfurt school, so whatever). Talk about a marginalized field. :)
My last 2 years at Brown (’79-’80, ’80-’81) I took the intro econ courses. The econ dept. was the only clearly pro-Reagan department that I knew of on campus. It was very UofChi/Friedman monetarist. While I was ,in relationship to the average Brown student then, conservative, we all questioned the econ profs as to how they could support Reagan’s economics when ‘supply-side’ and the Laffer Curve were so obviously bullshit.
Their response was basically that they had to get the rubes’ votes somehow, and that admitting they intended to induce a recession to break inflation and inflationary expectations was not a winning electoral strategy.
I can’t remember the quote, but to paraphrase, it goes something like this:
"If a specific academic discipline consistently has less "good" answers than another, it is usually because they are trying to answer much harder questions, not because their people are any less smart."
How long have how many smart physicists been working on a unifying theory with no good answer? Are they dumb? Or is it just a really hard problem?
I’ll be the first to admit its not a "real" science where we can conduct controlled experiments and have falsifiable theories. God how much simpler life would be if we could! It doesn’t make economics less meaningful, it just makes it a heck of a lot harder.
My father, a rocket scientist, loves to make fun of the work I do as an economist. As I tell him, "Dad, if you were trying to get a rocket to the moon and you didn’t know what the force of gravity was, and every time you attempted to measure it, you got a different answer, how well do you think you’d do?"
But, I do like his retort, "well, then don’t tell people you can get them to the moon."
As one of my former macro professors once did, "We know we’re not right, but we haven’t come up with anything better yet, and in the mean time, its better than doing nothing."
Not the most reassuring quote, but I do think that the most frustrating of macroeconomists are the ones who insist that they really do know the "right" answer. But, I will agree that there is much too much reliance focus on applied math models that we all know are built on top of faulty assumptions. But, if anyone can come up with something better, you’re more than welcome to give it a shot. We have a lot of promising building blocks, but so far, there remains a gap between them and useful and predictive macro models.
As another colleague put it, "macroeconomics is only about 80 years old. Most of the other disciplines in academia got quite a head start. Medicine proceeded for thousands of years with leaches and bleedings, not even knowing what bacteria or viruses were, but it got better with time, and so will we. Just give us time."
Of course, people want timely answers to pressing queestions, but then again, doctors weren’t so quick figuring out the Black Plague either.
I wish you wouldn’t put macroeconomists in the same category as “academic economists.”
Which group is it an insult to?
As someone who studied Mechanical Engineering (applied science) I’d say the first damn mistake is calling an art a science. That doesn’t say an art isn’t useful, but it also means it isn’t rigorous and grounded in provable hypotheses. When that is the case you can get away with some pretty heavy bullshit. If you put wishful numbers into a crane boom design you can get results like it can’t pick the boom up or it collapses and you have a demonstrable catastrophy for demonstrable reasons.
If such a thing were true in economics you’d have a near universal consensus on what failed and why and what course to chart. Notice a lack of that?
I haven’t noticed many Engineers around here, but if you know some asking them about rock throwing in regard to degrees between some of the mentioned departments looks pretty fucking silly and scorn for MBAs would be nearly universal. My son took a BS in Business, I nearly fell down laughing when I heard bachelor of science in that regard, thinking about BSME.
What a person does with their degree is naturally an open question and judging outcomes as a basis of that degree is pretty simple thinking.
Athletes are drawn to sociology because the curriculum tends to be non-sequential and course offerings plentiful due to service offerings.
IOW, it’s the easiest degree to find courses around a training and travel schedule.
an economist, like a lawyer, is nothing more than a hired hand. they do what they are told to by the one paying them, within legal boundaries.
a scientist, in order to be a real ‘scientist’, can only accumulate data and present data. the global warming deniers can go out and hire "scientists’ who aren’t really scientists and have them spout fake data, but its apples & oranges, y’know? predictive macroeconomics is not an exact science, it leaves room and allows for guessing. real science does not. sure you can go on to develop theories about the future and write sci-fi, but that can’t be confused with the empirical practice of science.
@cmorenc: I have been one, yes, but I assure you I have no delusions about my students. I’ll bet the farm, my farm, that they find sociology more interesting than any other major.
I realize what you’re hinting at but are too chickenshit to actually say, that athletes choose it because it is an "easy" major. Given the high failure rate of scholarship athletes in my classes, and the dropout rate, I can guarantee you that they don’t find it easy.
You also seem to be implying that their advisors suggest the major to them because it is easy, but again I would argue that they suggest the major because they know that of all the academic disciplines the one they are most likely to stay awake in, i.e. find even moderately interesting, is sociology.
So go fuck yourself.
@eyepaddle: I wasn’t saying that scholarship athletes are academically "rigorous", I was saying that athletes choose the major because they find it interesting.
Everyone’s stereotype of student athletes is duly noted.
@Martin: That too, but you should hear these students talk about how their experiences relate to the course material. Frankly it animates them and for at least a brief amount of time you can see the intellectual gears turning. Of course when you ask them to write a paper on it the extent to which their education has been ignored in favor of their athletic prowess becomes obvious.
I don’t think he has tenure anywhere, so perhaps that’s an indication that the second half of the passage I cited from you is true.
@nylund: Don’t you get tired of the soft science/hard science red herring? Social sciences are much "harder" than the physical sciences. In the social sciences we are constrained by measurement devices, which as you note is in part because of the age of the disciplines, but we are also constrained by ethics that prevent us from manipulating human beings and social arrangements in order to carry out rigorous experimental tests. So we are left with some basic experimental techniques and observations from surveys and ethnography. But you’ll never convince a mechanical engineer of this, oh no, their science is hard, you know, like a big fucking stiffy. While the social sciences, well, they are soft and flacid. Whatever.
@Brian J: I wish. He’s been hired as a full professor everywhere he goes and that always comes with tenure.
nylund and bootlegger: get back to me when you find something as dumb as the Laffer curve coming from hard sciences in the last 30 years. Then you can crow.
One tenant of economics is that "incentives matter"; I think this is a valid observation.
If we apply it to economists, clearly their incentive is to please the rich and powerful. (If you do work that labor unions like, you’ll get rewarded far less.)
So, economists themselves should reason that they’re whores.
"Better" would mean "not whoring themselves out to the rich and powerful."
If you factor that out, there really is some decent economic theory.
That’s the conventional wisdom, often expressed as "economists have physics envy."
But some physicists have claimed this isn’t true at all: economists are far more in love with their models and too distant from their own data. Thus, the physicists concluded (and IMHO are correct) that economists have math envy. (Math not being a science and not itself concerned with data.)
The Laffer curve is basically a creation of politics, not economics. I know econ-bashing is popular nowadays, but even macroeconomics is scientific enough to dismiss it.
Seriously, there are lots of economists and they have lots of ideas; the reason you’ve heard of the Laffer curve was because it justified a policy that politicians wanted to implement anyway. There’s no backing for it in academia, not even from the right-wing hacks.
As for dumb stuff coming out of the hard sciences, what about the idea that we need quantum mechanics to make sense of consciousness?
Then why did guys like Larry Lindsey go along with the Bush economic plan? (Not rhetorical, I would like to know the answer.)
Just to be clear, I can’t speak for everyone in this thread but the point here is not that economists are idiots or that they don’t have a lot to offer to our dialog. I read Krugman and DeLong religiously.
But isn’t it a crisis for the field when you have reputable economists spouting things that contradict the most basic findings of the field? Isn’t it a crisis when someone like Larry Lindsey defends what is essentially a supply side economic policy?
Not sure about Lindsey, who I’m not too familiar with. But Mankiw, who was also a bigshot Bush administration economist often considered (rightly) a right-wing hack, has explicitly disavowed supply-side economics. My impression in Mankiw’s case was that he viewed tax cuts as a good in themselves; he views taxes and government intervention in general as distorting markets. He may not have been entirely happy with the whole Bush plan but that’s the price you pay for moving up in the world (think the upper levels of the police force on The Wire).
Anyway, the idea that you can cut taxes and *increase tax revenue* in the real world is honestly really stupid wishful thinking and not part of any legitimate economic framework. Conservative economists can still like tax cuts because they don’t like taxes or government in general.
That’s more or less my whole point here. Compare Mankiw and Lindsey to scientists at NASA or the EPA. You won’t find any scientists there willing to stretch the truth for a promotion the day way Mankiw and Lindsey do.
@DougJ: Michael Behe did publish an article supporting intelligent design in a reputable journal once, you know (the journal was aware of his ID affiliations and the usual rhetoric was stripped from the article during review, though).
The Discovery Institute has a whole list of articles supporting ID.
I don’t see the point of limiting the discussion to the last 30 years, anyway. N-rays certainly passed the peer review test for some time. And polywater.
Really? When Bush said we’re going to Mars, did anyone in NASA speak up and say that was stupid?
Good point as well.
I don’t see your examples as making much of a valid point in the link you provided to the Discovery Institute.
Besides Behe, it looks as if many, perhaps most, of the small collection of peer reviewed papers highlighted are from individuals outside of the biological sciences, whether it be physics, mathematics, philosophy, or geophysics (my background). These are not primary researchers in the field.
There is simply no comparison between Intelligent Design and science — or confusion over verifying phenomena — and what appears to be deep divisions among economists on fundamentals in their discipline.
I see a lot of value in the study of economics. However, I also continually see attempts to shut down public debate or disregard public input in economic matters — whether by public or private officials, or even commentators in blogs — by treating economics as having much more certainty, or predictive power, than the discipline remotely has.
Hence from my vantage point, the more criticism of economics, at least the type that affects public policy, the better.
Jamie Galbraith, NYT interview:
The Raven had a few thoughts on this about a month ago. My general impression is that practice and publication in the field has been distorted by politics and money. There’s a very serious problem in that major conclusions in the field are unpopular. When, for instance, Krugman points out that redistribution makes sense as policy, he is–for obvious reasons–unpopular on the right. At the same time, Krugman’s analysis of trade, and policy recommendations based on it, are deeply unpopular on the left and with the populist right. The realities of economics are very much in conflict with widely-held prejudices and the amount of money to be made by catering to those prejudices is enormously corrupting.