Economics may be a science, but it is not one of the sciences

(Begin poorly-thought-out post:)

Raj Chetty wrote an article for the New York Times that has been being passed around the economics blogosphere on why economics is a science:

What kind of science, people wondered, bestows its most distinguished honor on scholars with opposing ideas? “They should make these politically balanced awards in physics, chemistry and medicine, too,” the Duke sociologist Kieran Healy wrote sardonically on Twitter.

But the headline-grabbing differences between the findings of these Nobel laureates are less significant than the profound agreement in their scientific approach to economic questions, which is characterized by formulating and testing precise hypotheses. I’m troubled by the sense among skeptics that disagreements about the answers to certain questions suggest that economics is a confused discipline, a fake science whose findings cannot be a useful basis for making policy decisions.

He goes on to argue, strangely, that economics is a science because it is now primarily empirical. I’m not particularly interested in the argument of who is a “real” science – when I did physics, I remember people liked to make fun of biology as not a real “hard” science, etc.

But I spend a lot of time talking to people across the scientific spectrum – physicists, biologists, psychologists, economists. And economists are consistently the outlier in what they think about and who they reference. They are simply not a part of the broader natural sciences community. Look at the interdisciplinary connectivity between fields in the picture above. There is a clear cluster in the center of social studies and a largely separate ring of the natural sciences. Here’s another way of viewing it:

No matter how you slice it, economics is just not part of the natural sciences community. It’s starting to edge there, with some hesitant links to neuroscience and genomics, but it’s not there yet. I find it all a bit baffling. Why has economics separated itself so much from the rest of the natural sciences?

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2 thoughts on “Economics may be a science, but it is not one of the sciences

  1. Another very similar question is why have the natural sciences separated themselves so much from economics. Why isn’t economics on the Cognitive Science Society’s logo? Of course their logo’s missing other disciplines too: e.g., physics, computer science, religion. They could totally add in another circle of additional disciplines around that maze thing ( http://cognitivesciencesociety.org/uploads/thumbs/cogscilogo_w300.jpg ); somebody with a lot of academic credibility should tell them to do that. BTW U of T recently had a conference that tried to strengthen the connection between cog sci and economics (info’s at http://cogsci.ca/utism at the time of posting this).

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