Saturday, April 08, 2006

Are economists smug?

An email calls my attention to a recent article in which economists are called to task for their intellectual haughtiness:

Economists take pride in the sophisticated statistical techniques on which they rely to analyze phenomena such as growth, inflation, unemployment, trade, and even the long-term effects of abortion on crime rates. Many are convinced that their methods are more rigorous than those of all other social sciences and dismiss research that does not rest on quantitative methods as little more than “storytelling” or, worse, “glorified journalism.” Anthropologists, some economists jest, believe that the plural of anecdote is “data.”

A survey published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives found that 77 percent of the doctoral candidates in the leading departments in the United States believe that “economics is the most scientific of the social sciences.” It turns out, however, that this certitude does not stem from how well they regard their own discipline but rather from their contempt for the other social sciences.
I must admit that there is a degree of truth to this judgment about economists' attitudes. Yet not all economists feel this way. Many take the other social sciences very seriously, as is evidenced by the growing field of behavioral economics, which infuses psychology into economics.

By the way, this semester my wife and I are auditing Steven Pinker's undergraduate class at Harvard, The Human Mind. Having never taken a psychology class before, I am playing catch up.