Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Is economics a science?

Blogger Don Luskin takes exception with my description of economics as a type of science. He writes:
Where is the utterly essential ingredient of repeatable experimental verification of falsifiable hypotheses? Without that--and economics surely doesn't have it--there can be no claim to science or the scientific method.
I disagree, for two reasons (either of which is sufficient to refute Don's point):

1. Many sciences do not rely on experiments but, instead, use the data that history provides. Consider an astronomer studying the creation of galaxies or an evolutionary biologist studying the development of species. These disciplines, like economics, are primarily observational rather than experimental, but they are clearly scientific.

2. The field of economics does use experiments. Vernon Smith won a Nobel prize for "for having established laboratory experiments as a tool in empirical economic analysis, especially in the study of alternative market mechanisms." Today, work in experimental economics is growing rapidly. (Several Harvard faculty are involved in this work, most notably Al Roth.)

One could argue that economics is a particularly underdeveloped science, that there is still much we do not know. Here I would agree. But telling today's students that the study of the economy is not a science is like telling a young Nicolaus Copernicus that the study of planetary motion is not a science, or a young Charles Darwin that the study of species is not a science. They will ultimately prove you wrong.