Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Greg Mankiw's Blog: The Sociology of Economics

Greg Mankiw's Blog: The Sociology of Economics

This is an awesome post. Basically, it was a letter by a medical resident at Harvard noting that at interdisciplinary conferences economists are

0) Always has something to say regardless of discipline of talk, present better papers, and are less likely to be caught off guard by questions.

1) The most aggressive. (Probably responsible for part 0)

2) The most willing to engage with statisticians.

3) Will readily attack other disciplines on questions of causality and selection bias.

4) Economists are smarter

5) Economists have more rigorous training

6) Economist believe more in science than advocacy. They are less likely to base opinion on preconceived priors.

7) The economics job market is more efficient.

I think this is stuff that every economist secretly believes but has enough humility not to say it aloud. At least I've certainly noticed it, but maybe that's because I hang out in other disciplines too much.

I think people outside economics don't appreciate that basically half of an econ phd is essentially Stats, whereas in other disciplines, from Sociology to Medicine, you tend to take one maybe two classes on stats and that's it. And usually the stats they take is helpful for experimental designs, but useless and in fact misleading for cases where you don't have experiments.

Though I wouldn't say economists are "smarter," but better at math, certainly. But as Mankiw admits, perhaps worse at social skills and other dimensions.

As my advisor liked to say, economists are better at answering questions, but that's cause they massively limit the scope of the questions they ask. (i.e. they only look for their keys by the lamp post)

And I agree very much of the fact that economists are not advocates. It is much easier for one economist to convince another to agree with you, or to conclude that "it remains an empirical question" whereas in other disciplines, people spend their careers making ad hominem attacks on opponents to make their point. Within the White House, the CEA was known as the most conservative group, because all the economists advocated essentially consensus economic opinion, even though nearly everyone at CEA was a Democrat.
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