Some Economists Don’t Think Try to Do Science

Paul RomerYou can boil my claim about mathiness down to two assertions:

  1. Economist N did X.
  2. X is wrong because it undermines the scientific method.

#1 is a positive assertion, a statement about “what is…” #2 is a normative assertion, a statement about “what ought…” As you would expect from an economist, the normative assertion in #2 is based on what I thought would be a shared premise: that the scientific method is a better way to determine what is true about economic activity than any alternative method, and that knowing what is true is valuable.

In conversations with economists who are sympathetic to the freshwater economists I singled out for criticism in my AEA paper on mathiness, it has become clear that freshwater economists do not share this premise. What I did not anticipate was their assertion that economists do not follow the scientific method, so it is not realistic or relevant to make normative statements of the form “we ought to behave like scientists.”

—Paul Romer
Freshwater Feedback on Mathiness

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