Earth to Economics: Welcome to Science 101

David Sloan Wilson in Evonomics:

ScreenHunter_1797 Mar. 22 22.19I welcome the attention that Noah Smith has drawn to two “big think” pieces,one by Nick Hanauer and Eric Liu and the other by myself, which are both cut from the same broad cloth of evolutionary and complexity theory. Smith comes across as an open-minded skeptic. He likes some aspects and is unimpressed by others. Most of all, he insists on empiricism. Here is how he ends his critique.

“But I think that more important than any of these theoretical changes – or the evolutionary theory suggested by Wilson – is the empirical revolution in econ. Ten million cool theories are of little use beyond the “gee whiz” factor if you can’t pick between them. Until recently, econ was fairly bad about agreeing on rigorous ways to test theories against reality, so paradigms came and went like fashions and fads. Now that’s changing. To me, that seems like a much bigger deal than any new theory fad, because it offers us a chance to find enduringly reliable theories that won’t simply disappear when people get bored or political ideologies change.

So the shift to empiricism away from philosophy supersedes all other real and potential shifts in economic theory. Would-be econ revolutionaries absolutely need to get on board with the new empiricism, or else risk being left behind.”

I can’t help but remark on the irony of this stance. By Smith’s own account, the field of economics is experiencing an empirical revolution. Unlike the past, it has become necessary to test theories against reality. That places the field of economics many decades behind the field of evolution and numerous fields in the human social sciences that have been rigorously evidence-based all along. Earth to the economics profession: Welcome to Science 101!

More here.