Indonesia | Economics

Thursday, September 21, 2006

New ideas in social sciences

Tirta, a psychologist, comments on my reference to "Judith Rich Harris's excellent The Nurture Assumption" in this post here:
an aside from psychology, the excellency of rich harris' "the nurture assumption" is still debatable, especially in the academic world of developmental psychology... take home message: distangling peer-effect from genetic and parental influence is far from easy -- so perhaps this would ring a caution bell to economists too...

Amen to that! Outside of the narrowly-focused experiment approach, economists face similar difficulties in disentangling the effects of policies or shocks on the working of economies. From John Kay's recent FT column:
It will rarely, if ever, be the case in economics that an old account of the world will be shown to be simply wrong, like the medieval account of planetary motion, or the phlogiston theory of heat. Empirical tests in social sciences are never decisive, as they sometimes are in natural sciences. Nor are new explanations of economic affairs ever so compelling that they exclude all others.

That is why economists will never encounter the smug certainties that Archimedes, Galileo, Einstein and Watson must have felt. They have the different excitement of piecing together partial explanations of a world whose variety and perpetual change mean that it will never be amenable to universal explanation.

However, progress in scientific discovery in social sciences is not founded solely on having final proofs. Much of the excitement lies is the proposing of interesting hypotheses that use new evidence or reinterpret old ones to question some of the old explanations of social phenomena and human behaviours. That's why I still think Harris's book remains an excellent one, despite (or is it because of?) the said controversy.


  • 1. typo: i should've written 'disentangling', not 'distangling'.

    2. rejoinder: the fresh idea and the book-as-a-whole are indeed excellent, but more studies are needed before we can affirm the excellency of the thesis.

    By Anonymous tirta, at 9/22/2006 12:35:00 am  

  • Tirta:
    Agree on both!

    By Blogger Arya, at 9/23/2006 05:04:00 pm  

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