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Archive for January 2nd, 2011

Humble Science

According to the NYTimes, leaders of the American Economics Association are considering adopting a code of ethics [ht:dr]. Sam Wells offers pertinent advice in a sermon about the relationship between theology and science at a university. (If this is a topic that interests you, the sermon is a must read!) What the AEA can learn from is the characterization of what Wells calls a humble science:

The only trustworthy science is a humble science, which acknowledges the tentativeness of the known and the vast extent of the unknown.

And having a university with humble sciences means that:

…students and faculty can enjoy and benefit from the different methodologies of the respective disciplines, valuing each for what only it can do, while relishing the interaction and the challenge of the moments when the disciplines overlap and spark fascinating parallels and tensions.

Economics is certainly not a humble science, as it marches into other social sciences boasting superiority of its techniques and makes sweeping claims that ignore the “tentativeness of what is known” (what Great Moderation?). Just about anyone who has spent time with economists can attest to the fact that they believe economics is the king of the social sciences and that economics has little or nothing to learn from the other social sciences or the humanities. Economics today just might be the antithesis of a humble science.

If the AEA’s code of ethics included the encouragement of making economics a humble science, we would no doubt be in a better place. A more humble economics would seriously consider criticisms from other disciplines, as its practitioner would have more appreciation for the contributions of other disciplines. A more humble economics would also be more willing to reevaluate its premises and methods when serious deficiencies emerge.

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