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Is Economics Science?

December 7, 2011

Steven Williamson writes that economics is science.

Historically, “science” has a broad meaning. Something like: a rigorous school of thought; or the application of logic, in a systematic way, to a particular subject. Accordingly, philosophy was a kind of science.

More recently, science has come to mean the application of the scientific method. A scientist makes a hypothesis, conducts tests, and then determines whether the results of the tests are consistent with the hypothesis.

Philosophy is not a science, according to this view, because philosophers don’t put things in test tubes, or run experiments on them.

Neither is economics.

Williamson writes that economics “looks like science”.

This isn’t an accident – I would argue. “Science” has come to mean something like “objective”. The prestige associated with doing science is far higher than that of doing philosophy – which has come to mean something like “some guy’s opinion.” Money follows prestige, and the money flowing to people doing science eclipses anything a philosopher is likely to see.

Economists, therefore, try to look like they’re doing science.

The flaw in the project – the fly in the ointment, so to speak – is economists’ failure to do the one thing that would make economics look most scientific: their failure to make falsifiable predictions about the future.

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