Ah, yes, to define science–and here we go on why economics is not science

Our friendly, usually, economist goes to the dictionary to prove I am wrong about economics. As an economist he wants to pull economics out of the dumpster, but I really didn’t put economics in a dumpster, I just said it wasn’t science it was an area of inquiry, a social study.

So here we go, the dictionary definition of science–proof that economics is a science. My responses in bold, not be cause I am better or older or louder, just to distinguish.

Dictionary Definition of Science-


1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws:

Woops, Laws–and the laws of economics are established as proven and reliable in proving or predicting future events–Not

the mathematical sciences.

Again, woops, enticing that mathematics can be used to make economics look scientific–formulae that look like the key to kingdom of knowledge–see 1a for why that doesn’t make economics science.

2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.

Systematic is a subjective and tautological thing–reliable, reproducible, falsifiable, is science. Economics does involve observation and experimentation, but the experimentation doesn’t produce reliable rules or laws that predict a future result. Again, woops.

3. any of the branches of natural or physical science.

Easy, if I declare voodoo a branch of the biological or physical sciences, does that make what voodoo says a rule or a law reproducible, reliable or falsifiable? The Philosophy of Science is focused on what is good Science (Consider what Karl Popper and Richard Feynman have to say and test the theories of economics against their methods. Science must be falsifiable–economics is often not.

4. systematized knowledge in general.

I can’t help but draw a parallel with the “systematic” and internally consistent theories of many non scientific disciplines–Freudian theory for example, or any of a number of philosophical systems espoused by smart, clever and eloquent men who had no, absolutely no, scientific proof of their particular version of philosophy whether it be Metaphysics, Teleology or Ontology, Ethics, Morals, Aesthetics, and particularly those systems that assume a divine being or nothing more than I think, therefore I am. Would anyone dispute that philosophers are systematic–but reliable,reproducible, falsifiable–I think not.

5. knowledge, as of facts or principles; knowledge gained by systematic study.

Again, a simple example will suffice, Chiropractors or Voodoo Priests assert knowledge, and have a systematic canon or tradition, but can their knowledge be confirmed by reliable evidence. I would not blame economists for being voodoo priests, but then again?

6. a particular branch of knowledge.

see answer to 5

7. skill, especially reflecting a precise application of facts or principles; proficiency.

There is a skill in being a good cargo cult fake scientist or even a magician, but does a faker, a fraud, an illusionist use that skill and method to do good reproducible science and do they insist on good evidence to support an hypothesis? An expansion on that statement is unnecessary.

Next time you want to go on about how something is ‘not a science’ you might want to refer to the actual definition of science.

Wow, what a devastating come back, but, being a scientist myownself and a lawyer with a particular interest in scientific evidentiary admissibility, not an economist trying to make the discipline scientific, I accept with some reservations the extensive and intense as well as profound commentaries of Karl Popper, philosopher of science.

Karl was very reluctant to accept inductive reasoning as a satisfactory scientific method, asserting that induction introduces a lot of subjective opinion and intellectual passion (sound a little like economics?). So Popper insisted and so did Richard Feynman (physicist nobel prize, brilliant guy), on deductive testing and validation of the evidence to assure that science was being spoken and practiced. Many commentaries say that Popper (probably they would say the same about Feynman) are too hard on inductive methods, which often propose good stuff. However, Popper and Feynman would say, and do say–propose your theory, your hypothesis–then, damn it, test it to make sure your theory is valid, falsifiable (can be tested) and then found to be reproducible and verifiable, not just a nice idea.

Science demands testing and skepticism, validation and intense efforts to assure the method of falsification was not only in play but exercised properly.

As a guy named Einstein said once–the most elegant theory can be disproved by one experiment.

Economists can’t stand the heat of that fire of skepticism and validation, the furnace, the cauldron, the mortar and pistil of testing and validation. Nice, attractive, even eloquent theories are not science. Economcis is full of them. Physics usually weeds them out with some experiments in the ideal, scientific, reliable skeptical way.

My observation is that economists are not skeptical about their work, they love themselves and their ideas–and then go out to find proof they are the genius that they admire.

So Keynes is an idiot, just the many idiots that proposed idiotic scientific theories–but the science idiots are gone and I still have Krugman and so many others that love government meddling with the economy.


8 responses to “Ah, yes, to define science–and here we go on why economics is not science

  1. consider this … what other “science” has 2 schools of thought like economists do ?

    • Does that physics bit about looking for a unification theory have anything to do with it? Seems there are always varying perspectives on unanswered questions.

  2. It need not be that economics is not a science. A real and actual functioning economy operates in accordance with the hard, fast rules of the hard natural sciences of physics, chemistry and biology. It need not be that some parts of economics fit into the same category as astrology and alchemy. Economics, done right, really could be a real, hard natural science. But that would mean that those who call themselves economist would would have to act as scientists rather than acting as they do currently: As politicians who are selling something and who are looking for willing buyers. To make economics into a real science, the first thing economists would have to do is to stop “following the money” and begin to focus on the real goods and services producing economy.

  3. The statements about economics, what is science and what is not are based on the misunderstanding of the current status of science. I urge the readers to look at our book on Best Available Science ( page 67). The implicit claim that only physical sciences quality as science overlooks the enormous advancements in other scientific disciplines. The claim the economics is not science is based on the claim that many economic claims are not reproducible. Based on such a claim much of medical and biological sciences do not qualify as science either. What is being overlooked is the level of maturity of a scientific claim. Please visit our website at http://www.nars.org and read the section on Best Available Science. Economics is an evolving scientific discipline and every bit as science as many other disciplines .
    Alan Moghissi

  4. Hank de Carbonel

    Boy are you wrong! The next thing you’ll claim that Political Science is not science. Polling data. like computer modeling is beyond question. To be a skeptic of Political Science is, …… just so inevitable.

  5. GoneWithTheWind

    In real life economics is a complex chaotic system. What makes it even worse is it interacts with humans who have free will who can make decisions contrary to common sense or generally accepted rules. At an esoteric level economics may seem like a science but in reality it is more like predicting where you are going by looking backwards.

  6. Based on such a claim much of medical and biological sciences do not qualify as science either. True. It’s mostly just conjecture. “Well I suppose” leads to “maybe”. Not science. Observation and engineering.

    People are talking about the movie “The Martian” and the phrase in there about “science the poop out of it” or something like that. Not science. Hard work, observation and engineering. In my dad’s day they knew the difference between science and engineering. Now anything even remotely technical is “science”.

    Disagree with your dictionary definition. “3. any of the branches of natural or physical science.” Especially not. Also, “4. systematized knowledge in general”. Not. It’s science because it’s systematized? Huh? My grandkids legos are systematized in little bins but it’s NOT science. Good grief.

  7. One of the most profound differences between economics and physics is that in economics, unlike physics, almost nothing of interest can be described by a single equation. Even the simplest Marshallian demand and supply analysis requires two equations: one for supply and another for demand.
    A major misuse of economic theory occurs when people try to explain the behavior of one endogenous variable by the behavior of another endogenous variable.

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