Come the Revolution
By Amy Willis
At the suggestion of YOU, our followers, EconTalk host Russ Roberts sat down with Bloomberg View columnist and professor of economics Noah Smith about whether economics is a science, how people’s minds are changed, and more.
1. Early in the conversation, Roberts admits he has an ideology. If you have listened to EconTalk for a while, how would you describe Roberts’s philosophical and methodological worldview? How would you describe Smith’s based on this conversation?
2. What determines whether a particular discipline constitutes a science? How do Roberts’s and Smith’s views on this differ? (Bonus: Would you consider the stimulus package an example of a true natural experiment? Explain.)
3. What about minimum wage? Is there “science” we can rely on that can guide policy makers? What did Smith mean when he said, “It is interesting, and it is something.”
4. Read the Sims and Leamer responses to Angrist (and perhaps revisit Angrist’s EconTalk appearance here.) How would you describe the “credibility revolution” in economics after reading them? To what extent do you believe such a revolution has occurred? (We get that this question requires a bit more “legwork…So we’ll be happy to send some shiny new books to some of you…You know, for the effort…)
5. In the aftermath of this episode, a lot of commenters pointed out that science advances one funeral at a time. This suggests economics and the hard sciences are not that different–it is hard for people to change their mind but younger scientists and social scientists are able to look at scientific evidence more impartially than older established researchers. Roberts would argue that the fundamental question is the nature of the evidence and the role of ideology in assessing that evidence even for younger researchers. How might Roberts make his case? Do you agree with the argument?