Thursday, May 13, 2010

fried ants revisited

Justin Fox sums up the overwhelming majority of economics papers in one sentence:

The basic form of an academic economics paper is a couple of comprehensible paragraphs at the beginning and a couple of comprehensible paragraphs at the end, with a bunch of really-hard-to-follow math or statistical analysis in the middle.

What he doesn’t (need to) mention is the way that journalists, myself included, read economics papers: we generally have no ability or inclination to try to understand the details of the formulae and regression analyses, so we confine ourselves to reading the stuff in English, and work on the general assumption that the mathematics is reasonably solid.


I worry about this. The blogosphere is full of interesting debates between people who understand and respond to what everybody else is saying. But the minute that economic papers get cited, the degree of understanding plunges, and most bloggers and journalists are cowed by all those equations into simply assuming that it all stands up somehow.

Felix Salmon, Economics without mathematics

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