Hey, Economics Geniuses! What Happened? - BusinessWeek
The business week articles treats how the world economists failed to predict the finance crisis of the last year. One of the reader commented: " so what? economics is not science, but philosophy and you cannot get any relevant guidance out of that".
This is widespread opinion, linguistically well expressed in English, where "science" is only applied for physics, chemistry, biology and the likes, whereas all the other stuff is labeled as "humanities".
In German this looks somewhat milder calling the one "Naturwissenschaften" and the other "Geisteswissenschaften". In German at least they are all called "Wissenschaften" (science), but the general opinion regarding the differences between these groups might be still harsher than it is in the United States:
a) humanities are not exact and they are unable to predict (for which the failure of the economists in predicting the crisis of today seems to be another prove)
b) humanities are subjective and not objective, therefore their different schools, not only in economics, whereas this does not exist in natural sciences as being objective.
I want to challenge these differences as distinguishing factors for being "science".
a) possibility of predictions: Social sciences are able to predict very well, if they know the parameters; there are very successfull in some micro economic and macro economic predictions. There are very successful predictions also in psychology. On the other hand climate researchers failed to predict global warming in time, and so they failed regarding fluorinated hydrocarbons and the ozone layer. Meteorologists are able to predict the weather of tomorrow, but they are still unable to predict the weather of next week. Biologists try to predict health and illness from genetic information, but failures still outnumber successes by large. Physicists cannot predict at all, momentum and place of an electron at a given moment. And such an uncertainty might exist also for cosmological dimensions. The capacity of prediction depends on the knowledge about influencing parameters and on the degree of intrinsic uncertainty in certain areas.
b) objectivity and subjectivity; there is nothing as pure objectivity. Objects exist (at least in my opinion), but what we say about objects is subjective. We observe and we make experiments, then we draw conclusions and construct models, which can be tested again. The conclusions we make always depend on our subjective knowledge and cultural background. The unfortunate presentation of science as a framework of "laws inherent to nature" has obscured this. Victor J. Stenger points this out very nicely in his book "the comprehensible cosmos". ("I will show that the laws of physic are simply restrictions on the ways physicists may draw the models they use to represent the behaviour of matter. These models describe scientific observations of an objective reality that surely exists independent of human thoughts. However their specific forms depend very much on those thoughts.")
"Humanities" and "Science", they both are observing, reasoning, drawing conclusions from observations and reasoning, constructing models and testing those models against evidence - and this is the scientific methodology. It is not matter of a discipline, it is matter of a methodology. As long as you are applying this methodology, you are doing science.
You are leaving science if evidence is not accepted anymore. You are leaving science when you pretend to know the absolute truth, you are leaving science when you refuse evidence based reasoning.
Such "anti-scientific" behaviour is not only in humanities. Lysenko was a biologist, Di Bella a medical doctor, the entire nonsense of astrology fakes to be nature based; among the people who condemned Galilei were the best scientists of the time, there are exemples without an end.
On the other hand, there are thinkers in humanities of a singular scientific rigor like the philospher Immanuel Kant; this does not mean that their theories are completely right, but also Newtons "laws of mechanics" have their restrictions.
Confirming strongly that the difference is not between "science" and "humanities",but between science and nonsense, I will not deny that there are differences between both.
One of the differences might be that humanities are much less "emancipated" from ideology and religion than natural sciences. "Religious", "ideological" views influence science nowadays only at the fringes ("intelligent design"...) whereas it seems much more present in humanities. Discussions about "nature and nurture" sometimes seem to be guided from prejudices instead of evidence, wars between "Keynesians" and "Chicago Boys" too often seem motivated by belief than by economics.
But this is not the responsibility of economics, but of the people who are doing this.
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