CAMREC: Do think there are purely scientific economic predictions?

From: the Campaign for Real Economics (
Date: Sun Dec 24 2000 - 00:22:44 GMT

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    Date: Sat, 23 Dec 2000 18:22:44 -0600
    Subject: CAMREC: Do think there are purely scientific economic predictions?


    At 10:04 AM 12/19/00 -0800, you wrote:
    > > Do think there are purely scientific economic
    > > predictions?
    > >
    >Difficult. It depends on how you define science and
    >prediction obviously.


    >If you reach a prediction on an
    >economic issue just by employing a known, testable,
    >"deterministic" (in the sense that the same input
    >delivers the same output) method: Yes sure.

    One can scientifically calculate the equivalent fixed rate annuity for any
    variable cash flow stream, but that's a very narrow usage.

    >Whether predictions can be made in a *purely*
    >scientific manner is very debatable, I think. Good
    >scientists seem to rely on intuition a lot esp. in
    >making predictions, so they cannot meet the above
    >criteria there. A case in point would be chemist
    >Kekule's account of discovering the structure of
    >organic C6-rings (in a dream). The counterexample
    >would be mathematically derived prediction's from
    >Einstein's relativity theories.

    I don't think the source of an insight has much to do with the 'scientific'
    quality of the work.

    >The scientific element is then in the proof of the
    >prediction, i.e. in a method, setup or sth else
    >devised to test it (in math and logic a set of
    >logically connected set of statements which make up a
    >proof - where there is some discussion on what
    >operations and connections are allowed).

    I don't see scientific investigations claiming to prove things very
    often. They might prove something doesn't work, but even Newton's
    gravitational law is still considered an hypothesis. I've talked to people
    looking for quantum effects in the gravitational field (an improved
    hypothesis). A scientific paper shows a hypothesis is supported by the
    data, but there is always the option that new data will 'break' the model.


    >Mainstream economics can be seen as a set of axioms
    >and statements from which conclusions are derived. So
    >far and up to this point mainstream economics is (or
    >tries to be - nobody can be perfect) scientific. The
    >big question is of course about the match with reality
    >and relevance of results.

    I'm suspicious of 'attempts to be scientific.' Sounds like an admission
    that scientific status is a goal, not a reality.

    >You can compare the situation with geometry: based on
    >different axioms mathmaticians can derive different
    >geometric "worlds" that describe different situations.

    I don't think mathematics is a science. It is better described as a
    language. My dictionary describes it as 'the study of numbers.' Math can
    be a tool of science, just as English or German assists the scientist, but
    alone it is not a science.

    >Economists can be seen as doing the same for economic
    >worlds - so mainstream economists are deriving one
    >type of world which is completely justified and
    >scientific given their axioms and rules.

    A scientific study is justified by data, not axioms and rules.

    >Whether its
    >relevant at all or under which conditions only is
    >another question. (One would be: what if there is
    >reflexitivity operating in social systems?).
    >Economics (in general) could thus be envisioned as
    >encompassing a number of different world descriptions
    >(mainstream, evolutionary, marxist, etc.) and methods
    >to get them (sociology, anthropology, psychology,
    >human ethology, and mainstream economics (which would
    >be called applied math better)).

    Even the social-sciences rely on evidence rather than proofs.

    >The real issue seems to be about relevance not about
    >being "scientific".

    That would be fine if economists would stop claiming to be scientific. If
    economics is not a science, their claims to being scientific put them in
    the same class as various political promoters.

    >So there can be scientific predictions in economics as
    >far as in any other science and as far as predictions
    >in general can be scientific. What we need to work on
    >is determining their relevance.
    >Do you agree?

    No. There is nothing wrong with someone advancing political proposals, the
    problem emerges when one improperly uses the trappings of 'science' to
    engage public support.

    'Pure' science simply seeks a better understanding of the world. It may
    not be relevant to catalog the life cycle of arctic fleas, but it is science.

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