Phi Beta Cons

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Academic Symposium on Underhanded Economics


Awhile back I wrote this of “interesting economics” — the trend of academic economists studying non-economic, and sometimes downright silly, problems with econometric methods:

One misgiving I have, though, is that it challenges economists to come up with the most offensive or outlandish theories possible, and then stick to them even if they’re proven wrong. See, for example, Steven Levitt’s “abortion cut crime” theory, or read my review of Steven Landsburg’s More Sex is Safer Sex (in which he actually posits that the government should run a dating service, and charge used condoms as admission).

At Reason, Brian Doherty has the scoop on an upcoming Econ Journal Watch symposium asking about the personal biases and statistical methods that enable economists to claim their findings “prove” just about anything:

In his or her essay, the author should clarify the kind of preference falsification in which he or she has engaged. For example:

  • Building models one does not really believe to be useful or relevant.
  • Making simplifications that obscure or omit important things.
  • Using data one does not really believe in.
  • Focusing on the statistical significance of one’s findings while quietly doubting economic significance.
  • Engaging in data mining.
  • Drawing “policy implications” that one knows are inappropriate or misleading.
  • Keeping the discourse “between the 40 yard lines” so as to avoid being outspoken; knowingly eliding fundamental issues.
  • Tilting the flavor of policy judgments to make a paper more acceptable to referees, editors, publishers, or funders.
  • Disguising one’s methodological or ideological views, such as by omitting revealing activities or publications from one’s vitae.
  • For government, institute, or corporate economists: Having to significantly play along with things one does not believe in.


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