To what extent can Economics be considered a Science?
The issue of categorizing fields of academia truly “scientific” is invariably complex, leading to much debate. Matters such as defining what Science actually is, how to judge what can satisfy such a definition and the importance of beneficial discoveries all lead to further unsolved arguments which must be understood in order to make any kind of judgment. For economics, there is the argument that broad assumptions lead to imprecise data, that any tests are fundamentally flawed by their un-replicable nature, and that with so much dependant on human behavior, there can never be finite conclusions. Conversely these points are argued down, with justification of how they do indeed fulfill scientific criteria and that economics has led to many much-valued scientific discoveries. In order to better understand these arguments and judge the credibility of what is being said I will ascertain what is meant by a Science, look at how economics can be said to fulfill this, how it deviates from it and then cite important examples where further judgment can be considered. So what does “science” mean? To take what could be seen as the most widely agreed upon meaning and consider the dictionary definition it is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment” . The relative generalisation of this statement leads us to further interpretation. A process that appears to be key throughout any degree of scientific study is that of hypotheses validation. The idea is that through observation of a phenomenon, one can hypothesise an explanation of it and also predict other phenomena that follow as a result. Previously, before the formalisation of the social sciences throughout the 19th century, it was commonly accepted that the only approach to validate such hypothesis was through the use of Scientific Method. This process involves performing, repeatable, controlled, experimental tests on a hypothesis in an attempt to validate it (hence transforming it into a “theory”) with quantitative results. Although this serves well as a theoretical ideal, it is often the case that predictions can be verified into theories where such precise testing is simply unachievable. Take Darwins theory of natural selection; there were of course no methodological tests that could be performed to prove its legitimacy since he didn’t have millions of years to watch species evolve survival characteristics. However through dense observation of thousands of different animals he could accurately demonstrate how and why his predictions must be true. This links in with philosopher Karl Popper’s widely accepted theory of science: that any scientific statement must be open to the logical possibility of being found false by observation or experiment. For example the statement “all grass is green” is empirically verifiable because there could be grass of another colour. The same is true for more complex, detailed statements. So conclusively, to categorize academia as science, it must be formed upon the discovery of previously untested theories that have been validated to an almost perfect degree of certainty, making them widely accepted beyond question. As I will demonstrate, it is the proof with certainty that is often called into question within the economic profession.
When examining the argument of economics as unscientific, I have come to see that it’s more a case of finding ways in which it doesn’t fit in with scientific reasoning. This, as opposed to one specific case being put forward to discredit it entirely, leads to much more discussion, allowing merit to be assigned to each reason individually. This evaluation will be best done once the reasoning on either side has been explained. In terms of methodology, mainstream economists operate in much the same way as practitioners...
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