Friday, February 16, 2007

Economist’s ethics and scholarly community

A close friend of mine writes a good article related to ethical issues here. He calls economists for being humble. Albeit economics offers “hard” approach in predicting human behaviors, in fact, post-factum evidences do not rarely fail to comply predictions. Becker’s proposition that one of good use of economics is its predictive power of human behaviors may be not correct at all. Some failures may happen, but it does not necessarily mean that economic theory is completely irrelevant. A theory is also piled up from mistakes, including prediction mistakes.

When he writes the article, I’m not really sure whether he describes Indonesian economists or economists as general. But I suspect, he says about Indonesian economists. Well, if it is true, I’m not surprised as there are plenty explanations.

It is worth noting that defending your hypotheses is not the same thing as being arrogant. The opposite is still true, that accepting your limitation should not be considered being defeated. The bad things, I think, are first: propositions without scientific or empirical methods, second: quantitative approaches without logics and rigorous theories (I call them as just-for-looks like complicated approaches), third: empty arguments. So far, I hardly find these three things in western academic culture. As a matter of fact, I always see self-recognition over the limit of arguments (please see in every conclusion part of articles).

Perhaps, we meet some stubborn and arrogant economists (let’s say Milton Friedman and some Chicago school economists).Yet they never do three bad things above or one of them. Alas, three bad things are commonly found in our academic culture.

Another issue, this is the oddest thing about Indonesian academics but it happens anyway. Some of our academics, if not most, seem to be reluctant revealing their methodologies and data. In science, hypotheses are valid only and if only the replication of research can be made. Otherwise no hypothesis can be said scientifically proved. Replication, moreover, is only possible as data and methodology are available. So that other researchers have a way to replicate or test our findings. Yet more than that, methodology and data disclosure always generate new research. Actually, this is how knowledge works.

Concerning odd-behavior of our economists (or other academics), my friend seeks for moral solutions. Moral obligation and ethical howls probably work, but I doubt it solves the main issue. Why? As economic theories suggest, self-interest is seldom inline with moral values. Changing the incentive around them and creating competitive market for ideas may result better.

Creating competitive academic environments is the answer but it’s really a hard-work. To get there, we need some diligent academics (economists or econometricians) who are concerned more with methodologies and, as suggested by Paul Krugman, they serve as a watchdog to get rid of the three bad things from our academic environments. True, it is a long journey, but hopefully it is not unfeasible.