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Thread: Career advice for young economists

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    Career advice for young economists

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    Hi,

    I've been lurking for a few months now, wasn't planning to sign up anytime soon (I'm planning to do a masters followed by PhD but won't start the masters until 2015) but I saw this post with career advice for freshly minted (or soon-to-be) PhDs:

    Core Economics | Career advice for young economists

    And thought that some people on this forum would find it interesting. Some of it is Australia specific but I think the more interesting parts are more general.

    This passage in particular caught my attention:

    "Within economics, most academics judge someone’s productivity by looking at what they have achieved since their PhD. This means the number of years a PhD took is usually not carefully considered, nor is any career before the PhD. In turn, this also means that it is actually in a young academic’s favour to have the date of the PhD be as late as possible. Students often want to complete their PhD sooner in order to please family, or to have it over with, but in terms of academic career, later is better."

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    PUT THAT COOKIE DOWN NOW! ForbiddenDonut's Avatar
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    Career advice for young microeconomists: The public thinks you're wrong

    TheMoneyIllusion » The public wants us to be astrologers or heretics, not scientists
    Water drinkers don't write good verse. - Horace

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    Preparing for collision Oikos-nomos's Avatar
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    I read the related article, the one in The Economist and found the comments of the readers very interesting, but the last one caught my attention the most, here it goes:

    'Economics is not science. The world is too complex for the ivory tower models. Until Economists begin to be humble and accept this truism, they are currently "entertainers"'

    I think that's the problem with current economic knowledge, the lack of precise predictive power. I find that economics can correctly make qualitative predictions most of the time, but somehow fails when making quantitative predictions and/or assigning a probability to certain outcomes.

    And as for cryses, they can't be predicted with a 100% probability. If you could and everybody believed it, the crysis itself would happen sooner than predicted. The best you could do is to say that if A, B and C remain in this range there is X% (X<100) that a crysis can occur. I guess the best we can get some day is something close to Asimov's 'psychohistory'. I must admit that deep inside of me, I would like to become one of the first psychohistorians hehe.

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    An Urch Guru Pundit Swami Sage
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    Why would you think economics should be about predictions? What other social science is about predictions?

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    Herbert Gintis has competent thoughts on the prediction v. description debate, and lands on description (gasp -- but we're not mere story tellers!). Most of what economists do on a daily basis has almost nothing to do with prediction, and the philosophical idea (some) economists have about themselves being ardent students of the scientific method - predicting behavior of systems then testing those predictions - isn't borne by practice.

    Most of the theoretical and empirical work economists do is post-hoc stylized description, from which patterns in social systems emerge by induction from repeated work. There is nothing wrong with that, and it produces often incredibly useful insights your average Economist magazine commenter fails to grasp. It's not "data mining," and it's not an example of the Humean inductive fallacy. The deductive and predictive pretense in economics is just that, and not much more. (Though I think using deductive logic to tell little intuitively appealing stories about social phenomena is really interesting stuff.)

    Chateau is right, and the point goes beyond social science. The theory of evolution is nearly entirely an ex post descriptive theory -- it doesn't predict anything.
    Last edited by Humanomics; 01-18-2013 at 02:14 AM. Reason: confused ex post with ex ante like the UG I am


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    Saying that economists should predict crises is the same as saying that physicists should predict airplane crashes. Or, better yet, saying that mathematicians (say, probability theorists) should predict the outcome of a coin toss. Prediction has nothing to do with science, and economics in particular.
    Last edited by ivanspartakfan; 01-18-2013 at 02:54 AM.

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    To be fair - economists are not without responsibility for giving the public the impression that they can manage the business cycle. The public probably isn't that stupid then for confusing the mountain of (I think wrong-headed) claims about ex post crisis management, with implied ex ante crisis management.


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    Preparing for collision Oikos-nomos's Avatar
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    I'm really surprised by the the comments of y'all. It seems that I wasn't clear enough, so let's make myself clearer first then.

    When I say predictions I mean an 'empirically verifiable afirmation about the world'. So, the simple statement 'print lots of money and prices will go up' is a prediction. What I'm saying is that these predictions in economics are somewhat vague.

    I don't know a lot about the scientific method and the philosophy of science, but if we want to call Economics a science (and we all do) then I think that we as economist should be able to make predictions about the world based on our knowledge. The usefulness of those 'predictions' is twofold: first it's useful for our activities to know that if you do X, then Y will happen; second, making predictions and empirically checking them helps to improve the theory (science should be falsifiable at some extent). A science that can't make (reliable) predictions is as good as Greek mythology. You can make ex-post explanations of what happens in the world caused by the actions of the gods, but I find it rather difficult to make a reliable prediction based on that body of knowledge.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Oikos-nomos View Post
    I don't know a lot about the scientific method and the philosophy of science
    Then you should look into the matter before making such strong assertions.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Oikos-nomos View Post
    I read the related article, the one in The Economist and found the comments of the readers very interesting, but the last one caught my attention the most, here it goes:

    'Economics is not science. The world is too complex for the ivory tower models. Until Economists begin to be humble and accept this truism, they are currently "entertainers"'
    This is a fashionable but, in my opinion, fundamentally-flawed criticism that is derived from a failure to understand what a model is and what its purpose is. When the claimant above says that the world is too complex for the ivory tower models, he is implying that analyses are imperfect. To that I say: so what? We don't need a completely accurate picture to have a useful one. If a model or picture of the world is far from completely accurate but is more accurate than alternative descriptions, it is useful.

    Second, the claim that the world is too complex for models is itself an unsupported claim. The data age is very, very young. It may very well be the case that down the road, complexity methodologies or some other set of methodologies develop to the extent that they actually are able to meaningfully describe incredibly complex systems. No one is in a position at this moment to claim that there are systems that are "unmodelable". They may not be amenable to modeling with current techniques, certainly, but to imply that there is something fundamental about human activities in aggregate that serves as some sort of black box that we are incapable of understanding to a useful extent is pure conjecture.

    Essentially, these sorts of criticisms are derived from the idea that a discipline or methodology must produce a perfect description or analysis of something. There is no such imperative, in my eyes.

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