In my last post I discussed how I would like to redo my article “Please Not Another Bias! An Evolutionary Take on Behavioural Economics”. Apart from the removing the weak experimental evidence that I referenced, I wanted to make a few points more explicitly, such as the need for theory.
Not much has survived from the original except the opening framing and the continued belief that evolutionary theory will play a role in developing that theory. Otherwise, it’s largely new.
Writing this article has me half-convinced that I should create the academic version - or at least the version addressing all the “what about X?” that I have heard or anticipate. I also want to sketch more of a picture about what the theory might look like (as in contribute to addressing the problem rather than just complaining about it).
In the meantime, here are a few other academic pieces worth reading that make the case for more theory in behavioural economics or the behavioural sciences:
- Michael Muthukrishna and Joe Henrich’s A problem in theory (pdf): In addition to arguing for more theory, they nominate dual-inheritance theory as one general theoretical framework that could do the job.
- Gigi Foster’s Towards a living theoretical spine for (behavioural) economics: To highlight one paragraph as to why there has been little progress on theory:
Economists today are incentivized to care about publishing in journals that have high citation counts and otherwise- measured “impact”, meaning in large part journals that are popular in the circle of economists. This system of incentives creates both a clique of self-referencing scholars and a very strong personal incentive for anyone outside that group to become a member of it if he wishes to gain status as an economist. To become a member of the clique of present-day economic theorists, in particular, requires that one have a great deal of expertise in mathematical techniques and a bank of knowledge about how to build mathematical models that is very difficult to acquire except through a heavy investment in apprenticeship. Once such an investment is made, the investor’s continued career depends upon the very system that originally challenged him, and the cycle begins again, with renewed commitment by the existing clique of theorists to the standard model of choice. It is in part from this socially-mediated situation – ironically or not, one that itself is rarely modelled in economics –that the inertia of our model of individual decision-making arises.
- Andreas Ortmann’s On the foundations of behavioural and experimental economics (pdf of draft): Ortmann contrasts the theory of economics and the lack of theory in psychology, pinning the struggles in behavioural economics on the sourcing of new insight from the “untheorized mess” that is psychology.
Otherwise, I haven’t had a chance to read the rest of the new Works in Progress issue yet. But the couple of articles I have read are great. Saloni Dattani’s discussion of peer review felt very relevant. I’ve just kicked off the academic phase of my career and am spending a lot of time wondering about how to engage with the publishing game. What’s the best way to put my work out there (actually have it read), get good feedback, play a useful role in giving feedback to others and not get fired? The answer to those questions does not involve playing the traditional publishing game.
I’m not a sailor, but Stewart Brand’s The Maintenance Race was also good.