There is but one social science


Jason Collins


September 26, 2010

“There is only one social science and we are its practitioners” - George Stigler, economist

I am not sure of the source of the above quote (it has been mentioned several times on Econtalk), but I consider that Stigler was thinking of the wrong field. He should have thought of biology.

An articlein the Economist this week noted the increasing use of biology in the study of business and management. Biology has been slowly entering field after field as people click that humans are biological organisms that have evolved over billions of years into our present state. We are not pure rationalising machines, nor solely the product of our environment or culture. We have natural predispositions and whatever drives our “utility”, the one measure that will always be present is reproductive success.

That does not mean that everything is biologically pre-determined or that there is no point is studying culture or environmental factors, but we need to recognise the biological basis. It would be fantastic to see the teaching of biology start to creep into business schools, economics faculties and the rest of the social sciences. With a sound biological foundation, I believe that many “puzzles” in these fields will suddenly seem a lot more tractable than they did before.