25 November 2008

“Don’t you agree…

that, in general, economists are smarter than political scientists, and political scientists are smarter than sociologists?”

Larry Summers

just appointed director of the National Economic Council by president-elect Barack Obama, when he was president of Harvard University,

The Boston Globe, February 17th, 2006 (CLICK)


Enrico Spolaore said...

but Larry Summers was right! (at least within the U.S. and using GRE results as a proxy for "smart")



Tufts University, Boston

Steve Coleman said...

The high ranking of economics majors on the GRE reflects mainly the quantitative dimension of the test. For the same reason, economics majors outscore political science majors, but are outscored by math and physics majors, on LSAT averages, but that probably does not make them better lawyers in itself. (Research shows that Law School actually diminishes students' ability for statistical reasoning.) The question I would pose is whether Law properly belongs in this system at all. As far as I can discern, the only true research--quantitative or qualitative--that law scholars do falls in the normal social science disciplines of political science, criminology, or sociology, where the bulk of that type of research is done. It would make more sense, I suggest, to put both Law and Political Science in with other social sciences.

Steve Coleman
Metropolitan State University
St.Paul, Minnesota

See GRE results

(Click on it for larger size):

The Best Academic Partners

The social sciences have developed at an impressive path during the last few decades, but they are yet not well represented within some of the best-established academic institutions. Just a few weeks ago, the Academia Europaea (in Latin), that is, the organization of “European scientists and scholars to promote learning, education and research”, has proposed to re-structure the current Social Sciences Section and create a number of new groups that would provide for a better disciplinary coherence and enlarge the membership in the different social sciences.

Since members of the Social Sciences section are invited to comment and discuss, I plan to collect opinions from colleagues here to be presented to the Academy within one month. All of you are invited to participate.

The initial proposal from the Academia Europaea Board does not sound very positive for Political Science. The three new Section groups would be:

1. Law and Political Sciences;

2. Economics (including Economic History, Business and Finance);

3. Sociology and Social Sciences (including Education, Geography and Demography).

As you can see, political scientists would be put together with lawyers, which seems to me a rather old-fashion pair. Indeed the dominion of law in political studies, which certainly promoted comparative studies on political regimes and structures from different regions and countries of the world, was strong until early twentieth century. But this persuasion was largely superseded with that of sociology, implying the diffusion of empirical, inductive methods, since mid-twentieth century, and the import of formal models, mathematical refinements and deductive reasoning from economics in the last few decades. All these contributions have been somehow cumulative. The scientific method indeed requires both empirical observations, quantitative measurements, and logical models. But the current developments in advanced research and graduate teaching do not seem to fit the coupling of Political science with Law. Please discuss.


The Academia Europaea was founded as recently as 1988, obviously helped by increasing integration within the European Union and the creation of the European Science Foundation and other research institutions. It has now some 2,300 members. It is organized in 16 sections, but only one section includes all the Social sciences (economics, geography, law, political science, demography, sociology), which together with the section in Behavioral sciences (anthropology, education and psychology) encompass only about 15 percent of all members.

The other 14 sections belong to two broad groups, respectively corresponding to humanities (with specific sections in History & Archaeology, Classics & Oriental studies, Linguistics, Literary & Theatrical, Musicology & History of Art and Architecture, Philosophy, Theology & Religion) and natural sciences (with sections in Mathematics, Informatics, Physics & Engineers, Chemical, Earth & Cosmic, Biochemistry & Molecular biology, Cell biology, Physiology & Medicine, Organismic & Evolutionary Biology). Indeed the “third culture” is crunched between the other two. Website: CLICK

For comparison, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which was crated in the flow towards the independence, in 1780, “to cultivate every art and science”, has now some 4,000 fellows (plus 600 foreign honorary members). It is organized in five “Classes”: Mathematics & Physics, Biology, Social sciences (in turn divided, as the other classes, into several sections: Psychology & Education, Economics, Political science, Law, and Sociology together with Anthropology, Demography & Geography), Humanities & Arts, and Public Affairs (including Business and Administration). The Social Sciences class encompasses about 20 percent of total membership. Website: CLICK

All comments very welcome.


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