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Cultural Challenges Facing the Mathematical Sciences - IMA

Weintraub carefully and honestly avoids taking sides in this morality play. His objective is altogether different, new, and significant. Weintraub concludes his extraordinary book with an altogether unusual blending of professional and personal history. It is delightful, at times funny, always warm and touching, and in the end deeply poignant vignette. Bernstein , Journal of Business History. The book is definitely a fun and insightful read. The stories are wonderful; they achieve the 'enjoyment' purpose. He brings to the narrative the expertise of an immensely skilled mathematician and economist and the gifts of a graceful and engaging writer.

I knew Weintraub to be a lively writer, but his topic was daunting. It is, in fact, an altogether extraordinary book. This, then, is an enjoyable book to read. But it is also an important one. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that How Economics Became a Mathematical Science itself promises to change the way that people view the relationship between mathematics and economics. How Economics Became a Mathematical Science is a gem, the work of a mature historian of thought at the peak of his powers.

It is also a book that virtually any economist will enjoy.

How Economics Became a Mathematical Science

Whether you call it a late holiday present or anticipated beach reading, treat yourself to this book. Epstein, Journal of Economic History. But more in general this book will make interesting reading to readers with a broader scope of interest in history of science at large. A totally original, idiosyncratic, and highly personal account which illuminates brilliantly not just how economics became mathematized, but how mathematics cut free from the objects of science.

This book provides fascinating accounts of important episodes in this process and should interest anyone who wants to understand how and why it took place. Visit the Author's Website. Bk Cover Image Full. Sign In. Search Cart.

Search for:. How Economics Became a Mathematical Science. Science and Cultural Theory More about this series. Roy Weintraub traces the history of economics through the prism of the history of mathematics in the twentieth century. As mathematics has evolved, so has the image of mathematics, explains Weintraub, such as ideas about the standards for accepting proof, the meaning of rigor, and the nature of the mathematical enterprise itself.

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Read Whose Art Is It? Author : E. Roy Weintraub traces the history of economics through the prism of the history of mathematics in the twentieth century. As mathematics has evolved, so has the image of mathematics, explains Weintraub, such as ideas about the standards for accepting proof, the meaning of rigor, and the nature of the mathematical enterprise itself.

In , Washington State University announced it would eliminate the department of theatre and dance, the department of community and rural sociology, and the German major — the same year that the University of Louisiana at Lafayette ended its philosophy major. In , Emory University in Atlanta did away with the visual arts department and its journalism programme. Unlike engineers and chemists, economists cannot point to concrete objects — cell phones, plastic — to justify the high valuation of their discipline.

Nor, in the case of financial economics and macroeconomics, can they point to the predictive power of their theories. Hedge funds employ cutting-edge economists who command princely fees, but routinely underperform index funds. In , a fund that boasted two Nobel Laureates as advisors collapsed, nearly causing a global financial crisis. The failure of the field to predict the crisis has also been well-documented.

Short-term predictions fair little better — in April , for instance, a survey of 67 economists yielded per cent consensus: interest rates would rise over the next six months. Instead, they fell. A lot.

watch What is the basis of this collective faith, shared by universities, presidents and billionaires? In the hypothetical worlds of rational markets, where much of economic theory is set, perhaps. But real-world history tells a different story, of mathematical models masquerading as science and a public eager to buy them, mistaking elegant equations for empirical accuracy. To understand why titans of finance would consult Adams about the market, it is essential to recall that astrology used to be a technical discipline, requiring reams of astronomical data and mastery of specialised mathematical formulas.

For centuries, mapping stars was the job of mathematicians, a job motivated and funded by the widespread belief that star-maps were good guides to earthly affairs. The best astrology required the best astronomy, and the best astronomy was done by mathematicians — exactly the kind of person whose authority might appeal to bankers and financiers. In fact, when Adams was arrested in for violating a New York law against astrology, it was mathematics that eventually exonerated her.

Mathematical Methods for Economics - Set Theory

It is this enchanting force that explains the enduring popularity of financial astrology, even today. Romer believes that macroeconomics, plagued by mathiness, is failing to progress as a true science should, and compares debates among economists to those between 16th-century advocates of heliocentrism and geocentrism.

Mathematics, he acknowledges, can help economists to clarify their thinking and reasoning. Worst of all, it imbues economic theory with unearned empirical authority. The burden of proof is on them. Right now, however, there is widespread bias in favour of using mathematics. The success of math-heavy disciplines such as physics and chemistry has granted mathematical formulas with decisive authoritative force. Lord Kelvin, the 19th-century mathematical physicist, expressed this quantitative obsession:.

When you can measure what you are speaking about and express it in numbers you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it… in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind. When the presumptions or conclusions of a scientific theory are absurd or simply false, the theory ought to be questioned and, eventually, rejected.

The discipline of economics, however, is presently so blinkered by the talismanic authority of mathematics that theories go overvalued and unchecked. Romer is not the first to elaborate the mathiness critique. After the Great Recession, the failure of economic science to protect our economy was once again impossible to ignore.

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Like Romer, Pfleiderer wants economists to be transparent about this sleight of hand. The notion that an entire culture — not just a few eccentric financiers — could be bewitched by empty, extravagant theories might seem absurd. How could all those people, all that math, be mistaken?

This was my own feeling as I began investigating mathiness and the shaky foundations of modern economic science. Back then, governments invested incredible amounts of money in mathematical models of the stars.