We claim that the process of theoretical model refinement in economics is best characterised as robustness analysis: the systematic examination of the robustness of modelling results with respect to particular modelling assumptions. We argue that this practise has epistemic value by extending William Wimsatt's account of robustness analysis as triangulation via independent means of determination. For economists robustness analysis is a crucial methodological strategy because their models are often based on idealisations and abstractions, and it is usually difficult to tell (...) which idealisations are truly harmful. (shrink)
The article argues for the epistemic rationale of triangulation, namely, the use of multiple and independent sources of evidence. It claims that triangulation is to be understood as causal reasoning from data to phenomenon, and it rationalizes its epistemic value in terms of controlling for likely errors and biases of particular data-generating procedures. This perspective is employed to address objections against triangulation concerning the fallibility and scope of the inference, as well as problems of independence, incomparability, and discordance of evidence. (...) The debate on the existence of social preferences is used as an illustrative case. (shrink)
It has recently been argued that successful evidence-based policy should rely on two kinds of evidence: statistical and mechanistic. The former is held to be evidence that a policy brings about the desired outcome, and the latter concerns how it does so. Although agreeing with the spirit of this proposal, we argue that the underlying conception of mechanistic evidence as evidence that is different in kind from correlational, difference-making or statistical evidence, does not correctly capture the role that information about (...) mechanisms should play in evidence-based policy. We offer an alternative account of mechanistic evidence as information concerning the causal pathway connecting the policy intervention to its outcome. Not only can this be analyzed as evidence of difference-making, it is also to be found at any level and is obtainable by a broad range of methods, both experimental and observational. Using behavioral policy as an illustration, we draw the implications of this revised understanding of mechanistic evidence for debates concerning policy extrapolation, evidence hierarchies, and evidence integration. (shrink)
Odenbaugh and Alexandrova provide a challenging critique of the epistemic benefits of robustness analysis, singling out for particular criticism the account we articulated in Kuorikoski et al.. Odenbaugh and Alexandrova offer two arguments against the confirmatory value of robustness analysis: robust theorems cannot specify causal mechanisms and models are rarely independent in the way required by robustness analysis. We address Odenbaugh and Alexandrova’s criticisms in order to clarify some of our original arguments and to shed further light on the properties (...) of robustness analysis and its epistemic rationale. (shrink)
ABSTRACTIn his recent book, Rodrik [. Economics rules. Why economics works, when it fails, and how to tell the difference. Oxford University Press] proposes an account of model pluralism according to which multiple models of the same target are acceptable as long as one model is more useful for one purpose and another is more useful for another purpose. How, then, is the right model for the purpose selected? Rodrik roughly outlines a selection procedure, which we formalize to enhance understanding (...) of his account of model pluralism and to advance the critical discussion. (shrink)
Philosophers of the social sciences are increasingly convinced that macro-and micro-explanations are complementary. Whereas macro-explanations are broad, micro-explanations are deep. I distinguish between weak and strong complementarity: Strongly complementary explanations improve one another when integrated, weakly complementary explanations do not. To demonstrate the explanatory autonomy of different levels of explanation, explanatory pluralists mostly presuppose the weak form of complementarity. By scrutinizing the notions of explanatory depth and breadth, I argue that macro- and micro-accounts of the same phenomenon are more often (...) strongly complementary. This invites a revision of the pluralist position in which integration promotes explanatory progress. Key Words: explanatory pluralism social science explanatory depth explanatory breadth mechanism. (shrink)
Geographical economics (also known as the ‘new economic geography’) is an approach developed within economics dealing with space and geography, issues previously neglected by the mainstream of the discipline. Some practitioners in neighbouring fields traditionally concerned with spatial issues (descriptively) characterized it as—and (normatively) blamed it for—intellectual imperialism. We provide a nuanced analysis of the alleged imperialism of geographical economics and investigate whether the form of imperialism it allegedly instantiates is to be resisted and on what grounds. From both descriptive (...) and normative perspectives, our conclusion is: yes and no. (shrink)
Social scientists associate agent-based simulation (ABS) models with three ideas about explanation: they provide generative explanations, they are models of mechanisms, and they implement methodological individualism. In light of a philosophical account of explanation, we show that these ideas are not necessarily related and offer an account of the explanatory import of ABS models. We also argue that their bottom-up research strategy should be distinguished from methodological individualism.
A newly emerged field within economics, known as geographical economics claims to have provided a unified approach to the study of spatial agglomerations at different spatial scales by showing how these can be traced back to the same basic economic mechanisms. We analyze this contemporary episode of explanatory unification in relation to major philosophical accounts of unification. In particular, we examine the role of argument patterns in unifying derivations, the role of ontological convictions and mathematical structures in shaping unification, the (...) distinction between derivational and ontological unification, the issue of how explanation and unification relate and finally the idea that unification comes in degrees. (shrink)
The question of whether the idealized models of theoretical economics are explanatory has been the subject of intense philosophical debate. It is sometimes presupposed that either a model provides the actual explanation or it does not provide an explanation at all. Yet, two sets of issues are relevant to the evaluation of model-based explanation: what conditions should a model satisfy in order to count as explanatory and does the model satisfy those conditions. My aim in this paper is to unpack (...) this distinction and show that separating the first set of issues from the second is crucial to an accurate diagnosis of the distinctive challenges that economic models pose. Along the way I sketch a view of model-based explanation in economics that focuses on the role that non-empirical and empirical strategies play in increasing confidence in the adequacy of a given model-based explanation. (shrink)
Network theory is applied across the sciences to study phenomena as diverse as the spread of SARS, the topology of the cell, the structure of the Internet and job search behaviour. Underlying the study of networks is graph theory. Whether the graph represents a network of neurons, cells, friends or firms, it displays features that exclusively depend on the mathematical properties of the graph itself. However, the way in which graph theory is implemented to the modelling of networks differs significantly (...) across scientific fields. This article compares the economics variant of network theory with those of other fields. It shows how the methodology employed by economists to model networks is shaped by two explanatory desiderata: that the explanandum phenomenon is based on micro-economic foundations and that the explanation is general. (shrink)
The phenomenon of interactive human kinds, namely kinds of people that undergo change in reaction to being studied or theorised about, matters not only for the reliability of scientific claims, but also for its wider, sometimes harmful effects at the group or societal level, such as contributing to negative stigmas or reinforcing existing inequalities. This paper focuses on the latter aspect of interactivity and argues that scientists studying interactive human kinds are responsible for foreseeing harmful effects of their research and (...) for devising ways of mitigating them. (shrink)
The modelling of bounded rationality is currently pursued by approaches that exhibit a wide diversity of methodologies. This special issue collects five contributions that discuss different methodological aspects of these approaches. In our introduction, we map the variety of methodological positions with respect to three questions. First, what kinds of evidence do the respective approaches consider relevant for modelling bounded rationality? Second, what kind of modelling desiderata do the respective approaches focus on? And third, how do the respective approaches justify (...) the normative validity of bounded rationality? To broaden the picture, we not only discusss the five contributions of this issue, but also include relevant positions from the extant literature. (shrink)
All economic models involve abstractions and idealisations. Economic theory itself does not tell which idealizations are truly fatal or harmful for the result and which are not. This is why much of what is seen as theoretical contribution in economics is constituted by deriving familiar results from different modelling assumptions. If a modelling result is robust with respect to particular modelling assumptions, the empirical falsity of these particular assumptions does not provide grounds for criticizing the result. In this paper we (...) demonstrate how derivational robustness analysis does carry epistemic weight and answer criticism concerning its non-empirical nature and the problematic form of the required independence of the ways of derivation. The epistemic rationale and importance of robustness analysis also challenge some common conceptions of the role of theory in economics. (shrink)
This paper deals with the evidential value of neuroeconomic experiments for the triangulation of economically relevant phenomena. We examine the case of social preferences, which involves bringing together evidence from behavioural experiments, neuroeconomic experiments, and observational studies from other social sciences. We present an account of triangulation and identify the conditions under which neuroeconomic evidence is diverse in the way required for successful triangulation. We also show that the successful triangulation of phenomena does not necessarily afford additional confirmation to general (...) theories about those phenomena. (shrink)
:In this paper, we analyse the difference between two types of behavioural policies – nudges and boosts. We distinguish them on the basis of the mechanisms through which they are expected to operate and identify the contextual conditions that are necessary for each policy to be successful. Our framework helps judging which type of policy is more likely to bring about the intended behavioural outcome in a given situation.
Read argues that modeling cultural idea systems serves to make explicit the cultural rules through which "cultural idea systems" frame behaviors that are culturally meaningful. Because cultural rules are typically "invisible" to us, one of the anthropologists' tasks is to elicit these rules, make them explicit and then use them to build explanations for patterns in cultural phenomena. The main example of Read's approach to cultural idea systems is the formal modeling of kinship terminologies. I reconstruct Read's modeling strategy as (...) comprising the following steps:From the way in which culture-bearers compute kin relations a data model is construed that makes explicit the cultural theory embedded in a kinship .. (shrink)
The paper reviews the philosophical literature on the epistemology of modelling in contemporary economics. In particular, it focuses on open questions concerning the epistemic role of models, the validity of inferences from the models to the world, and the legitimacy of their use for purposes of explanation, prediction and intervention.
We argue that behavioural public policies (BPP) should be categorized by the kind of mechanism through which they operate, not by the kind of treatment they implement. Reviewing the energy consumption BPP literature, we argue (i) that BPPs are currently categorized by treatment; (ii) that treatment-based categories are subject to mechanistic heterogeneity: there is substantial variation of mechanisms within each treatment type; and (iii) that they also display mechanistic overlap: there is substantial overlap between mechanisms across treatment types. Consequently, current (...) categorizations of BPPs do not reveal the conditions of their efficacy and should be revised to better reflect mechanistic information. (shrink)
Mixed methods research - the combination of qualitative and quantitative data within the same design to strengthen causal inference - is gaining prominence in the social sciences but its benefits are contested. There remains confusion over which methods to mix and what is the point of mixing them. We argue that variety of evidence is what matters, not the data or methods, and that distinct epistemic principles underlie its added value for causal inference. The centrality of evidential variety also implies (...) that strong causal pluralism is untenable as a foundation for mixed methods research. (shrink)
Is economics a proper science at all? Or if it qualifies as a science, does it underperform, does it fail to fulfil its scientific duties? Does it perhaps just pretend to proceed as a science by applying principles and techniques that are not suitable for addressing its proper subject matter and for meeting the legitimate expectations? There is a long and live tradition of economics-bashing and economics apology in posing and answering such questions. One popular current in this tradition is (...) to blame economics for being theory-driven or method-driven or driven by whatever else but the world or empirical evidence or observation. Economics thus does not care about the real world – indeed, being so deeply shaped by its favourite theories and methods disconnects economics from the world. The alternative to this gloomy scenario is for a discipline to be evidence-driven or world-oriented or to be guided by some such proper scientific ethos. Being theory-driven involves stressing scientific virtues such as simplicity, coherence, convenience, tractability, formal rigor, theoretical elegance, and so on. Being observation-driven or world-oriented means emphasizing the importance of truth, complexity, empirical testing, practical relevance, and so on. Sometimes the former is characterized as a deductive approach, in contrast to the latter inductive approach. Diagnosis of the failures of economics and advice for how to do better economics is often put in such dichotomous terms. This popular way of framing the issues and debates is all too simplistic and outright distortive.... (shrink)
Following an established tradition, the current special issue collects five articles that originate from papers presented at the IX Conference of the International Network for Economic Method. The conference took place in Helsinki on 1–3 September 2011 and was hosted by TINT (Trends and Tensions in Intellectual Integration), University of Helsinki. The conference was successful both in terms of the number of participants and the quality of the presentations. Although the sample of papers that made it to this special issue (...) is relatively small, we think that it is representative of some of the major contemporary currents in the wider field of the philosophy and methodology of economics. The papers examine both long-debated and more recent issues. (shrink)