Prestige in economics
Kieran Healy fresh from defending sociology against attacks from ignorant economists, returns fire with this sly dig in a post about the underrepresentation of women
Even the lower-status fields in Economics (e.g., those that involve looking at data of any sort, hem hem) require a very high degree of competence in formal methods.
Actually, Kieran is out of date here. The availability of large cross-section data sets and the development of new techniques for analysing them has led to a resurgence in the prestige of empirical methods accompanied by a decline in the status of abstract theory. Steve Levitt’s Clark Prize is the most recent example (of winners in the last decade, I’d say only Matt Rabin is primarily a theorist).
What remains striking is the ambiguous status of policy. Although quite a lot of high-profile economists are engaged in the policy debate, there’s still quite a strong undercurrent of academic disdain for such a grubby activity, especially when it involves being embroiled in controversy (Stiglitz, Krugman etc). The situation in Australia was quite different in the generation preceding mine, when the top economists were almost automatically those actively involved in making or criticising public policy (Gruen, Gregory and Pitchford, just to name a few of the ANU contingent), but we now conform to the global norm. For the general public, an economist is someone who shills for a bank, and within the academic profession, involvement in policy is at best an optional extra . As in many things, I prefer the attitudes and institutions of the past, to those of the present in this matter.