This week the Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Guido Imbens, Joshua Angrist and David CardA trio of researchers whose contributions to the so-called “credibility revolution” were recognized by. This award is well-deserved and a tribute to the trio of economists that helped raise the standard of social science research. It also acts as an indirect rebuke to the Left who do not support the values of “objectivity”, “rigor”, or data-gathering.
This was the credibility revolution. It gave economics more credibility through new analytical methods. These were statistically sound, but also easy to comprehend and explain.
Angrist invents the phrase A 2010 paper with Jörn-Steffen Pischke. This paper, which was set against earlier work of UCLA economist Edward Leamer, claimed that the revolution was in response to a growing sense that economic empirical work has long struggled with a lack of resilience to changes in key assumptions. Since the 1990s, credibility was all about improving data use and using experiments to produce better results. Angrist, Pischke stated that the “primary force behind the credibility revolution” was a strong push for clearer research design.
They were particularly instrumental in the advancement of empirical studies that used real-world events as natural experiments. In these cases, investigators use a control from the real world to test whether an experiment has any effect. It is not easy to understand natural experiments. This group helped economists see how and when natural experiment can uncover causality.
They have been able to use their unique research methods and others derived therefrom over many decades to allow economists to efficiently study events otherwise difficult or impossible via random controlled experiments, which are the gold standard for economic research.
They didn’t only discover new and interesting information, they also developed universally applicable methods to help us better study the world. Many of these methods have been replaced by older techniques that relied only on statistics and mathematical analysis, with little to no relationship to the real world.
These findings are not necessarily uncontroversial. Card’s most notable experiment was the one that looked at whether a minimum wage hike would have an effect on fast-food employment. This study is still hotly debated and has been for years. Alex Tabarrok explains: WritesAt Marginal RevolutionIt simply was a more experimental design than most of its predecessors. A second influential StudyCard discovered that even an extraordinarily large inflow of immigrants into Miami didn’t negatively affect wages and employment for the city’s poorer residents. This one too has been discussed. In both cases, Card’s insight was to use a natural experiment—to find data in the real world—and then try to find ways that data could shed light on important public policy questions.
The award did not reflect any particular result, conclusion, or innovation, but was more about economic methodology.
It has been suggestedBecause of the way that these types of findings have often compelled conservative economic assumptions to be challenged, this award this year is a victory in favor for the Left. But I think you can also understand this particular award, with its emphasis on methodological innovation—on producing better research that does a more convincing job of proving what it is we think we know—also serves as an implicit rebuke to a certain form of leftist thinking that’s been percolating through various organizations and institutions.
By making their fields more credible, these economists have made it easier for others to follow in their footsteps. It is very importantIn the sense they offered better measurement tools and were therefore more useful. ObjectiveIn the sense that results are less affected by the assumptions and biases of investigators. They are great things. These are good things. Such obviously positive thingsThey are so bizarre that even mentioning them is strange. Yet the seemingly obvious proposition that social science should strive, whenever possible, to be more objective and rigorous is now under attack—not only from fringe segments of the left, but from within institutions nominally devoted to sound social science.
Urban Institute is a highly respected think tank that has been recently established. Blog post publishedFrom a Staff Policy Analyst titled “Equitable Research Demands That We Question the Status Quo ” Without any qualification or caveat, “harmful research” was defined as the use of “rigor”, “objectivity” and other similar terms.
It raised eyebrows. The editorial note now at the top states that blog posts are ““Represent individual author’s views, not Urban Policy,” plus a Click here to go to StatementThe president of the Institute says that:The Urban Institute is an organisation that strives for excellence in conducting research. Extensive, objective researchWe strive to make a difference in the lives and communities of our customers. We are known for our rigor. However, the original post is still available. Even though it isn’t an institution position, it is telling that an analyst on staff policies would publicly condemn these attributes in an institutional forum.
This is not an isolated instance. This is just one example. Reason contributor Jesse Singal Recently noted in Substack Singal-MindedOn the Urban Institute kerfuffleRelated incidents Depressingly, explicit denigrations of objectivity or rigor are becoming more common among liberal circles. They are particularly common within the field of education policy. These denunciations end up being weaponized. Bad-faith racism chargesIn this case, the slide from a diversity and inclusion training program was shown to New York City officials. It stated that administrators were taught “objectivity” as well “worshipping of the written words” White supremacy culture – traits
Many of these ideas can be traced back at the diversity consultant Tema OKun. Matthew Yglesias, bluntly titled “An In-depth Look at Okun’s Influence and Serious Problems” will provide a better understanding of Okun’s influence. Slow boredomSubstack, postTema Okun’s “White Supremacy Culture” work is terrible”
But the basic idea is that her view of any signs of rational, ordered thinking is a sign of white supremacy. She doesn’t provide any evidence to support her claims, but that is not surprising given that she believes that strong evidentiary standards can be dangerous. Her articles and books have been widely shared by left-leaning political organizations and non-profits. Some were groups that had more activist-oriented, soft missions. The Urban Institute post shows that it has been sneaking into nominally empirical research organizations.
There aren’t many left-leaning people who don’t believe in objectiveness, rigor or sound social science. Critics of these qualities consider them “harmful” or in conflict with the left’s goals. These qualities are up for discussion even in Left-leaning areas where they would be expected to be advantageous. In certain quarters of the left, rigor and objectivity—the qualities that give research Credibility—are no longer seen as obviously good.
These qualities are the reason this year’s Nobel prize in economics is so important. This year’s Nobel prize in economics is not just an award for excellence in economy. Award for an elite group of economists who have made a significant impact in the field. It also serves to defend a set value that should be used as a guideline for all research in social sciences.
One might think that these values need no defense, that they speak for themselves—and yet it’s clearer than ever that they are under attack, and that they must be explicitly defended. The Nobel Committee, by naming it, has silently taken part in an intra-left debate; it is now the right side.