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Lotta Lemmata: A Sour Harvest

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  • Philip R. P. Coelho

    ()
    (Department of Economics, Ball State University)

  • James E. McClure

    ()
    (Department of Economics, Ball State University)

Abstract

We quantify the increasing use of complex mathematics and show that the increase is unique to economics in the social sciences. Over half a century ago Donald F. Gordon hypothesized that mathematics was most likely to be useful in manipulating long chains of relationships, but these were the cases where the theory was least likely to valid. Time particularly bedevils the long chains because the ceteris paribus assumption requires the stability of all links. We find that the rate of hypothesis testing in articles citing mathematically complex articles is less than two percent, and summarize a variety of tests and other evidence supporting the Gordon hypothesis. We suggest that a major factor in the rise in mathematical complexity may be the decline in comments, replies, and rejoinders debating earlier publications; the decline has been rapid as editors have become increasingly “hostile” toward perspectives other than the ones they had previously published. We conclude by emphasizing that: 1) prominent journals in economics are devoting more space to mathematically complex articles despite their inconsequential operational harvest; 2) both the “appropriate” balance between mathematical complexity and operationalism, and the relative merits of “stylized facts” versus observational reality should be considered as a factor in editorial decision-making; finally 3) the vital importance of academic debate that addresses empirical verification, the appropriateness of model formulation, and the crucial matters of history and circumstance which are the measures of all research in the social sciences.

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File URL: http://econfac.iweb.bsu.edu/research/workingpapers/bsuecwp201006coelho.pdf
File Function: First version, 2010
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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Ball State University, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 201006.

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Length: 23 pages
Date of creation: Mar 2010
Date of revision: Mar 2010
Publication status: Forthcoming in Social Science History
Handle: RePEc:bsu:wpaper:201006

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