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Model Building versus Theorizing: The Paucity of Theory in the _Journal of Economic Theory_

  • Daniel B. Klein
  • Pedro P. Romero

Drawing on the work of people with strong mainstream reputations, we distinguish model and theory. We argue that a model may qualify as theory only if it purports to answer three questions: Theory of what?, Why should we care?, What merit in your explanation? We examine the 66 regular articles appearing in the 2004 issues of Journal of Economic Theory—“the leading journal in economic theory†—and apply the three requirements. We make the assessment accountable by formulating six subtests and recording our scores in a detailed spreadsheet linked as an appendix; anyone may spot-check the spreadsheet to see if an article was scored unfairly. We find that 27 articles fail the first test (Theory of what?) and 58 articles fail at least one of the three requirements. Thus, 88 percent of the articles do not qualify as theory. (The “pass†rates would be even lower if one were to exclude the special issue, and if one were to include the short notes.) We contend that the journal’s claim to scientific status is doubtful, as well as the very title of the journal. A truer title would be, Journal of Economic Model Building. More generally, we challenge calling model building “theory.â€

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Article provided by Econ Journal Watch in its journal Econ Journal Watch.

Volume (Year): 4 (2007)
Issue (Month): 2 (May)
Pages: 241-271

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Handle: RePEc:ejw:journl:v:4:y:2007:i:2:p:241-271
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  1. Simon Newcomb, 1893. "The Problem of Economic Education," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 7(4), pages 375-399.
  2. McCloskey,Deirdre N., 1994. "Knowledge and Persuasion in Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521436038, Junio.
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  4. Hausman,Daniel M., 1992. "The Inexact and Separate Science of Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521415019, Junio.
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  6. Warren C. Gibson, 2005. "The Mathematical Romance: An Engineer's View of Mathematical Economics," Econ Journal Watch, Econ Journal Watch, vol. 2(1), pages 149-158, April.
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  8. Hausman,Daniel M., 1992. "The Inexact and Separate Science of Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521425230, Junio.
  9. William L. Davis, 2004. "Preference Falsification in the Economics Profession," Econ Journal Watch, Econ Journal Watch, vol. 1(2), pages 359-368, August.
  10. David Colander, 1995. "The Stories We Tell: A Reconsideration of AS/AD Analysis," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(3), pages 169-188, Summer.
  11. Philip R. P. Coelho & James E. McClure, 2005. "Theory versus Application: Does Complexity Crowd Out Evidence?," Southern Economic Journal, Southern Economic Association, vol. 71(3), pages 556-565, January.
  12. George A. Akerlof, 1970. "The Market for "Lemons": Quality Uncertainty and the Market Mechanism," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 84(3), pages 488-500.
  13. Grubel, Herbert G & Boland, Lawrence A, 1986. "On the Efficient Use of Mathematics in Economics: Some Theory, Facts and Results of an Opinion Survey," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 39(3), pages 419-42.
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