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

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  • Daniel B. Klein
  • Pedro Romero

Abstract

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€

Suggested Citation

  • Daniel B. Klein & Pedro Romero, 2007. "Model Building versus Theorizing: The Paucity of Theory in the _Journal of Economic Theory_," Econ Journal Watch, Econ Journal Watch, vol. 4(2), pages 241-271, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:ejw:journl:v:4:y:2007:i:2:p:241-271
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    8. Hausman,Daniel M., 1992. "The Inexact and Separate Science of Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521415019, May.
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    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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Dalibor Roháč, 2012. "On economists and garbagemen: Reflections on Šťastný (2010)," The Review of Austrian Economics, Springer;Society for the Development of Austrian Economics, vol. 25(2), pages 173-183, June.
    2. Rick Wicks, 2009. "A model of dynamic balance among the three spheres of society – markets, governments, and communities: Applied to understanding the relative importance of social capital and social goods," International Journal of Social Economics, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 36(5), pages 535-565, April.
    3. Jean-Michel Courtault & Eric Rimbaux & Tong Zhu, 2010. "De la réputation scientifique et de sa mesure : une étude comparée des citations des économistes et des gestionnaires des Universités et des Écoles," Working Papers hal-00490058, HAL.
    4. Jean-Michel Courtault & Eric Rimbaux & Tong Zhu, 2010. "De la réputation scientifique et de sa mesure : une étude comparée des citations des économistes et des gestionnaires des Universités et des Écoles," CEPN Working Papers hal-00490058, HAL.
    5. Philip R. P. Coelho & James E. McClure, 2008. "The Market for Lemmas: Evidence That Complex Models Rarely Operate in Our World," Econ Journal Watch, Econ Journal Watch, vol. 5(1), pages 78-90, January.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    models; model building; theory; explanation; explanandum; story telling; relevance; importance;

    JEL classification:

    • B4 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology
    • C7 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory

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