IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/a/ejw/journl/v5y2008i1p78-90.html
   My bibliography  Save this article

The Market for Lemmas: Evidence That Complex Models Rarely Operate in Our World

Author

Listed:
  • Philip R. P. Coelho
  • James E. McClure

Abstract

The market for models whose mathematical proofs are so lengthy and complex as to call for the delineation of intermediate steps with lemmas (Lemma 1, Lemma 2, etc.) expanded remarkably in prominent economic journals during the final four decades of the 20th century. However, Alfred Marshall, Paul Samuelson, and Donald Gordon explained that the worthiness of long chains of analytic reasoning depends critically on the stability or durability of the relations involved; in economic relations, the soundness of long chains are subject to “radioactive decay,†to use Samuelson’s phrase. Here we draw on this insight and provide evidence that: (1) there has been remarkable growth in the frequency of articles with lemmas published in some top general-interest journals; (2) a sample of 12 lemma-heavy articles in Journal of Economic Theory have resulted in very few operational statements; (3) articles that cited the lemma-heavy articles have generated few operational statements; (4) lemmas are rare among the most-cited articles that appeared in the top general interest journals; and (5) true to the point about “radioactive decay,†most-cited articles with lemmas are more likely to be on statistical/econometric analytics than economic analytics.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:ejw:journl:v:5:y:2008:i:1:p:78-90
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: https://econjwatch.org/file_download/180/2008-01-coelhomcclure-econ_practice.pdf?mimetype=pdf
    Download Restriction: no

    File URL: https://econjwatch.org/255
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. 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.
    2. Hausman, Daniel M, 1989. "Economic Methodology in a Nutshell," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(2), pages 115-127, Spring.
    3. 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 419-442.
    4. Frank Hindriks, 2005. "Unobservability, tractability and the battle of assumptions," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 12(3), pages 383-406.
    5. In-Koo Cho & David M. Kreps, 1987. "Signaling Games and Stable Equilibria," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 102(2), pages 179-221.
    6. E. Han Kim & Adair Morse & Luigi Zingales, 2006. "What Has Mattered to Economics Since 1970," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(4), pages 189-202, Fall.
    7. 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.
    8. Hausman,Daniel M., 1992. "The Inexact and Separate Science of Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521415019, May.
    9. Donald F. Gordon, 1955. "Operational Propositions in Economic Theory," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63, pages 150-150.
    10. Hausman,Daniel M., 1992. "The Inexact and Separate Science of Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521425230, May.
    11. Leontief, Wassily, 1971. "Theoretical Assumptions and Nonobserved Facts," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 61(1), pages 1-7, March.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Mathematical Complexity; Operationalism; Evidence; Lemma;

    JEL classification:

    • A11 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Role of Economics; Role of Economists
    • B40 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology - - - General
    • C00 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - General - - - General
    • C10 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - General
    • C59 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric Modeling - - - Other

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ejw:journl:v:5:y:2008:i:1:p:78-90. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Jason Briggeman). General contact details of provider: http://edirc.repec.org/data/edgmuus.html .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.