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The Guardian: Is Economics a Science?

Author: Robert Shiller
November 6, 2013

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"One problem with economics is that it is necessarily focused on policy, rather than discovery of fundamentals. Nobody really cares much about economic data except as a guide to policy: economic phenomena do not have the same intrinsic fascination for us as the internal resonances of the atom or the functioning of the vesicles and other organelles of a living cell. We judge economics by what it can produce. As such, economics is rather more like engineering than physics, more practical than spiritual."

I am one of the winners of this year's Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, which makes me acutely aware of criticism of the prize by those who claim that economics – unlike chemistry, physics, or medicine, for which Nobel prizes are also awarded – is not a science. Are they right?

One problem with economics is that it is necessarily focused on policy, rather than discovery of fundamentals. Nobody really cares much about economic data except as a guide to policy: economic phenomena do not have the same intrinsic fascination for us as the internal resonances of the atom or the functioning of the vesicles and other organelles of a living cell. We judge economics by what it can produce. As such, economics is rather more like engineering than physics, more practical than spiritual.

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