Economics envy?

Apparently some historians want their discipline to become a predictive science. Because that worked out so well for economics back in the 60s.

What is needed is a systematic application of the scientific method to history: verbal theories should be translated into mathematical models, precise predictions derived, and then rigorously tested on empirical material. In short, history needs to become an analytical, predictive science (see Arise cliodynamics).

It seems the history of the social sciences rhymes as well as any other. Turchin does attempt to address some of the obvious concerns in his Nature article:

The most compelling argument against the possibility of scientific history goes like this. Human societies are extremely complex. They consist of many different kinds of individuals and groups that interact in complex ways. People have free will and are therefore unpredictable. …If this argument were correct, there would be no empirical regularities.

I have a feeling he’s going to identify the historical equivalent of the Philips curve at some point. Then other historians can win prizes by porting across the Lucas critique. Finally, history-McCloskey will crop up and suggest a return to the interpretive methods of the past.

HT: Evolving Economics

3 replies
  1. Daniel T.
    Daniel T. says:

    No need. I thought Futurology was already a (legitimate and respected?) field of study 😉

  2. JC
    JC says:

    Thats quite fascinating. I like the term “splitters and lumpers”.. sort of like “Roundheads and Cavaliers” 🙂

    I do think a model, or series of models identifying common things in history is a good idea but like the climate models I suspect history is too complex to be a reliable predictor of regional events. For that I’d rather read a novel by Tom Clancy who effectively foresaw 911 in “Debt Of Honour”.

    Incidentally, Clancy’s hero who survived the 911 type attack was Vice President and then immediately afterwards President “Ryan” 🙂


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