Should We ‘Delink’ the Economics Nobel from the Other Nobel Prizes?

BY Business Desk  April 14, 2010 at 4:05 PM EDT

Question: Can you do a story on the fact that many Nobel Prize winners and other scientists are trying, along with Peter Nobel, descendant of Alfred Nobel, to get the Nobel Committee to delink the prize in economics from the other Nobels? The reason is because it was set up by the Bank of Sweden to legitimize economics as if it were as science (which it clearly is not). The real name of the economics prize is The Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.

Paul Solman: I don’t know if we’ll do a story, Hazel, but here’s your email for all to consider. Do you want to delink the Nobels in literature and peace as well? As for economics as a science, let me share this exchange I had with the late Paul Samuelson about a decade ago, though I admit: Samuelson, as the first American winner of The Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Science (aka Nobel Prize in Economics), might have been biased:

SAMUELSON: Economics is not an exact science, it’s a combination of an art and elements of science. And that’s almost the first and last lesson to be learned about economics: that in my judgment, we are not converging toward exactitude, but we’re improving our data bases and our ways of reasoning about them.

SOLMAN: I asked [philosopher] Nelson Goodman this question once, and Nelson Goodman said economics is as much of a science as physics. I said, ‘well, how could that be?’ He said: ‘physics can explain how a leaf falls from a tree and everything that happens to it, but it can’t tell you where the leaf’s going to land. Economics is the same.’

SAMUELSON: I think that it’s more important for an economist to be wise and sophisticated in scientific method than it is for a physicist because with controlled laboratory experiments possible, they practically guide you, you couldn’t go astray. Whereas in economics, by dogma and misunderstanding, you can go very sadly astray.

SOLMAN: So you need to know more, in some sense. But is Nelson Goodman right?

SAMUELSON: Yes, absolutely right. I use that all the time. The parts of physics that are exact are the parts of physics that are exact. The parts that are inexact are vastly greater. Sensible scientists don’t waste their time pushing against doors that endlessly will not give. They are opportunistic and go where they can, but there are pitfalls in that. It’s like the drunk who is looking for his keys under the lamplight in the street, but he wasn’t near the lamplight. He said, yes, but that’s the only place I can see anything, therefore I’m looking here.