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Is UK academic social science following a work model others already discarding?

December 21, 2011 950

Article by LSE Economist, Danny Quah

Mark Thoma‘s thoughtful article “New Forms of Communication and the Public Mission of Economics: Overcoming the Great Disconnect” (04 November 2011) describes the factors that, through the 1980s and after, led to academic economics disengaging from its long-standing public mission: Addressing the questions important to society.

Once it started to withdraw, academic economics became ever more self-contained and self-affirming. Along that path these developments encountered no reality check or market test. The profession grew to have no way to ask how the questions it addressed might matter to anyone, to anyone that is beyond those inside the profession itself involved in posing and answering those questions. Instead, the profession developed a disdain for those outside it – government economists, business economists, journalists, the general public – who were concerned with matters it considered mundane. Academic economics saw a choice between only two extremes: one, that of super-streamlined professionalism and the other, that of ambulance-chasing opportunism, and it convinced all the PhD students it could find there was only one way to go. The system faced no countervailing pressure to change.

Economics no longer had a public mission; it had turned its back on the rest of society. Thoma’s earlier op-ed from 26 July 2011 pointed out:

“How much confidence would you have in the medical profession if the teaching faculty in medical schools had very little experience actually treating patients, and very little connection to – even a lack of respect for – the practitioners in the field? Would your confidence be improved if medical research had little to do with the questions that are important to the doctors trying to serve patients?

Fortunately, however, this disengagement has begun to turn around, not least since the global economic crisis following 2008 but also, a little before then, through academic economists – top-flight respected researchers – resuming communicating again directly with the public. ….

Read the rest of the article Here

Professor of Economics and Kuwait Professor at LSE. I write about the shifting global economy. I try to make large things visible to the naked eye.

View all posts by dannyquah

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