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December 07, 2004

Comments

Vinayak

The Economist Magazine's 'Style Guide'... thats what they all need!

Kevin

Best economics writer in my opinion is Ken Arrow. After that it's a pretty steep drop-off.

Philip

Yes. And Amartya Sen writes well. You can count the good writers on one hand. (Alas, these few are not the folks who have columns at newspapers).

The funniest part is that we refer to economics papers as the "literature".

Um. Literature?

Kevin

I just finished the "literature" review for my empirical paper and I want to vomit.

iggy

You all miss the entire point (not unusual for economists). The point of journal language is to get across ideas in whatever form is accepted by the receiver. In research journals, the accepted form is ugly, but it fulfills the only requirement it really faces: it allows the least freedom of interpretation by the reader. The attempt at maximizing the precision of meaning is self-perpetuating and yields a stilted and contrived style. As an example, once a term is defined, future users cannot abandon it even when new ideas make the term laughable. I am certain that editors are shockingly unfamiliar with Wittgenstein and Derrida, and that journal style has evolved without a guiding hand. Journal language is the two-pound growth on top of a hornbill's beak: a tremendous waste of energy developed by eons of cooperative trait selection by females who have no real use for the trait and males who do not need it either.

Philip

I take your point "Iggy," and my apologies for being so slow to respond. (Job market business is keeping me busy). Would that economics jargon actually involved "maximizing precision." Often, it accomplishes just the opposite. The fundamental building blocks of economics jargon tend to be abstract and/or falsifiable (utility finctions are an example of the former and time consistent preferences an example of the latter). We create a false precision by using jargon. Jargon prevents us from thinking very much about what we are really saying. It involves a series of intellectual shortcuts. What is "maximized", too often, is the distance between real events and the models that would supposedly explain and predict them. My argument is that to make progress in the social sciences, we need to think deeply about simple things, not add layers of complexity on top of false primitives. Jargon, when it takes on a reality of its own and pushes us toward falsified patterns of explanation over and over and over again, when it becomes an excuse for rejecting instantly any idea that does not conform to the implicit assumptions that give meaning to the catchwords, obscures more than it illuminates.

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