Thursday, March 5, 2015

Brief Defense of the Avid Amateur

 A cross post from my Noah Smith fan blog, "Entitled to Noahpinion"

I was thinking about Noah's post where he was curious about amateurs with an interest in economics, and it got me thinking.

A lot of the early post-enlightenment advances in science were made by avid amateurs in fields as varied as geology, zoology, and chemistry.

When I think of guys like these (and they were mostly guys) I think of someone like Joseph Priestley. He isolated Oxygen, amongst other claims to fame.

But he wasn't a scientist as we know it. He was Minister. (Lots of churchy guys going cool science stuff, like Mendel).

So basically the idea of scientist doesn't come around until there is institutionalized science. Then you can throw up the walls and point at the avid amatuer and call him a birdwatcher and not a zoologist.

This also is the case in economics. The early econ stuff is narrative. There's not a numbers. But you math it up a bit and use differential calculus the you can draw a sharp line. If you're not doing math, you're not an economist (Not to speak ill of math and graphing, it still can illustrate important concepts to entry-level students).