Sociologists would recognize economics as a science, or: How low can U go?

Paul Krugman noted on his blog Friday that the Federal Reserve’s estimate of the Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemploment (NAIRU), in other words the predicted lowest level of unemployment that won’t cause inflation to rise, has been falling for several years. “Estimates of how low U can go seem always to be a bit below the current level of unemployment,” he writes, and produces the following chart:

This chart reminded me of another visual, one that made quite an impact on me when I first saw it as an impressionable college student. Continue reading

Links for the first day of fall (a.k.a. the morning of September 21), 2015

The Stinker, official Ig Nobel Prize mascot.

Continue reading

Economists arguing about whether economists are scientists, part 1

Those of you who are not regular readers of the economics blogosphere have missed a hugely entertaining spectacle over the summer: prominent and articulate economists have been fighting passionately about whether economics is a science. In doing so, they’ve been attempting to answer some very fundamental questions, like what makes science science, what makes scientists scientists (and thus some economists scientists and others not), when some economists stopped being scientists, what economists think other economists think about what science is, when some economists stopped thinking other economists thought the same thing about what science is, and who insulted whom at a conference in Edgartown, Massachusetts in 1978.

Like introductory econ textbooks, some of the most widely-read econ blogs are written by heavy hitters within the profession, who somehow manage to balance teaching and research loads with astronomical levels of blog output. Continue reading

Links for Thursday, September 17, 2015

(Joseph Wolf [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons &

Links for the morning of Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Tacit knowledge and lay expertise: the actor Ben Foster doped so he could better understand Lance Armstrong, whom he’s portraying in a new biopic. (Not everyone is thrilled.)

Campus police vs. the million-dollar map thief.

Plants are predators, too! (Don’t watch the video if you are a big fan of snails.)

What’s the point of digitizing history?

Uber flat-out bought Carnegie Mellon’s world-leading robotics department.

Simon Critchley on obscurantism, scientism, explanation, “good TV,” and his onetime teacher Frank Cioffi.

Welcoming a New Team Member!

Americans, Scientists, and non-American non-scientists: I’m very excited to be joining the AmericanScience team from my new home in Philadelphia, where I’ll be spending the next few months reading, writing, and—of course—blogging about all things history of science. I’m a PhD candidate in the Program in the History of Science at Princeton University, where I work on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century natural history in a (mostly) global context. My interests, which range from Victorian botanical exploration to entomological museum displays, are decidedly less “modern” and physical sciences-based than the other bloggers on AmericanScience. Nevertheless, I hope that the discussions that will be had over the coming months will broaden not just my own dissertation work, but will deepen the historical bent of the blog as a whole.

I came to the East Coast by way of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I got my B.A. in the history of science, medicine, & technology with a minor in African studies. Over the past few years, I’ve focused my work on various strange species that challenged nineteenth-century conceptions of what it meant to be human, blurring boundaries between plants and animals, races and genders. Beginning with an exploration into Victorian explorer Paul du Chaillu’s gorilla-hunting expedition into West Africa, my research moved into studies of butterflies, the “stuff of séances” in Victorian spiritualist circles, and, most recently, Cryptogams and other plants that confounded men of science and oftentimes ended up in the hands (and hothouses) of women. My dissertation (at this early stage of conception) tracks several “reproductively confusing” species of plants—corpse flowers, mosses, deadly nightshade, and the like—from islands to museums and gardens, from field collection to preserved herbarium sheets and living hothouses, in an effort to understand the changing aesthetic, gendered, sexualized, and scientific practices and material cultures of nineteenth-century botany.

Over the next few months, I’ll be blogging about a range of historical topics (with presentist hooks) in the life sciences and in museum studies. Expect histories of pioneering natural history institutions (I just finished a stint at the New York Botanical Garden Humanities Institute); of Continue reading

We’re Back, or, Monday on the Blog with George

American Science is back from summer vacation.

As you will have noticed, we have a new platform and webpage. Like a self-conscious adolescent on the first day of blog high school, we have traded the JNCOs and Vans of Blogger for a more buttoned-up wardrobe. We’re also going to be trying some new bloggy things this year. Check out our homepage and our twitter account, @americansciblog, for daily links posts and more on new features and a new team member(!).

Apropos of our return to blog normalcy: lately, I’ve been reading up on what various scientists had to say about the resumption of international scientific relations after the end of World War I. During the war, most scientists in the belligerent nations had hewed enthusiastically to a saying attributed to Fritz Haber: “During peacetime a scientist belongs to the world, but during wartime he belongs to his country.” (Nobody embodied this better than Haber, celebrated as a humanitarian hero for developing a fertilizer production process held to have staved off mass starvation, and vilified as a war criminal for his enthusiastic wartime leadership of the German chemical warfare effort.) Continue reading