Advertisement

Cliometrica

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 435–449 | Cite as

Getting over naïve scientism c. 1950: what Fogel and North got wrong

  • Deirdre Nansen McCloskey
Original Paper

Abstract

Fogel and North, both of them old radicals in the 1950s, received the Nobel Memorial Prize in 1993 for their advocacy—and practice—during the 1960s and 1970s of quantitative methods and especially of basic economic thinking in the study of the economic past. Both were scientific giants, and great teachers and advocates. But even giants make mistakes, and in both cases the mistakes became more evident in the decades after they received the glittering prize. Fogel’s late-career studies of health and welfare, though admirably serious examples of applied economics right to the end, were less scientifically pioneering than his work on railways or slavery. North’s much more influential advocacy—and very much less his practice—of neo-institutionalism, by contrast, was probably a scientific error. Fogel realized more and more the salience of ethics in the economy, and even taught (philosophically unsophisticated) courses on business ethics. North drifted further and further from the essentially ethical underpinnings of an innovative economy, speaking of “brain science” rather than the mind-scanning equipment of the humanities, and led his many followers in the drift.

Keywords

Robert Fogel Douglass North Cliometrics Science Humanities 

JEL Classification

B2 B3 N0 

References

  1. American Statistical Association (2016) Statement on statistical significance and p-values. Am Stat 70(2):129–133. At http://amstat.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00031305.2016.1154108
  2. Becker G, Stigler G (1977) De gustibus non est disputandum. Am Econ Rev 67:67–90Google Scholar
  3. Bower KM (2000) Ethics and remembrance: the poetry of Nelly Sachs and Rose Ausländer. Camden House, RochesterGoogle Scholar
  4. Campbell B (2006) English seigneurial agriculture, 125–1450. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  5. Collins H (1985) Changing order: replication and induction in scientific practice. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  6. Cornell Alumni Magazine (2008) On fogel, vol 110, no 5, March/April 2008Google Scholar
  7. Diebolt C, Haupert M (2018) A cliometric counterfactual: what if there had been neither Fogel nor North? In this issue of Cliometrica Google Scholar
  8. Horgan J (1996) The end of science: facing the limits of knowledge in the twilight of the scientific age. Helix Books, Addison Wesley, ReadingGoogle Scholar
  9. Housman AE (1921) The application of thought to textual criticism. Proc Class Assoc 18:67–84Google Scholar
  10. Kuhn TS (1962) The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  11. Kuhn TS (1977) The essential tension: selected studies in scientific tradition and change. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  12. Lakatos I 1976 (1963–1964). Proofs and refutations: the logic of mathematical discovery. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  13. Latour B, Woolgar S (1979) Laboratory life. Laboratory life: the construction of scientific facts. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJGoogle Scholar
  14. Leonard TC (2016) Illiberal reformers: race, eugenics and American economics in the progressive era. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  15. McCloskey DN (1985) The problem of audience in historical economics: rhetorical thoughts on a text by Robert Fogel. Hist Theory 24(1):1–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. McCloskey DN (2012) Happyism: the creepy new economics of pleasure. The New Republic, June 28, 2012Google Scholar
  17. McCloskey DN (2017) Neo-institutionalism is not yet a scientific sucess: a reply to Barry Weingast. Scand Econ Hist Rev, forthcomingGoogle Scholar
  18. North DC (1991) Institutions. J Econ Perspect 5(1):97–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. North DC (2005) Understanding the process of economic change. Princeton economic history of the western world. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  20. North DC, Wallis JJ, Weingast BR (2009) Violence and social orders: a conceptual framework for interpreting recorded history. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  21. Pearson K, Moul M (1925) The problem of alien immigration into Great Britain illustrated by an examination of Russian and Polish Alien children. Ann Eugen Pt. I, 1(1): 5–54; Pt. II, 1(2): 56–127Google Scholar
  22. Polanyi M (1958) Personal knowledge: towards and post-critical philosophy. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  23. Pope A (1711) An essay on criticism. Printed for W. Lewis and sold by W. Taylor, T. Osborn and J. Graves, 1711, LondonGoogle Scholar
  24. Seaton J (1996) Cultural conservatism: political liberalism: from criticism to cultural studies. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, p 1996CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Trilling L (1950) The liberal imagination: essays on literature and society. Viking Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  26. Wallis J, North DC (1986) Measuring the transactions sector in the American economy. In: Engerman S, Gallman R (eds) Long-term factors in American economic growth. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  27. Weingast B (2016) Exposing the neoclassical fallacy: McCloskey on ideas and the great enrichment. Scand Econ Hist Rev 64(3):189–201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Wilson EO (1992) The diversity of life. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA

Personalised recommendations