Monday, September 17, 2007

On Economics

This is, of course, a patently stupid topic to be discussing, but I just returned from a seminar given by one of the world's most eminent chemists, James Tour. You may know him by proxy from his work on nanocars, research which he led. (The wheel effort, if I understand, owes a lot to Newfoundland.)

Anyway, he was an excellent presenter. He was in the middle of discussing the use of carbon nanotubes for fighting ex post radiation treatment, since said tubes can somehow capture/neutralize the creation of free radicals, which are spawned by radiation impacting cells, causing a chain biological reaction with successively more radicals, killing off your stem cells, at which point you die. But I was thinking how bizarre it was that nobody contradicted his view.

Now, you go to a seminar in economics. Any one. I don't care which. How often will everyone agree with everything the person is saying? I humbly submit this is rare, to say the least. But in the questions after the presentation, it was all about building on the current research to actually produce more things, not whether what he had presented was valid. In economics, it's about questioning the assumptions.

Economics, of course, can make no such claims to being a natural science, but we should remember that it is actually people in said natural sciences that are producing those all-critical technological advances upon which the rest of us rely for increasing living standards.

We should also not forget that our profession (well, not mine, yet, anyway) does have an indirect role in providing these people support. I'm pretty sure research funding tends to dry up during a recession, and I think at this point it's hard to deny that we have collectively gotten better at running society from an economic standpoint.

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