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Is Economics An Experimental Science? A Textbook Perspective

Saileshsingh Gunessee and Tom Lane ()

No 2020-16, Discussion Papers from The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham

Abstract: Traditionally, students of economics have often been told that it is a non-experimental science. Using a quantitative and qualitative analysis of introductory economics textbooks, we track the historical evolution of this rhetoric from 1970 to the present day. We find that anti-experimental rhetoric was dominant and largely unchanged prior to the turn of the 21st century. Since then, there has been a growing trend towards textbooks making positive statements about the role of experimentation in economics. Remarks that experiments are impossible in economics have been (almost) eliminated only this decade, evidencing a sluggish change in rhetoric. We outline the evolution of statements over revised editions of influential textbooks and show that, while most have become considerably more supportive of experimental economics, there is substantial variation over when this happened. Interviews with key textbook authors confirm the historical trend of increased enthusiasm towards experiments, and suggest they are now accepted within the economic mainstream. Our results hold important implications for the research methodology of our science and how it is understood by current and former students.

Keywords: Economic Methodology; Experimental Science; Economics Principles Textbooks; History of Economic Thought (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-cbe, nep-his, nep-hme and nep-hpe
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Persistent link: https://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:not:notcdx:2020-16

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