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More Momentum for the Social Sciences–Nobel Edition

October 14, 2009

For those that have not yet heard, the Nobel Prize for Economics (actually named the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel) was awarded this year to two recipients, one of whom–Elinor Ostrom–is a Political Scientist. As Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution notes:

It’s a nod in the direction of social science, rather than economics per se. It’s another homage to the New Institutional Economics and also to Law and Economics. It’s rewarding larger rather than smaller ideas, practical economics rather than abstract theory.

For those interested in a deeper discussion of her work, Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber provides an excellent overview and personal reflection on Ostrom.

As a political scientist, this is especially gratifying and I think reflective of some broader trends in social science, whereby the best insights and research culminate from the cross-fertilization of ideas from multiple disciplines within the social sciences (as well as the hard sciences). If you look at some of the more recent winners, their work transcended the discipline of economics and had a much broader impact on the study of human behavior and social dynamics broadly.

Personally, my research focused on decision-making, signaling & reputation, and conflict. The work of recent winners, such as Thomas Schelling (game theory), Daniel Kahneman (behavioral economics), A. Michael Spence (signaling), John Harsanyi & John Nash (game theory), and Douglass North (path-dependence, neo-institutionalism), all played a role in how I approached (and continue to approach) those issues.

Maybe a day will come when the prize is renamed the Nobel Prize for Social Science–another step towards the social sciences getting their day.

[Cross-posted at bill | petti]

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Petti is Associate Director of Insights and Analytics at Alexion . Previously, he served as Lead Data Scientist in the Decision Sciences group at Maritz Motivation and a Global Data Strategist and Subject Matter Expert for Gallup.