A student with a mathematical-physics background could easily convince himself that he has superior mathematics abilities than typical economists and superior statistical and computational skills than most economists. He might go on to conclude that, as a consequence of his superior mathematical and computational abilities, he should be able to enter economics and start contributing quickly and easily. He might also anticipate that he could easily adapt established models or techniques in physics to study economic phenomena and impress the profession.
I suppose we don't really disagree then. My original comment was motivated RH's claim that natural scientists often work on problems that turn out to be social problems related to ones studied by social scientists, which still wants for an example.
"..then physical scientists (including mathematicians) have contributed a lot more to economics than economists would like to admit."
Do you think economists really downplay those contributions in general? It seems to me those contributions are made and absorbed and science moves on, but that they're acknowledged when acknowledging is the aim and for the reasons you listed.
I didn't say there were secret methods and concepts in the social sciences that could solve open problems in physics. There are reasons that the set of tools and methods used by economists is different from the set of tools and methods used by physicists.
You were not being trolled. This would be a troll: http://xkcd.com/793/
I also did not say anything about social scientists having confidence that they live in a simulation. Or anything like it. It is not what I meant in the last two sentences of my first paragraph, which were a bit off topic, poorly stated and an unfortunate inclusion.
In fact, I believe I've already done this repeatedly
Can you link to an example?
I believe that I have better mathematical, statistical, & computational skills than biologists, and that I could quickly improve many solutions in biology. In fact, I believe I've already done this repeatedly.
(But the NIH does not give funding to bioinformaticians, not even for bioinformatics projects. If you find a bioinformatics project the NIH has funded, it is more likely being run by an MD than by someone with mathematical background.)
Do you think I'm wrong?
If there are secret methods and concepts in the social sciences that could solve open problems in physics, but which no social scientist has ever disclosed for lack of interest, and no physicist has ever caught wind of despite their notoriety for adopting whatever techniques will yield a halfway-reasonable answer, I suppose we have to leave it there unless you're willing to offer an example. I searched in good faith and didn't come up with anything, and I suspect I'm just being trolled.
As to your suggestion that social scientists don't bother with physics because of their confidence that they live inside a simulation, have you met any social scientists besides Robin Hanson?
Points well taken, but comparatively to meteorologists, Nate Silver is correct - meteorology has made enormous progress the past 50 years and one should save their jokes not for "the weatherman" but for the overconfident economists who speak authoritatively about their predictions! Indeed "the weatherman is not a moron"!
"Perhaps social problems are simply more interesting to people who are capable of grasping at solutions to complex systems."
Probably, but that would make physical scientists a rare subset with a broader range of interests than usual, it would be wise not to dismiss them when they have an idea.
If showing that a problem cannot be solved, or only after future breakthroughs in psychology/neuroscience, or showing showing that some incredibly complicated theory performs worse than a model that assumes randomness, or showing that some questions are silly to begin with count as contributions (they should), then physical scientists (including mathematicians) have contributed a lot more to economics than economists would like to admit.
It doesn't follow. Why exactly should "..one naturally expect a flux of social scientists into physics to poach..."? This might be correct but not for any reason pointed out above. Perhaps social problems are simply more interesting to people who are capable of grasping at solutions to complex systems. We live in a physical universe but relate to other minds in a social universe. The consumption of the physical world is a social phenomenon. In a mind inhabited artificial world (in which agents were aware it was artificial, at least to begin with) would the agents care more about the physics or the social conventions and boundaries?
All should welcome more brains to economics. Many many more would be nice. The way I see it currently is that lots of general science smarts does not necessarily transfer as easily to social problems as some very smart physical scientists would like to think. I have seen this first hand. Of course, those scientists can ultimately make contributions, but not as easily as one might think, which is the point of the article.
Exactly. If it is true that:
[one] often meet[s] scientist types who talk about some problem they are working on, which turns out to be a social problem related to ones that social scientists have explored
then one should naturally expect a flux of social scientists into physics to poach the problems that physicists find difficult but sociologists et al. find familiar due to their different palette of methods and concepts. The fact that this never happens would seem to be a difficulty for the view quoted above, unless I'm misreading it.
When has an economist (let alone a psychologist or sociologist) ever gone into physics?
From a signaling perspective, what should we make of the fact that social scientists protest loudly about physicists poaching in their fields, but we never hear reciprocal complaints from physicists about social scientists?
Bad analogy, you are comparing science homework with social science research. I think most science graduates students know that there are no clean and elegant solutions to social problems. Though they may perhaps be underestimating (as opposed to discounting) the actual amount of 'intuitive' aka dirty reasoning needed.
Actually, in the 70s, they did randomly assign students to 10 different teaching methodologies. But then they realized that experiments have winners and losers and stopped doing them.
That's not true of master's courses and already in bachelor courses some approximation models (such as perturbation theory in QM and lots of stuff in fluid dynamics) are treated. Courses that deal with numerical solutions (such as Monte Carlo simulations) are in principal optional (though quite often required for certain masters) but a physicist interested in things like economics will probably choose to do them.