Dissed Again

January 18, 2015
Posted by Jay Livingston

Sociology is the Rodney Dangerfied of social science. The latest insult comes from economist Noah Smith. On his Noahpinion blog, he posted two pictures of faux zoo animals: a dog that a Chinese zoo tried to pass off as a lion; and a “panda” in an Italian circus that was really a chow painted black and white.

But why did Smith say that his post was “a blaze of amateur sociology”?*

Smith does not mention sociology in the post, nor does he use any sociological terms, as if to suggest that the amateur sociology dig is so obvious that it needs no explanation.  But I’m confused.  Is he saying that these clumsy attempts to pass domestic dogs off as exotic animals are amateur sociology? Or is he saying that his pointing out frauds that are this obvious is amateur sociology? Or is he saying that amateur sociology (if not all sociology) is tries to pass off the commonplace as something of real interest.

Either way, we don’t get no respect.

* Smith changed the title, but the original still shows up in blog aggregtors like my G2Reader and in the URLfor the post: http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.com/2015/01/lion-dog-panda-dog-blaze-of-amateur.html.


Alfred said...

"A blaze of amateur sociology" is a quote from Robert Solow about endogenous growth theory. He was saying that all the economic research on what cause the productivity to increase did little to improve our understanding of long-term growth, and that discussions on why some countries are richer than other always end up in "a blaze of amateur sociology".

Noah Smith is simply saying that what Scott Sumner said is the kind of things Robert Solow was criticizing: is isn't insulting sociologists, he is simply expressing some healthy skepticism about the cultural explanations of long-term growth (and insulting his fellow economists).

Jay Livingston said...

Thanks for the reference. I’m still not sure what Noah’s opinion of sociology is. He’s holding Sumner up to ridicule because of Sumner’s cultural views – i.e., that the lion-dog shows that China has imagination and will therefore continue its economic growth. So Noah seems to be saying that this ridiculous cultural-based prediction is “a blaze of amateur sociology.” He’s insulting a fellow economist by accusing him of committing sociology. Or did I misunderstand?

Alfred said...

Well, he his accusing him of doing bad sociology.