boundary control in economics and physics
The following fact was recently told to me: apparently, the leading physics journals no longer accept social network analysis, even though these articles are now among the most cited in these journals. I found this odd. From a “pure” perspective, it makes sense: why should a journal dedicated to stuff like quantum mechanics accept articles on the Internet just because a physicist wrote it? On the other hand, it seems like disciplinary suicide. Why ditch the folks who’ve done such great work? Obviously, physicists have made wonderful contributions to the study of social networks and that’s a highlight of contemporary physics, then so be it. Furthermore, I was informed that socio-physics is a tough sell on the physics job market. Apparently, most tenure track socio-physics people teach in social science/professional units & most physics programs don’t hire new PhDs in this area.
In contrast, the economics profession seems to strongly support boundary crossing, long as you stick to some variant of the neo-classical framework. It’s hard to find a topic in the social sciences where economists – often highly regarded ones – haven’t treaded. Also, I have rarely heard of an economist who was punished for publishing in non-social science areas like math, statistics, and the sciences. Diedre McCloskey, if she wanted, could probably get away with an article or two in literary journals. Sure, there’s a core to the economics profession, but there are lots of well supported outposts.
So we have an interesting puzzle: two highly regarded fields with an abundance of clever people. Yet, one has very tight internal control, while the other is quite pleased with imperialism. The flippant answer is that, well, economists are self-interested. By requiring people to use a neo-classical framework, you maintain the brand. By allowing imperialism, you increase the value of the brand. But why don’t physicists do the same? Why don’t they say (like economists do), “we’ll just come in and clean up?” As a field with some serious internal problems (small market/running out of easy problems), conquering other disciplines would seem like a good solution. Both economists and physicists are encouraged to comment.