Thursday, May 01, 2003

Across the disciplinary divide 

Cold Spring Shops has pointed me to several articles on the difficulties of cross-disciplinary discussions in academia. (I'm not sure his May archive is working yet; if not click through to the home page and scroll to the morning of May 1.) I was reminded of this at a Claremont conference I spoke at last month at which we had both economists and political scientists discussing the quality of data in global political economy. Look at sessions four and five; the first is on corporate governance and the other on government capacity. The second was largely political scientists using the phrase "good governance" when they really meant "good government". These are very different things; moreover, those measuring "good government" seemed to focus on the quantity of public goods without consideration of the opportunity costs of their provision. (I kept whispering to someone "what about the second derivative?" Being both economists, we got the joke.) Getting the speakers to understand this was, in a word, frustrating.

It's been my impression that this is largely a problem in the social sciences, but between Joanne Jacobs and Kieran Healy, it looks like the problem has spread throughout the disciplines.