Welcome to Our Favourite Social Science blogs.
Today is Budget Day here in the UK, so it is perhaps appropriate that our guest contributor Romesh Vaitilingam, a media consultant who works for the Royal Economic Society amongst others, looks at blogs in the area of economics.
Economists have rarely courted popularity – and their indifference to public acclaim has earned its just rewards. But all that seems to be changing with the recent boom in pop economics books – think airport bestsellers like Freakonomics and The Undercover Economist – and the emergence of a string of high-profile blogs written by leading economic researchers and commentators.
The success of books seeking to make economics accessible to a wide audience can be pretty accurately measured by newspaper bestseller lists. The impact of blogs in economics is more difficult to assess, but rankings such as 26econ give us some data to go on – though the Disraelian caveat of ‘lies, damned lies and web statistics’ should always be borne in mind.
League tables like 26econ indicate the substantial overlap between the online and ‘dead tree’ worlds of economics. Freakonomics – the blog of the book by University of Chicago professor Steven Levitt – is the clear number 1. And at number 3 is the blog of Princeton professor, New York Times op-ed columnist and fierce critic of the Bush administration Paul Krugman.
Levitt and Krugman are highly regarded scholars, both recipients of the John Bates Clark Medal, awarded to ‘the American economist under the age of forty who is adjudged to have made a significant contribution to economic thought’. And the top 20 includes several other economists widely recognised as being among the very best, including Nobel laureate Gary Becker and leading thinker about trade, development and globalisation Dani Rodrik.
One blog I look at regularly for entertaining perspectives on a range of subjects is Marginal Revolution. The lead writer on this site is Tyler Cowen, George Mason professor, author of Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist and acknowledged by fellow economics bloggers to be the best in the business.
Another I often consult is the blog by Greg Mankiw, Harvard professor, author of leading textbooks in economics and a former Bush adviser. This site is a particularly useful source for links to the most interesting online writing on economics, as well as audio and video clips.
Among the handful of UK economics blogs, Stumbling and Mumbling by Investors Chronicle journalist Chris Dillow is always good at picking up insights from economic research. Dillow too provides a valuable service as an aggregator of what’s worth reading around the web.
The UK’s ‘mainstream media’ has been quick to develop blogs in economic commentary. The BBC’s economics editor Evan Davis has a thoughtful blog called Evanomics, which he describes as ‘my attempt to understand the real world, using the tool kit of economics’.
And the Financial Times hosts the blogs of ‘The Undercover Economist‘ Tim Harford, and London School of Economics professor and self-styled Maverecon Willem Buiter, who has made a name for himself commenting on issues around Northern Rock and the global credit crunch.
Buiter aside, academic economists in the UK have been slower to get involved in blogging than their US counterparts. Across Europe more broadly, one excellent ‘group blog’ is Vox, an initiative by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, which offers ‘research-based policy analysis and commentary from leading economists’.
Vox has made efforts to analyse its readership as well as offering a ranking of its articles by how often they have been viewed. This suggests that while economists may not have made themselves any more popular, at least now they are willing to show that they care.
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