The Divided Science

Elinor Ostrom won the 2009 Nobel Prize for economics, yet Paul Krugman, another laureate, has confessed to never having encountered her work. Here she explains how we can move past this discomfiting academic chasm.
  • Transcript


Question: Have you experienced a divide in economics?

Elinor Ostrom: There is a strong divide between micro and macro and my theories are all in the micro area. But there's a big challenge in trying to understand why people make the decisions they do and particularly why they make decisions in dilemma-type settings, where our traditional theory had predicted that they would make decisions not to cooperate and they frequently make other decisions.

Question: What are the dangers of this separation between macro and micro?

Elinor Ostrom: Well, I'm more concerned about the broader separation of the social sciences. I think that is a real danger because we can, I call them the silos, if everyone works in their silo, rather than learning from one another, so I work across disciplines and always have. My PhD committee, I had sociology, engineering, economics, and political science on it.

Question: Should the social sciences be more integrated?

Elinor Ostrom: Yes. But it's not integration, it's that people are learning their own discipline. I don't want to get rid of the disciplines entirely, but it is then that people learn how to work together and that the, we have very bad incentives. If you publish outside your discipline, frequently inside your discipline, that's not counted for tenure. And so there are very substantial dis-incentives to do interdisciplinary work. So interdisciplinary and integration are different.

Recorded on: October 25, 2009