My Proposal for a Code of Ethics for Economists
There has been much discussion of late of a code of ethics for economists, with a focus on disclosing personal interests. I would go in a different direction. My code of ethics would consist of one line:
Take into account the possibility that you may be wrong.
If that one-line code of ethics becomes popular, call it the Saffran Rule, since it reminds me of the late Bernie Saffran, who would frequently say, in the midst of making an argument, “I’m willing to be wrong, but….”
I have nothing against disclosure of personal interests, but it is always going to be selective. If you are funded by a government grant, should you disclose that? If your research serves to raise the status of your previous research, or that of your allies in the profession, should you disclose that?
Speaking of government funding, my reaction to George Will’s column calling for more government funding of science and engineering was to think that there could be a down side. Whoever controls the government funding then sets the direction of science. The inevitable result is to define as “unscientific” any theory that deviates too much from mainstream thinking. Is that what we want to reinforce? Watch this Gary Taubes video and listen to him describe a scientific monoculture.
Anyway, in the blogosphere, I am ready to be done with people who do not follow the Saffran Rule. I can have all the disagreements I need with people who are able to argue respectfully. As for the other types, who are more focused on egos than ideas, the phrase “Don’t feed the trolls” is your best guide.