Monday, May 21, 2007

PAER and the Dialogic Form

I referred to the PAER a couple months ago here. It's the only academic journal I've been reading, although sometimes I flip through others. It was started by a group of French graduate students who were tired of the narrow, mathematical rather than empirical approach of neoclassical economics, which is the only economics taught in most schools. I'm not going to comment too much on that - I don't know standard neoclassical economics deeply enough to say that it is fundamentally flawed. It all depends on your professor - some try to show you the big picture and the flawed assumptions, and some don't.

The first article is written by three economists: Diedre McCloskey (formerly Donald) of the neoclassical capital University of Chicago department, Arjo Klamer, and Stephen Ziliak. They say they are writing a textbook in the dialogic form, a form which has fallen out of favor in the modern age. They say that it used to be popular "before Newton", and quote some pages from a book by Galileo to prove it. They say the non-dialogic form was "perfected by Gauss", who "gave none of the indications natural to dialogue of where his ideas came from or where they were going."

Already I feel that they are being somewhat dishonest. They make the case that the dialogic form was very popular up until the 19th century - but, after reading plenty of historical philosophy, I know that I haven't read a book in the dialogic form since Plato. That doesn't meant that the form isn't helpful. I enjoyed Plato. But they could be overstating their case. Gauss is not a good example, as this was a mathematician who knew numbers so intuitively that, according to legend, he came up with the (n)(n+1)/2 trick for summing up numbers when he just a kid - it seems possible that there was no "dialogue" preceding his insight.

Still, those are just nitpicks. The dialogic form could be effective, especially when complemented by standard exposition, which it presumably is.


ADHR said...

Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. I'm pretty sure Berkeley had a dialogue, too, although I may be misremembering. It's worth noting, though, that this is probably self-conscious aping of the Greek form.

undergroundman said...

Even then, it might be an exaggeration to say that the dialogic form is the Greek form. It doesn't seem like Aristotle or the Pre-Socratics wrote in that form.

Anonymous said...

With the free access you have through EconLit, Ebscohost, JStor and others, you should really be expanding your academic journal horizons.

The library works even if you're on summer leave.

undergroundman said...

I don't have time to wade through the mess that all those databases are. They make my blood boil. I have to go through 5 or 6 pop-ups before I can even search for something.

If I really wanted to read academic literature, I would go to DOAJ. The DOAJ is nicely set up, and most of the journals are easy to access as well, even though many aren't in English, heh.

The databases are so neurotically organized and coded: no opening links in tabs, ridiculously short time-out periods, meaningless jargon and acronyms all over the place. All I want is to be able to easily browse, say, the top-cited or most popular economics journals. It shouldn't be that hard to list them.

And it shouldn't be so hard to search and access individual articles. Sometimes I find an article and, even with the full-text option clicked, find that I can't really access it. What's more is that my school has a terrible set-up. I sent an email a while ago about the fact that half of the databases in their list are repeats. They are organized completely haphazardly with either opaque or generic names - for example, the first one is titled ABI_Inform (FirstSearch) and the fourth one down is titled ArticleFirst (also Firstsearch). Both of these databases are filed under the Business&Economics Category. Both have the same UI. What is the difference, and is there overlap? Who knows. There's no obvious way to tell. The sixth one down is titled Business&Management Practices (also, apparently, FirstSearch). What's interesting is that from the BusManagement you can easily search ABI_Inform (and vice-versa) but you can't search ArticleFirst and its related set of databases, even though they have the same UI. ArticleFirst is described as "OCLC index of articles from the contents pages of journals", which, from Wikipedia (thank God for Wikipedia!), is the Ohio College Library Center. Still, I have no idea why these two (the ArticleFirst/WoldCAT and the BusManagement/ABI_Inform) databases run by FirstSearch have to be so differentiated, or what drugs these people are smoking. By the way, FirstSearch also runs EconLit.

Any decent web designer would put titles for acronyms, so all you have to do it swing your pointer over it and the name pops up! It's a simple HTML element and attribute!

Apparently the reason behind much of this madness is what librarians call "serials crisis" - journals are goddamn expensive, and libraries can't afford to just buy them, so they have to come up with this annoying lending scheme. Unfortunately, we have too many greedy publishers and an incompetent government which is too busy spending money on jet planes, bombs, and assorted pork to bother with OA scientific research for the betterment of us all. People like ADHR are under the false idea that journals are easy to access "if you put a little work into it", and thus don't care. They also don't care that "us simple peasants" hardly ever see the research which drives many of our media stories.

Anyway, no reply from the library yet.

Still, you're right: I should look at some other journals. And occasionally I do, until I want to throw my laptop on the floor in furious frustration. And browsing journals through the databases is actually harder than simply searching for information on a specified topic.

I just glanced through FirstSearch's ECO database of general economics journals. Guess what? 103 journals show up, including "Asian Philosophy", "Biosocieties", "Cultural Dynamics", "French History", and many others which are decidedly not economics. Interesting journals, but certainly not econ.

It's just...mind-boggling. It really is.

ADHR said...

Aristotle isn't a fair case, as none of his actual writings have survived. The same can be said for the pre-socratics, as all we have are fragments. The Romans, AFAIK, didn't write dialogically, though. (The closest they come is poetry -- e.g., Lucretius, De Rerum Natura.)

On the other topic, I still maintain that your school must be maintaining the most fucked-up databases on Earth. York's are pretty easily navigable.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
undergroundman said...

Dear Gnat,

It is unfortunate that you are too intent on biting to defend your assertions and show how mine are wrong. Obviously posting the link to my library's references doesn't accomplish much since most people cannot log in.

Look through the list of databases under Business&Economics. Too many are repeats, and there are no summaries of the databases. There is no recommended tutorial for the databases. That is a bad system for students.

To be fair, browsing isn't that hard under E-journals, but that doesn't excuse the stupid list of databases and the horrible problems with the databases themselves. Go on to EBSCOhost and search for "American Economic Review" under Advanced Search/Publications. You will get no results. Ditto for FirstSearch. Notice that you will be timed out after 30 minutes of inactivity because, OH NO, hackers are trying to crack into peer-reviewed literature! (Give me a break.) Notice that pages are popped up in new windows rather than tabs, even though tabs have been around for at least a year now. My (our?) school has a dreadful IT department (half the time this past year I have been completely unable to log into the computers outside the lab), and its research set-up is not surprising.

You clearly have low standards. People like you help explain the political system we have right now, and all these horribly inefficient policies. You might be somewhat intelligent; maybe you're even an academic. But you're easily satisfied, have trouble recognizing real quality (so often socially-created, you see), and you're basically happy with the status quo. You probably lack real ambition, which is why you're at the same school as I am. I suppose we are similar: you and I are both nothing more than insects, but perhaps of different orders. (Ceratopogonidae and Lepidoptera, respectively.) You're also apparently, a stalker. (Feels nice to be unknown, doesn't it?)


P.S. It is telling that you don't comment on philosophy, policy, or anything non-trivial. Your comments are made to irritate. You know that I'd rather remain anonymous yet you post my last name on here anyway.