Observations in a Hostile Environment: Morgenstern on the Accuracy of Economic Observations

A HISTORY OF OBSERVATION IN ECONOMICS, HOPE Annual Supplement, H. Mass, M.S. Morgan, eds., December 2012

27 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2011

See all articles by Marcel J. Boumans

Marcel J. Boumans

Utrecht University School of Economics

Date Written: November 2, 2011

Abstract

This article provides a history of the treatment of observational errors where conditions cannot be controlled to reduce inaccuracies, more specific, a history of the discussion of errors in social statistics. The main focus is on Oskar Morgenstern’s atypical position in this discussion. In contrast to his contemporary social statisticians, Morgenstern took the natural science approach as the ideal standard for dealing with errors. His position, however, is not atypical when compared with natural science perspectives at that time. His view was attuned with the view of logical empiricism of the 1950s on the difference between natural science and social science: Because social science is inexact we need experts to ensure that observations are scientific’. Moreover, in a ‘hostile’ and ‘secret’ world we need experts to assess the accuracy of the observations.

Keywords: experiment, inexact science, logical empiricism, Morgenstern, observation, social statistics

JEL Classification: B23

Suggested Citation

Boumans, Marcel J., Observations in a Hostile Environment: Morgenstern on the Accuracy of Economic Observations (November 2, 2011). A HISTORY OF OBSERVATION IN ECONOMICS, HOPE Annual Supplement, H. Mass, M.S. Morgan, eds., December 2012. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1953195

Marcel J. Boumans (Contact Author)

Utrecht University School of Economics ( email )

Kriekenpitplein 21-22
Adam Smith Building
Utrecht, +31 30 253 7373 3584 EC
Netherlands
+31 30 253 6287 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.uu.nl/leg/staff/MJBoumans

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