Are economists actually “boring”?

Saw this on Twitter today:

Before retweeting it, I decided to check the source. Mainly to be sure it isn’t an hoax. Well, it is not an hoax but the author himself wrote “This no peer review, and I wouldn’t describe this as a “study” in anything other than the most colloquial sense of the word“.

On the source website, the RateMyProfessor.com reviews can be sorted by positive and negative ones. It made me wondered about the context in which the word has been written: “boring” in “this class was boring” doesn’t mean the same thing than “boring” in “this class was everything but boring” or “I expected a boring class but it was finally not“. Can we control for that? Short answer: we can’t. At least, not easily in this graph. Again, author’s words.

Reasonably, what this graph shows is that students use “boring” more when they wrote reviews of economic classes in RateMyProfessor.com. To say what? Hard to tell. And is RateMyProfessor.com data generalisable? Naturally, I wouldn’t trust this kind of website – where control is very limited, leading to very noisy data. For instance, are students leaving reviews here representative of all the students? We don’t know.

At the end, the most striking thing about this tweet is the kind of debate it ignited – especially on Facebook. I have to admit this is a bit disturbing to see many researchers (i.e. guys with a PhD and stuff) not checking at all the source but still trying to figure out why economics would be boring with arguments like “economics uses math for ideological reason, this graph is another proof of that“. I mean, aren’t researchers among the best in the world to check anything before trusting it? For someone claiming that economics is an ideology, that’s not a very scientific way to assess something!

Anyway, this is still a funny tweet, and I guess I’ll eventually retweet it. As an economist I may be “boring“, but I also display some basic form of self-mockery. Better than nothing I guess…

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