A new job

I am still in the same department of the same university, but I am thrilled to announce that today I officially start working on a project called “Model-building Across Disciplinary Boundaries: Economics, Ecology, and Psychology” (2016-2021) as Academy Research Fellow, funded by the Academy of Finland. The main collaborator is my former neighbor Miles MacLeod (Twente), who used to inhale the same smell of experimental cows’ manure in Viikki, Helsinki. It’s slightly dated, but here’s the rationale of the project:

This project develops a normative and practical framework for model-based interdisciplinary exchange and collaboration between economics and two of its most important neighboring disciplines, ecology and psychology. Many policy makers recognize the need to promote interdisciplinary research involving natural, social and behavioural sciences to tackle pressing environmental and economic challenges. Economics is a key discipline in this context because of its powerful influence on public policy; and yet ecologists and psychologists have long struggled to effectively interact and collaborate with economists to produce environmetally and behaviorally informed policy, respectively. Although behavioural economics is often regarded as a success case in this regard, its impact on policy making is still limited due to persisting methodological (Ross 2014) and ethical problems (Nagatsu 2015b; Sunstein 2015). Similarly, ecological economics, in particular its attempt to estimate monetary values of ecosystem services, has encountered serious conceptual and ethical objections from economists (Norton and Noonan 2007; Polasky and Segerson 2009). What makes the integration of these disciplines so difficult? For the most part interdisciplinary challenges such as this have been studied by science studies and science policy researchers who have primarily focused on institutional obstacles such as graduate training and the reward system in academia (cf. NAS 2004; NSF 2008; EURAB 2004). While there is no doubt room for fixing certain features of current scientific organization, the problem runs deeper. The lack of trust between economists and their collaborators highlighted by Haapasaari et al. (2012), for instance, is not so much an institutional problem as the manifestation of their methodological and conceptual differences, which need to be unpacked in order to understand the nature of the disciplinary barriers around economics. In general, researchers within a given discipline or research tradition are cognitively and practically constrained by their existing methods and practices, but at the same time these constraints often overlap with the very skills which enable them to effectively define and solve problems within the discipline (Marcovich and Shinn 2011). The dominant normative theory of interdisciplinarity in science policy glosses over these both constraining and enabling aspects of disciplinarity, and simply promotes “knowledge integration” that is expected “to advance fundamental understand- ing or to solve problems whose solutions are beyond the scope of a single discipline or area of research” (NAS 2004, p. 2). However, the theory tells us little about how researchers should achieve these goals while remaining effective in a disciplinary way. Refining this normative theory further—either in the abstract (Holbrook 2013) or in reference to aggregate data on research projects (Huutoniemi et al. 2010)—does not help us to address such difficulties researchers face in interdisciplinary research. What is needed is thus to look closely at how researchers in inter- disciplinary contexts manage (or fail to manage) to build a functional collaborative framework out of their existing methodological and conceptual resources, while maintaining and sometimes increasing their effectiveness developed through disciplinarity.

The project builds on the work of those philosophers who have investigated social epistemological and cognitive dimensions of the challenges of interdisciplinarity (e.g. Mattila 2005; Andersen 2010; Andersen and Wagenknecht 2013; Nersessian 2006; Grüne-Yanoff 2011; Rice and Smart 2011). As these philosophers recognize, both dimensions figure in an effort to link and coordinate models across disciplinary boundaries. Why is it challenging to achieve these tasks with economic mod- els? How do economists and collaborators negotiate these tasks? And what do their strategies tell us about the conditions or criteria for successful practices of interdisciplinary research in general? These are the motivating questions of the project.

New course “Understanding Economic Models” with Emrah Aydinonat

This fall (2016) I will teach this course with Emrah Aydinonat. We are also teaching part of “Economic Thought and Methodology” at Tallinn University of Technology (TUT), Department of Finance and Economics (DFE) funded by NordPlus Higher Education. This is a small networking funding scheme that connects Finland (Michiru Nagatsu and Emrah Aydinonat at University of Helsinki), Sweden (Till Grüne-Yanoff at KTH) and Estonia (Aaro Hazak at TUT).

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