Bryan Caplan  

Are Economists As Smart as They Think They Are?

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Probably even smarter - only physics, math, and c.s. have higher average GRE scores.  We even beat electrical engineers.  Sorry, dad, but facts are facts. :-)

Nevertheless, the fact that economists are smart is much less important that the fact that smart people think like economists.

HT: Mankiw via Mark Perry


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COMMENTS (19 to date)
RBL writes:

BUT-- note that the EEs scored the highest on quantitative reasoning. I would guess that the lower scores on verbal and analytical sections was due to many engineering Ph.D.s having English as a second language. As in the past, the U.S. imports its hardest workers from overseas.

adina writes:

There is a high demand for scientists for industry jobs, so even "less capable" students have a good incentive to get a masters in chemistry. Economists are not as marketable to chemical, drug, and other huge companies. I'm sure if you compare the economists going into academia vs. the chemists/physicists going into academia, the results will be different.

ryan yin writes:

RBL, isn't that true for a lot of disciplines? In my year (in an econ program), 25 students out of 31 are foreign. Anecdotal, but I wonder how much of an exception that is.

adina writes:

It also may have to do with the relative value placed on the GRE by each discipline. I know that even in top schools, for chemistry, people don't don't really look at the GRE, and basically only care about recs and publications.
Thus, chemists might not study as hard for the GRE as do students in other disciplines...Or it could just be that economists are smarter. I'm trying to think of every possibility.

Horatio writes:

What fraction of economics graduate students are foreign?

I am in a physics department and only the math, CS and ECE people seem to be around the same level as us, though the top math and physics people are smarter than anyone in the whole university. Economics grad students seem to be a step down, though they are certainly smarter than chemists.

Tom DeMeo writes:

Wow! Conventional economic thinking is falling apart before our very eyes, and you decide that now is a good time to pat yourself on the back?

Dezakin writes:

Do you flex in front of the mirror as well?

aaron writes:

Crap, I should have applied to grad school. I got a 2070 and was disappointed in myself. My verbal score was way down in the 70th precentile.

Economatheek writes:

First of all, nice blog.

"Wow! Conventional economic thinking is falling apart before our very eyes, and you decide that now is a good time to pat yourself on the back?"

Conventional economic thinking is not falling apart. What's happening now is a proof of what we all knew, but most ignored for various reasons. Be it the beauty of "approximate" models or bad incentive programs, none the less, everyone, deep inside, knew this would happen.

Economists are, indeed, smart. Unfortunately, being smart doesn't guarantee that you're always acting smart.

blink writes:

I wonder how each test takers discipline is determined. (self-report?) I can imagine people unqualified for graduate school in any discipline picking one of the low ranked-disciplines simply because it sounds good, whereas physics would probably produce fear. Also, even if other disciplines do have high standards, it may be that students find it easier to self-deceive that they can make it in "public administration" than "mathematics", so more apply only to be rejected.

The conclusions are probably correct, but stronger data would be nice. More interesting would be to limit the pool to those accepted by reputable graduate schools, or to compare admissions data across disciplines at a given university.

Tom DeMeo writes:

"Conventional economic thinking is not falling apart. What's happening now is a proof of what we all knew, but most ignored for various reasons. Be it the beauty of "approximate" models or bad incentive programs, none the less, everyone, deep inside, knew this would happen.

Economists are, indeed, smart. Unfortunately, being smart doesn't guarantee that you're always acting smart."

---Well, that explains it. I just had too rigid a definition of "smart".

El Presidente writes:

Smart or not, what do we do with economics? That is the real test of our worth and comparative value, not our GRE scores. We can polish our trophies and pat ourselves on the back and all we'll achieve is a crowded mantle. Maybe that will stimulate demand for Brasso: our enduring contribution to economic prosperity. I take no pride in being smart if useless. Smart and useful; now there's something to brag about. It seems that often the theory of economics has preempted the practice of economics, in my estimation. If we cannot develop theories and practices that address broad needs and concerns, if we are shills instead of practitioners with integrity, I'd rather we were stupid and recognized as such.

Dewey Munson writes:

If economists have no answer to current financial situation, how can discussions of "smart" have any validity?

Robert Scarth writes:

El Presidente - "If we cannot develop theories and practices that address broad needs and concerns"

The purpose of any intellectual activity, Economics included, is to understand the relevant part of the world. It has nothing to do with addressing needs or concerns; all that matters is that you improve understanding of something interesting.

El Presidente writes:

Robert Scarth,

"The purpose of any intellectual activity, Economics included, is to understand the relevant part of the world. It has nothing to do with addressing needs or concerns; all that matters is that you improve understanding of something interesting."

Define "relevant", please.

Dr. T writes:

I will grant that economists are intelligent. But two groups of professionals do not appear on the list and can not be compared because they don't take the GRE. Lawyers take the Law School Admissions Test. Doctors and dentists take the Medical College Admissions Test. (Note: The Medicine item on the GRE ranking table is not about medical school.)

I took both the MCAT and the GRE. The former is a much more difficult test than the latter.

Steve Sailer writes:

Yes, but not as smart as Philosophy grad students. You need to use a more sophisticated analysis of GRE scores because the mean and standard deviation of the GRE quantitative score are much larger than the verbal score. When normalized using Z scores, the top rankings are physics, philosophy, math, Materials engineering, then economics in a virtual tie with chemical engineering and Other Engineering.

Doug Ransom writes:

Switch textbooks with your Dad for a weekend or two, and lets see if you Dad understands more economics than you do electrical engineering. I am betting on your Dad.

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