Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Natural scientists thinking about their own behavior is no substitute for good social science

Speaking of human capital...

...yesterday I was reading this post about a new report on the biomedical workforce which looks quite interesting. I've been thinking a lot about science and engineering labor markets lately, and biomedical is especially fascinating because over the last decade or two that market has gone through a huge glut. It's an important cautionary tale for people who want the government to stimuluate the supply of S&E workers.

But I had to laugh when I read this in the report: "In the report, the working group notes that "Supply and Demand" comes out ahead "because it affects all the other issues.". As a labor economist, the only issues in the biomeical workforce are "supply and demand" issues. When you code people's responses to interview questions and then say that the "supply and demand" responses were the most common it tells me exactly nothing about what the real issues! The factors influencing S&E labor supply and the demand for S&E labor are very different - and estimating the scope and scale of one or the other can of course be a tricky task.

It's still nice they're thinking about these issues and writing reports like this. And actually when you read the report it's easy to re-classify the comments yourself into "short-run supply inelasticity", "lagged supply response", "information problems", "demand externalities", etc. - I just find it interesting how what is billed as such a key finding of the report can be so utterly useless in telling you anything about the subject matter!

Nevertheless - this is why we have a scientific division of labor, and the interviewing they looks very interesting.

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