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Trust in NumbersThe Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life$
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Theodore M. Porter

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780691208411

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691208411.001.0001

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Economic Measurement and the Values of Science

Economic Measurement and the Values of Science

(p.49) Chapter Three Economic Measurement and the Values of Science
Trust in Numbers

Theodore M. Porter

Princeton University Press

This chapter examines the approaches taken by natural scientists to economic questions. William Whewell looked to statistics as an alternative or at least an indispensable supplement to abstract theory in economics. He also looked to mathematics to impose discipline on theoretical political economy, and to block its indiscriminate application. The chapter then considers the economics of engineers and physicists. The economics of energy was not inconsistent with the more customary medium of economic quantification, money. The crucial feature here is the pursuit of measurement — of quantification in standard, comparable units. This was a form of economics patterned after physics that aimed less at theoretical elegance than at practical management and efficiency. The chapter also assesses how the career of Léon Walras, the great French nineteenth-century protagonist of mathematical economics, highlights the differences between the calculating engineers and the economic school that would seem to be closest to them.

Keywords:   natural scientists, William Whewell, statistics, economics, political economy, engineers, physics, economics of energy, economic quantification, Léon Walras

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