Is Economics a Science?

Robert J. Shiller is a Nobel Laureate in Economics and an Economics professor at Yale University, in an online article published in 2013 he addresses the vexed question as to whether Economics is a Science. Whilst acknowledging the limitations of his subject as a science readily enough he cannot bring himself to altogether abandon that label. Moreover, he almost seems more interested in highlighting the failures of other disciplines as sciences (chemistry, physics, politics, astronomy…) than to provide evidential support for ...

Being Human

This week I did something which I have rarely done in my many years of teaching; I asked students to spend a whole lesson watching a video. Each student was given a laptop and they were asked to put on their earphones (they always seem to have the latter available at the drop of a hat). They were told to go to Youtube and look for the film “Human” by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, and watch at least any five of the ...

Doing good is good for you: Ethics and the Human Sciences, TOK and CAS

(re-post from December 16, 2013 blog. It's so appropriate for this time of year!) Is there really anything newsworthy about the value of doing good to others?  So much has been said over so many centuries that surely current psychological research cannot add tremendously to our understanding!  And surely doing good falls within the scope of ethics -- and not within the scope of the human sciences!  Yet, quite the contrary: recent studies in the human sciences do contribute knowledge -- and knowledge that is particularly welcome at a ...

Electrocution and Marriage Rates: Correlation or Cause?

The comic charts on the website Spurious Correlations are already familiar to many TOK teachers. But if you’ve missed this resource till now, you won’t want to miss it any longer. Did you know that the number of people who died by becoming tangled in their bedsheets correlates with the total revenue generated by skiing facilities in the US – or that the number who were electrocuted by power lines correlates with the marriage rate in Alabama? Would you infer that one ...

Cupcakes and sushi: fads, trends, and questions of knowledge

What’s the difference between a fad and a trend? How is the passing craze for cupcakes relevant to knowledge in the human sciences? A light story on food fads raises some general knowledge questions. My friend and co-author Mimi Bick has sent me a link to a podcast and a personal story, both of which use entertaining ways to connect everyday social and economic responses to the larger questions of how we study human beings. THE PODCAST In Q the podcast, Jian ...

TOK and The User’s Guide to Economics

Interviewed in the TOK Course Companion, economist Susan McDade (working with the United Nations) comments that "most economic theories" used in the West are based on "assumptions can be pointed out to be weak or not always true” and argues for a complex series of values that are typically ignored by economists. Economics, as we recognize in TOK, is very much a human science – inescapably human in its study and interpretation of aspects of human behaviour. In this ...

opinions on the child: raising knowledge questions through literature

On a day when TOK students seem hard to rouse to even a mild level of vehement engagement, they will almost certainly perk up when asked questions like the following: 1. If a parent coddles a child every time it cries will the child become manipulative, crying to get whatever it wants? 2. Should a child ever see its parents naked? 3. Should a baby be breast fed or bottle fed? Chances are, of course, you will discover some strong opinions. The tone of ...

TOK classification: the jerk

After my last post on classification (July 7, "Nazi poster child was Jewish"), I thought you deserved a lighter one. (After all, for many of us, summer holiday has begun!) I’m picking out the same central topic – classification of people – but this time with a laugh: “The essence of jerkitude. If it seems like everyone around you is an idiot, you may be a jerk.” In the author’s “theory of jerks”, he defines his term, describes the phenomenon he ...

TOK and popcorn

Imagine a world where popcorn protects your mind from dark forces trying to penetrate it and rob you of your free will!  Does this sound like a ridiculous parody of a science fiction storyline? Well, it seems that this is not entirely science fiction. In fact, a research publication called The Journal of Consumer Psychology  has recently reported findings of a research group at the University of Berlin that advertisers and TOK students may find fascinating – though for very different ...