Science Outside the Laboratory: Measurement in Field Science and Economics

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9780199388288: Science Outside the Laboratory: Measurement in Field Science and Economics

The conduct of most of social science occurs outside the laboratory. Such studies in field science explore phenomena that cannot for practical, technical, or ethical reasons be explored under controlled conditions. These phenomena cannot be fully isolated from their environment or investigated by manipulation or intervention. Yet measurement, including rigorous or clinical measurement, does provide analysts with a sound basis for discerning what occurs under field conditions, and why.

In Science Outside the Laboratory, Marcel Boumans explores the state of measurement theory, its reliability, and the role expert judgment plays in field investigations from the perspective of the philosophy of science. Its discussion of the problems of passive observation, the calculus of observation, the two-model problem, and model-based consensus uses illustrations drawn primarily from economics.

Rich in research and discussion, the volume clarifies the extent to which measurement provides valid information about objects and events in field sciences, but also has implications for measurement in the laboratory. Scholars in the fields of philosophy of science, social science, and economics will find Science Outside the Laboratory a compelling and informative read.

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About the Author:

Marcel Boumans is historian and philosopher of science at the University of Amsterdam and Erasmus University Rotterdam. His main research focus is on understanding empirical research practices in economics from a philosophy of science-in-practice perspective. He is particularly interested in the practices of measurement and modeling and the role of mathematics in social science.


"His main moral strikes me as dead right: statistical testing as a purely mechanical, a theoretical process is not going to work in economics or for that matter in medicine. Inevitably, expert judgment based on background knowledge and experience has to be added to the mix to get believable conclusions out of empirical data. Boumans works through these issues largely historically, focusing on debates between Koopmans and Haavelmo, for example, about analyzing observational data. The historical detail is well researched and interesting. He uses it to make a compelling argument that ''field studies''-nonlaboratory studies-must inevitably rely on expert judgment to get conclusions out of the data."


"In Science Outside the Laboratory, Marcel Boumans addresses the less familiar of science's Janus faces-not the realm of detached investigation aimed at eternal truth, but the sources of our understanding for our most urgent quotidian concerns. How can science provide reliable numbers to support decision-making in a messy world? Drawing on a deep well of historical knowledge, Boumans explores the parts of science that are too often taken for granted-quantification, measurement, and observation-and the problems of extracting reliable conclusions from uncertain information. This important book should be read by historians, philosophers, and scientific practitioners alike."

Kevin D. Hoover, Professor of Economics and Philosophy, Duke University

"We measure things, in daily life as in science, in unstable circumstances and with necessary degrees of judgement, by taking good care and by following good rules. Yet for philosophers, establishing such rules is a deep problem that has troubled them for decades. Marcel Boumans' wonderful book elucidates just what is involved in establishing confidence in good measuring 'in the field,' in an account offering good sense both to those troubled philosophers and to the armies of social scientists toiling in those fields."

Mary Morgan, Professor of History and Philosophy of Economics, London School of Economics and Political Science

"Boumans takes us through a whole range of fields, including economics, and their (non-laboratory) data, showing how rules and expert judgements are used, standard statistical methods being inapplicable. His volume is instructive, quietly unsettling, and very much to be welcomed."

Neil De Marchi, Professor of Economics, Duke University

"Comparing the reliability of measurements in, say, physics and economics seems inappropriate; it is like comparing apples and oranges. Yet, both practices aspire to scientific knowledge. Marcel Boumans, the renowned historian and philosopher of science, guides the reader steadfastly to what it takes to obtain reliable measurements, specifically when the data comes from sources outside the laboratory. This book will be of interest to both students and experts of measurement theory. Science Outside the Laboratory is most useful; it demonstrates how historical accounts and philosophical analyses can impact scientific practices."

Giora Hon, Department of Philosophy, University of Haifa, Israel

"This book is an important contribution to the philosophy of science from one of the leading authorities on measurement theory. Often data and evidence are taken at face value. Emphasizing the special character of field phenomena and field experiments in which environments must be 'cultivated,' Science Outside the Laboratory shows the role human practices and the judgment of experts play in determining reliable measurement not just in the field but also in the laboratory. It provides an important source of reflection for empirical scientists and a thoughtful analysis of the methodological foundations of science. Strongly recommended."

John B. Davis, Marquette University and University of Amsterdam

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