This morning I read two blogs (here and here) which mentioned about Steven Levitt (his wikipedia profile is here) and his impact on economic research. Both the blogs quote newspaper article which criticise Levitt’s research ( R’ber he is somebody who has been awarded the Clark medal ; For the uninitiated Levitt’s research is on crime, population etc; he has coauthored the popular book Freakonomics)
He has often been criticised for giving rise to something which has been called “cuteo- nomics” i.e. asking questions which may not be economics but could simply be a good reading ( most I am sure don’t agree). As he is hugely admired (because of Clark Medal) , the traditional economists have criticised him for making this field popular and making people look at all kinds of questions and calling them economists. The article does talk about few students who trained under Levitt and have written papers which could be interesting to read but you really cannot call it economics.
My view on this is that Levitt kind of research is interesting in the sense it helps us look at answers to those questions which have not been attempted before and gives a new dimension to the research. We often come across problems related to research where we have no data, do not know how to interpret results in different ways, this is where Freakonomics kind of analysis helps. However, everything has to balanced. The problem is not with the research perse but the proliferation of the same and in times when we are still struggling to answer basic questions in economics (what drives growth, how to reduce poverty etc). This is an area of concern and as the article shows Levitt has not been doing enough to defend his style of research. He is in fact promoting his style to answer more cute questions than traditional economic questions.