In applied economics, one frequently finds oneself working with people from other disciplines. I work rather frequently with biologists, ecologists, historians, and classics scholars. Subsets of these groups have different approaches to key factors in economics – particularly how to deal with uncertainty.

I have time to write this post because I am sitting in a room of a dozen biologists and half as many social scientists who have been together a day and a half and have run out of ways to try to communicate with each other. This is about as bad as it gets. The scientists don’t want to say anything outside their comfort zone – which is mainly either at the chemical changes in seawater or the phytoplankton level – and the economists just are left with little to work with in terms of translating the science to quantifiable potential economic impacts – or even qualitative economic impacts.

It’s a shame because when it works, there are real gains from trade in information and specialization. Economic models become more grounded in real ecological changes, and science can take a turn toward measurements that inform on issues that connect to economic activity.

The aim of this meeting is to direct policy issues – which cannot happen if the natural scientists and social scientists cannot communicate, and if meeting time is used really inefficiently with entrenched beliefs about what each will do. Hoping for a breakthrough…

PS Word of advice if you try these types of meetings yourself: do not put the jet-lagged person in charge of organization.

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