20 September 2007
I just came across this interesting article by Angus Deaton, who reflects on changing fashions in graduate work in recent years based on the recruiting for junior positions at Princeton's economics department. Princeton had eighteen candidates to come visit this year and Deaton is impressed by the "the breadth of topic that currently falls within the ambit of applied economics." While twenty years ago applied theses mostly focused on "traditional topics such as applied price theory and generally agreed-upon (preferably ‘frontier’) econometric methods", today's candidates seem to use much less theory, simpler econometrics, but work on topics as widely ranging as HIV/AIDS in Africa, child immunization in India, political bias of newspapers, child soldiering, racial profiling, rain and leisure choices, mosquito nets, malaria, treatment for leukemia, stages of child development, special education, war and democracy, etc. etc. He also observes a trend towards experimental methods in field settings; apparently one candidate even persuaded a Mexican city to pave a random selection of its streets.
I wonder whether other social science disciplines exhibit similar trends. In political science, it seems to me that there still is a strong focus on traditional topics and a reluctance to investigate more "exotic" (but socially important) topics because they apparently have "little to do with political science." However, one could argue that just as economics is everywhere, politics always has its role to play in most social phenomena. Also there is still very little work using field experiments (apart from important exceptions such as for example here or here). The same is true for quasi-experimental designs, which are still rarely used it seems to me. How about other disciplines?