Research Journal #3

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This week was a very intensive one where lots of quizes, homework and research tasks gathered. There's a bit of pressure but still manageble. I also managed to listen to three research seminars and they are immensely valuable.

In two of the research seminars I attended this week, two scholars offered seemingly different view on purpose of research that I found thought-provoking. The first view is that research should make tangible social impact, and should not serve only the academia circle. The second view is that research should extend human knowledge. You should do research that other people would cite.

2019 Nobel laureates in economics, Banerjee, Duflo and Kremer's work is a nice representation of the first view. They use experimental approach to study provery in underserved countries. Results generated from these research can be put into practice instantly and create positive impact on the community.

In comparison, Coase's work in firm theory seems to represent the second view. His theorization on the nature of firm extends people's understanding about the origin of firm existence. This type of work give me a sense of "pure math in economics" where solving the intellectual puzzle itself is all that matter. But it may not be crystal clear how solving this puzzle can create tangible social impact.

At first glance, it seems that there's a clear boundary between the two. But if we think about it a bit more, they are actually interchangable. For example, Banerjee, Duflo and Kremer's work brings a new method to study proverty in economics. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, forms the foundational for market economy depite its theoretical nature. Theoretical contribution and social impact are sometimes interconnected to each other. But it's also true that it takes longer time for a theory-based work to have tangible social impact, and it doesn't always happen that empirical work with direct social impact also makes big theoretical contribution.

From my personal view, the goal of social science research is to improve social understanding, and use these insights to improve human society. The goal can be achieved by theory, by empirical work, or somewhere in between. I don't think it's necessary to restrict myself to one of them. Anyways, they are just tools to help researchers observe the world more wisely. I aspire to grasp the technique of both, and use them flexibly depending on the research question.

© Zhiwei (Berry) Wang.RSS