Over at Econlog, Bryan Caplan finds it hard to say what is “economics” when economists produce research that has little direct connection to classical economic questions about incentives and trade-offs. These days, you’ll find economists studying things such as weight, happiness psychology, and AIDS transmission – and producing non-economic answers. In the end, he realizes that economists have begun to drop their ties to pointless academic models and started focusing on real problems. And that’s a good thing! The community of knowledge is always improved when smart people use their tools for addressing important issues.
At the end, Bryan considers how economics might be the science of society – until he realizes that there already is a science of society! It’s called sociology:
Unfortunately, this puts me in an awkward position. There’s another field that already sounds like “the all-encompassing study of the social world”: sociology. Not only does sociology have lower status than economics; with honorable exceptions, it’s also well-stocked with academics who aren’t fond of economics. Tactically, then, it would be foolish to start calling ourselves “sociologists.” If we were picking names from scratch, though, “sociologists” is exactly what modern economists ought to proudly call ourselves.
More thoughts after the link. Be sure to read Caplan's thoughts too.