Scholarly Comments on Academic Economics

The Internet and the Structure of Discourse: The Websites of Economists at Harvard and George Mason

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We investigate the websites of economists at Harvard University and George Mason University. We draw a contrast between the two departments by using Robert Nelson’s distinction between the “scholastic” and the “pietistic” approaches to knowledge and discourse. Scholasticism is hierarchical in structure and tends to produce work that is inaccessible to lay readers. Pietism is “flat” in structure and strives to communicate directly with lay readers. The Internet enables economic discourse in the “pietistic” vein, notably direct communication with the “laity” and other forms of public discourse. From the economists’ material found online, we count and compare publications of various types and the online availability of listed works. The data help to characterize Harvard as relatively scholastic and GMU as relatively pietistic. Our intention is not to criticize Harvard for being too scholastic, nor to celebrate George Mason (our home institution) for being pietistic. Our motivations are simply to advance some ideas about how the Internet might affect economic discourse and to suggest that the extent and forms of web utilization serve as a kind of metric on the scholastic-pietistic continuum.