I am really sorry for the vague question. I was going through some research on excessive math in economics, and I stumbled across this thread Criticism of Math in Economics One of the comments was - ".... the most interesting thing here is this concept of "mathiness", which is subtle, because it is not about "garbage premises and then super mathematics" but about something much more subtle but equally critical: mapping verbal concepts to math symbols without proper justification.."

This comment was by a person called Alecos Papadopoulos.

I have been reading along these lines & fields for weeks trying to understand the link between language, maths and prescriptive claims. As I am a new user, I have 0 reputation, and no idea on how to circumvent that problem. Hence, I am posting this question in desperation. If anyone on this site, has any resources, papers, suggestions for this, I'd greatly appreciate. Thank you for your help in advance.


1 Answer 1


I go into this and provide some sources in my answer that is currently just below Alecos's. Quote:

Paul Romer coined the term mathiness to describe the issue in his (unrefereed) paper Mathiness in the Theory of Economic Growth. He writes

The market for mathematical theory can survive a few lemon articles filled with mathiness. Readers will put a small discount on any article with mathematical symbols, but will still find it worth their while to work through and verify that the formal arguments are correct, that the connection between the symbols and the words is tight, and that the theoretical concepts have implications for measurement and observation. But after readers have been disappointed too often by mathiness that wastes their time, they will stop taking seriously any paper that contains mathematical symbols. In response, authors will stop doing the hard work that it takes to supply real mathematical theory. If no one is putting in the work to distinguish between mathiness and mathematical theory, why not cut a few corners and take advantage of the slippage that mathiness allows? The market for mathematical theory will collapse. Only mathiness will be left. It will be worth little, but cheap to produce, so it might survive as entertainment.

He goes on to give specific examples of 'mathiness', including works by high profile economists like Lucas and Piketty.

Tim Harford provides a laymen's summary of Romer's paper in his blogpost Down with mathiness! In this he writes

As some academics hide nonsense amid the maths, others will conclude that there is little reward in taking any of the mathematics seriously. It is hard work, after all, to understand a formal economic model. If the model turns out to be more of a party trick than a good-faith effort to clarify thought, then why bother?

Romer focuses his criticism on a small corner of academic economics, and professional economists differ over whether his targets truly deserve such scorn. Regardless, I am convinced that the malaise Romer and Orwell describe is infecting the way we use statistics in politics and public life.

There being more statistics around than ever, it has never been easier to make a statistical claim in service of a political argument.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for answering. I did read your answer. And, I mostly agree with it. I was asking a very specific question about how verbal concepts can be mapped to math symbols with ease? I am having trouble understanding what this could even mean. Thanks! $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ To be precise you asked for resources: "If anyone on this site, has any resources, papers, suggestions for this, I'd greatly appreciate." $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 12:43
  • $\begingroup$ An example for mapping a verbal concept to math, is that people as consumers make choices, in rational agent based economics this is modelled by assuming that the consumers have a real valued utility function and they are trying to maximize this. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Commented Dec 5, 2023 at 12:44

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