Adventures in Ideas: Which Social Science Should Die?

Freakonomics Readers,

I’d like to enlist you in a debate that, to date, is mostly occurring within the academy.

Imagine that, in order to respond both to budgetary pressures and calls for greater relevance of the American academy, College & University Presidents are re-examining their social science disciplines. They have decided to eliminate one major discipline. In your opinion, which of the following is no longer as relevant to the mission of research and education, and should be eliminated as a consequence?

  1. Psychology
  2. Political science
  3. Economics
  4. Sociology

I welcome your answers (and rationale) in the comments, or you can visit my survey questionnaire at the link below:

P.S. I did not place “anthropology” and “history” as options because of their close links to the humanities.

P.P.S. Before you think this experiment is fanciful, I invite you to take a look at a recent article in Nature by Luk Van Langenhove, who writes that social science is becoming irrelevant.

P.P.P.S. Assume that existing faculty would be absorbed into other departments, but no new hires would be granted for the shuttered department.

I’ll post the results and some of the commentary next week.


I'd say that Sociology is best covered/included among the rest.

Devon M

I would say the same. Also, though, because (at least to me) it seems that there are fewer direct useful applications for sociology. Psychology has direct effects on mental health and mental health treatment, economics has direct effects on real-world economic modeling and policy-making, and political sciences have direct impacts on how we model and structure government. While sociology does have real-world social implications and impacts, I believe that to lose one of the other three disciplines would have a more immediate and noticeable negative real-world effect.

Mike B

I'd eliminate one or more humanities departments instead. At least social science is at least partly based on real science and quite often contributes to the field of statistics and experimental design.

Andreas Moser

Why should every university abolish the same department?


Ironically, the social sciences are so intertwined that 'eliminating' one seems a fruitless endeavor. As a political scientist we have long adopted economic modeling into our field. Now social network analysis from sociology is becoming integral to the study of political parties. The disciplines are so connected and the lines between each significantly blurred.


I would actually argue that all of these sciences should remain, and moreover - get more granular to attract a greater diversity of problem-solvers for the societal issues. The future of science should embrace as greater 'cross-disciplinarity' as possible; in fact - i even dare to say that the engineering sciences are more likely to be the ones that will get consumed by all the other sciences (trust me, i'm an engineer).

Andreas Moser

It strikes me as odd to see psychology included in social sciences.

Is this how it is seen in the US? I studied in Germany, where psychology is often part of the medical or the science faculty, or sometimes teamed with pedagogics.


Classical and neoclassical economics should die. It's complete and total nonsense. Actually it's worse than nonsense, worse than teaching nothing at all. It obscures more than it reveals. It seems to consist entirely of smoke and mirrors to destroy empathy and reward domination. The state of modern economics is like medicine in the 1600s when esteemed physicians still taught bloodletting as the best approach for relieving the "dark humours" that were believed to be the source of disease.

alex in chicago

Your problem is assuming that the humanities shouldn't be taking the hits.

They should.

I'd eliminate classics studies (whats the point of looking backward to try and find a hidden meaning?), music, theater, dance, philosophy, religious studies, all kinds of history (do we really need African American studies, Women's studies, Scandinavian studies, etc?), and poetry before any of your 4 topics.

If my upvotes outpace my downvotes I'll be surprised.

Molly O

I think that political science should be incorporated into sociology, and that way important topics won't be lost, but just connected with the larger societal context, which has a huge impact on poly sci anyway. That is my opinion.


Let each university drop the least "effective" for their particular institution. The market will play out and each can specialize in a different topic.

The market is playing out anyway, hence the decision your posit is being asked.

P.S. I am sure there are many definitions of effective...


Political Science should be eliminated... doesn't do them or us any good anyways...

Drew L.

I was a political science undergraduate major, now sociology PhD student. I'd put political science on the chopping block because its carcass can easily be divided by other disciplines. Political theory is really philosophy, the quantitative studies could slip over to economics or psychology, and political institutions and behaviors are already studied by sociologists (in political sociology, cultural sociology, and organizations scholars). Philosophy, sociology, and economics could probably cover 85% of the discipline, with the leftovers going to psychology and history.


I'd say eliminate political science. I think people can probably learn a lot of what is taught here through real world experience and personal research.

Caleb B

Poli Sci should die. It's only a major for lawyers, lobbyists, and politicians. We need fewer of each.


I think that Sociology should be eliminated

Ray Wonsowski

Cut Political Science. All we're doing is creating professional politicians that do very little to change things. We should be pulling our politicians from a diversity of backgrounds, without trying to fool everyone into thinking that politics is a science.


Political Science - it's a subtype of sociology. It's the sociology of politics.


Sociology because it can be t


The obvious answer is football, waste of time and money