Tag Archive: economics

Math in Economics

For many people who don’t go past an introductory ECON course, the relevance of mathematics in the field of economics may not be immediately obvious. In fact, I would assert that it isn’t until graduate level work that one would really be able to appreciate the amount of math that is used in economics. I say this because, as a double major in Mathematics and Economics,  I have been surprised at how little math has been used in the ECON courses I have taken. Even in Mathematical Economics (ECON 345 here at PLU), the math covered was only basic concepts from Multivariate Calculus and Linear Algebra. Luckily, Paul Krugman, a professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University, has described (very concisely) one of the ways he uses mathematics in economics in his New York Times article Mathematics and Economics.

In his article, Krugman explains that he uses mathematics in his economic research to help define and describe a situation. He writes, “In the economic geography stuff, for example, I started with some vague ideas; it wasn’t until I’d managed to write down full models that the ideas came clear. After the math I was able to express most of those ideas in plain English, but it really took the math to get there, and you still can’t quite get it all without the equations.”

Krugman also pointed out the limitations of economics even with the use of mathematics. He explains that just because something can be modeled nicely does not mean that the model is correct. I fear that this is a shortcoming that many have fallen prey too. While mathematics is an incredibly useful tool in economics, they are two distinct fields, and treating models as fact in economics can have disastrous results.

Despite the limitations of mathematical economics, it is still a fascinating field. I’d be interested to learn more about the math going on behind the scenes in economics, as well as its applications.

Searching for Capstone

As everyone (in MATH 499A) knows, last week we were instructed on how to search for articles relating to math, and eventually our specific capstone topic. While helpful, my time in the library proved to be more frustrating than fruitful. That, however, was mostly my fault. Let me try to explain.

I am also an Economics major. The ECON department has a 4-credit Capstone course that takes place in one semester. This makes for a bit of an accelerated pace relative to the MATH Capstone. Therefore, I have already chosen a topic, which is: Efficacy of the influenza vaccination against flu-related death in adults in the United States using time-series data. For the purpose of the MATH Capstone, with guidance from Prof. Munson and the use of some (hopefully advanced) statistics, I will try to determine how effective the flu vaccine is against flu-related death. Already knowing my topic is what caused my frustration in the library.

While in the library, my search terms were far too specific. Already having my topic narrowed down has made searching for articles difficult. While there are copious articles out there similar to what I am trying to do, there is nothing exactly like what I want to do (I suppose this is good, in a way, because it means my work will be somewhat original). Given the specificity of my topic, I had to learn to broaden my search horizons. For instance, instead of searching specifically for the effectiveness of the influenza vaccination, I simply searched for vaccination. From there I added a search term, like efficacy or effectiveness. In doing such, I have been able to find numerous articles that I am interested in. One, for example, is titled Estimation of Vaccine Efficacy and the Vaccination Threshold. This article discusses the how to measure vaccine efficacy, and points out that the number of people who would have to be vaccinated to avoid an epidemic varies with vaccine efficacy and virus reproduction.

Unfortunately, many of the articles I have found, PLU does not have direct access to. Thank goodness for Interlibrary Loan.