Top 10 Ideas in the Behavioral Sciences

Here is a list. All “Top 10” lists are somewhat absurd, but they are useful for keeping a perspective on what is important and what is not. Let me know if you have any candidate ideas that are better and should replace one or more of the ideas on this list.

Person Idea Publication
1748   Montesquieu Separation of Powers The Spirit of the Laws
1759   Adam Smith Invisible Hand The Theory of Moral Sentiments
1786   William Jones Comparative Linguistics The Sanscrit Language
1817   David Ricardo Comparative Advantage Principles of Political Economy and Taxation
1859   Charles Darwin Natural Selection Origin of Species
      Sexual Selection
1860s   Louis Pasteur Germ Theory of Disease Anti-spontaneous generation experiments
1865   Gregor Mendel Mendelian Inheritance Experiments on Plant Hybridization
1944   Von Neumann & Morgenstern Game Theory Theory of Games and Economic Behavior
1964   Bill Hamilton Inclusive Fitness Evolution of Social Behaviour, 2 papers

7 thoughts on “Top 10 Ideas in the Behavioral Sciences

  1. Freud or Jung? The influence is sweeping with regard to human behavioral studies.
    Karl Marx? Transforming Institutionalism as a Marxist critique of how social and institutional behavior changes has greatly influenced international development theory since the mid 1970s, even as Marxism as a political system has failed miserably in practice.

    Or have I strayed too far from your intent?

  2. You are right in terms of influence, but not in terms of the quality of their ideas. They were bad scientists. We should put their ideas on a list of The 10 Worst Ideas in the Behavioral Sciences. The Withering Away of the State under Communism. The Oedipus Complex. The Collective Unconscious. Hm, let me think, what else should be on this list?

  3. Ooh, how about Rostow’s neo-classical theory of development (the airplane metaphor) that there are preconditions for economic takeoff that apply uniformly regardless of historical or geographic context? And can we heave Deconstructionism onto this ash heap, too? Please? 30 years of Derrida derivatives oozing from the humanities into hard sciences is more than enough.

  4. Those are excellent candidates. I wonder how influential Rostow was, did people really take him seriously? I have never met an economist who did. Let’s try to think of some more truly awful ideas. You are right about Derrida.

  5. Lamarck’s evolutionary theory of heredity, the “inheritance of acquired traits”, in which gifaffes that used their neck muscles more and strained to reach higher leaves had offspring with longer necks.

    As for Rostow, he was used as a whipping boy when I was in grad school, but you’d be hard pressed to find much on him in a standard Google search. Perhaps less influential than convenient as a failed hypothesis.

    Supply side economics?

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