Sunday, July 24, 2011

Careless Referees?

Rafael Garcia-Mata, Etienne Boulter & Keith Burridge write (HERE):

The 'invisible hand': regulation of RHO GTPases by RHOGDIs


“The 'invisible hand' is a term originally coined by Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments to describe the forces of self-interest, competition and supply and demand that regulate the resources in society. This metaphor continues to be used by economists to describe the self-regulating nature of a market economy. The same metaphor can be used to describe the RHO-specific guanine nucleotide dissociation inhibitor (RHOGDI) family, which operates in the background, as an invisible hand, using similar forces to regulate the RHO GTPase cycle.”

Presumably a scientific, refereed journal, from a discipline outside economics. Nevertheless, it is wholly inaccurate to make such claims for Adam Smith’s use of the IH metaphor.

In TMS, Smith did not use the IH metaphor to “describe the forces of self-interest, competition and supply and demand that regulate the resources in society”.

If any of the three authors read TMS (Book IV) they will not find any mention of “competition and supply and demand that regulate the resources in society”, nor will they find it in Wealth Of Nations.

I cannot comment on the “regulation of RHO GTPases by RHOGDIs”, but whatever that means it is not better understood by reference to Adam Smith and the IH metaphor.

Referees should know that to check references to books in other disciplines.



Blogger Etienne Boulter said...

Dear Gavin,

Thanks a lot for your interest in our paper, I'm very much sorry if we made a inexact interpretation of the Invisible Hand but from various sources (mostly online I must confess and for instance) we had the feeling that we gave a fair description of that term that we may extend to our Biological problem. However, being a cell biologist, I must confess I haven't read TMS myself. We thought that this competition and supply and demand concept applied very much to the interaction between RhoGTPases and RHOGDIs, hence our attempt to span the concept of Invisible hand across Economics and Biology. I'm very much willing to discuss the regulation of RHOGTPases by RHOGDIs with you if you wish so.
Best wishes.

Etienne Boulter.

5:29 p.m.  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

Etienne Boulter

Thank you for your clarification.

The error I commented upon is understandable. Many modern economists, including some of our 'Nobel Prize winners', regularly make the same error of attribution. Unsurprisingly, if you draw on Wikipedia or or many articles published in our journal, you would obtain this misattribution.

It stems from second-hand misinformation taught only orally from the end of the 19th century in Cambridge, England, and, later, in the 1920s at Chicago University. There were not references to the IH metaphor theme while Smith was alive or through the first 60-years, following his death in 1790.

It burst onto the scene - so to speak with Oscar Lange, a Marxist, when comparing his ideas of socialist planning as 'superior' to capitalism (1938 and 1946), and then spread widely by Paul Samuelson, 1948, in his very successful Economics: an introductory Analysis. and spread throughout the following generations of graduate to 2010.

Yet Adam Smith made no such connection between his strictly arithmetic assertion, using 'an IH' metaphor, about the consequences of the 'insecurity' of some, but never all, merchants, in avoiding foreign trade, without mentioning anything about 'supply/demand', 'market prices', etc. Nor did his mention 'an invisible hand in relation to the behaviour of feudal landlords in Moral Sentiments relate to commercial economies (nor mention markets.

I am, however, curious about what 'RHOGTPases' by 'PHOGD's are see if they might relate to unintentional consequences.


7:18 a.m.  

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