July, 2007

Gordon Tullock's The Organization of Inquiry: A Critical Appraisal

  • Bruce Caldwell

    Rosenthal Excellence Professor of Economics, UNC-Greensboro
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The goal of this working paper is to provide a critical appraisal of Gordon Tullock's The Organization of Inquiry. Tullock's stated aim is simple enough: to examine science as a social system. He claims in his preface that his basic orientation will be economic rather than sociological, but in truth it combines elements of both. It also includes elements of the philosophy of science, especially in a chapter on the subject and methods of inquiry. Here Tullock draws mostly on the ideas of the philosopher Karl Popper, with whom he worked for about six months in the late 1950s. The book is partly descriptive and partly prescriptive, and these aspects are often mixed together. Though Tullock focuses primarily on the natural sciences, there is also a chapter explaining why the social sciences are so backward in comparison. In supporting or illustrating his arguments, he often cites from an intimidatingly diverse set of articles and books, from philosophical tomes to general science sources to specific field journals. In sum, The Organization of Inquiry is an interdisciplinary work that amply displays the eclectic, idiosyncratic, and polymathic virtuosity for which Tullock is well-known.