PHILOSOPHY AND GOALS OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCE UNDERGRADUATE CORE
The social science core curriculum initiates students in the study of how humans organize, decide, govern, and allocate their resources. It teaches students how to analyze and reason about individual behavior, markets, and other institutions. Our curriculum covers methods, as well as substance. The issues facing our students in the future will be different from those that are current, but the analytical principles and methodology needed to understand those problems will likely remain the same, albeit improved. Thus, the social science core curriculum provides students with the knowledge and tools to, in the words of the catalog, “navigate the societal, political, and economic factors that influence, and are influenced by, their work.”
The objectives of the social science core curriculum can be broken into three broad categories of courses: introductory courses that teach basic principles; methods courses that seek to transmit skills and analytical tools; and courses exposing students to substantive ideas and problems in the social sciences. More concretely: “Fundamental ideas and principles” classes expose students to a broad and introductory overview of basic ideas in anthropology, economics, psychology, and political science. “Methodology and analysis” courses focus mainly on giving students the theoretical and empirical tools to analyze problems. They cover the theoretical modeling tools most commonly used in the social sciences, as well as statistical and econometric techniques that are needed to analyze data. “Substantive problems in social science: Individuals, institutions, and markets” courses expose students to an array of substantive questions in social science, from resource allocation via markets and prices, the workings of political institutions, the consequences of poor governance, the psychological basis of human behavior, and an understanding of financial markets.
SOCIAL SCIENCE GRADUATE PROGRAM
The Caltech Ph.D. program in Social Science is highly interdisciplinary, integrating economics, political science, quantitative history, econometrics, and finance. It makes extensive use of mathematical modeling, laboratory experiments, and econometric techniques. Research in the social sciences program at Caltech strongly emphasizes the under-standing and analysis of the relationships between individual incentives, collective behavior, political and economic institutions, and public policy.
Areas of Research
- Experimental Economics and Experimental Political Science. Caltech social scientists were among the early pioneers in the field of laboratory experimentation and Caltech has maintained a strong leadership position and research presence in the field ever since. Examples of the kinds of laboratory studies the faculty are engaged in include the behavior and design of auctions and market-like mechanisms, public goods provision and related topics in public economics, the economics of networks and matching, decision theory, inter-personal bargaining, behavioral economics, committee decision making, and electoral competition. Many of our faculty engage in laboratory experimentation as part of their research agendas in economics and political science (Agranov, Camerer, Echenique, Nielsen, Palfrey, Plott, Saito, Shum, Sprenger). Considerable laboratory experimentation also focuses upon the workings of financial markets, and seeks to elucidate basic principles that underlie the pricing of assets, trading, and information aggregation in these markets. Many of these experiments are conducted through the use of net-worked computers (see Facilities) in the William D. Hacker Social Science Experimental Laboratory (SSEL) and the Laboratory for Experimental Economics and Political Science (LEEPS). The real world provides another setting for experimental research outside the laboratory, and Caltech social scientists have conducted field experiments involving a wide variety of topics, ranging from decision making in organizations, social networks, and the behavior of different cultural groups ranging from college students, to urban Americans to African villagers.
- Economic Theory and Game Theory. Caltech has a strong research group in economic theory, which, together with rigorous training in statistics and econometrics forms the backbone of the core curriculum for the PhD program. Theoretical research at Caltech has played a key role in the design and practical implementation of new institutions that more efficiently allocate scarce resources and provide public goods. Some of this work has had important public policy applications. Prominent examples include the design of FCC auctions to allocate the electromagnetic spectrum for telecommunication, and the market for allocating and trading permits for pollution emissions in the Los Angeles basin. Much of this theoretical design research is complemented by experimental studies that provide a testbed for competing designs. There is an active group of faculty and graduate students working in the areas of the optimal design of contracts and markets (Cvitanic, Echenique, Plott), the economics of information (Pomatto, Tamuz), decision theory (Echenique, Pomatto, Rangel, Saito), game theory (Echenique, Palfrey, Pomatto, Saito, Tamuz) and matching Social Science and Research (Echenique). There are several active programs for inter-action between our theory faculty in the social sciences and the faculties of computer science and applied mathematics. This is formally organized around two interdisciplinary centers, the Lee Center for Advanced Networking and the Social and Information Science Laboratory (SISL), with the latter offering a bi-weekly seminar coordinated between the computer science department and the social sciences faculty and featuring speakers in eco-nomics, computer science, game theory and related disciplines. There are many informal connections that reinforce the formal connections, including research collaborations between faculty and graduate students in these different areas.
- Political Economy and Political Science. Caltech has a long tradition of strength in research that spans the boundary of the economics and political science disciplines. Research in political economy at Caltech continues to be a major strength of the program and provides a natural bridge that unites the faculty in economics, political science, and quantitative history. The focus of research in political economy and political science at Caltech emphasizes rigorous theoretical modeling drawing heavily upon techniques from economic theory and game theory, combined with empirical studies using highly sophisticated quantitative analyses of a wide variety of data sources: experimental, survey, field, voting, and historical data. Ongoing political economy research areas of the current faculty include: the interacting forces of bargaining, voting, and communication in commit-tees, legislatures, bureaucracies, and assemblies (Agranov, Gibilisco, Hirsch, Katz, Lopez-Moctezuma, Palfrey, Plott); the Voting Technology Project, a joint Caltech-MIT research venture, established in 2000 to evaluate and improve the performance and reliability of U.S. balloting technology, registration systems, election administration, redistricting, and election law (Alvarez, Katz); political forces affecting judicial behavior (Hirsch, Shum), strategic voting in multicandidate and multi-stage elections (Alvarez, Kiewiet, Palfrey, Plott), the politics of inequality and redistribution (Agranov, Palfrey) and several areas of comparative and international politics, including studies of the causes and consequences of corruption, domestic unrest, and international conflict (Ensminger, Gibilisco, Lopez-Moctezuma).
- Financial Economics. Caltech has built a small but very active research group in finance. The researchers in this group are working on a range of topics in mathematical finance (Cvitanic), empirical studies of venture capital and entrepreneurship (Ewens), asset pricing (Cvitanic, Jin, Plott, Roll), dynamic contracting (Cvitanic), and behavioral finance (Camerer, Jin, Plott). There is a regular seminar series in finance that features distinguished researchers from around the world. Caltech faculty outside the finance group itself are also engaged in empirical research in financial economics. These include experimental Areas of Study and Research studies of asset markets (Camerer, Palfrey, Plott), interest rate policy making by the Federal Open Market Committee (Lopez-Moctezuma), and online credit markets (Xin).
- Behavioral Economics. Research in behavioral economics at Caltech overlaps all of the above groups. Laboratory experimental research discovers interesting behavioral anomalies and can also test theoretical models designed to account for such anomalies. On the theoretical side, much of the game-theoretic and decision-theoretic research at Caltech is motivated by experimental observations, leading to extensions or modifications of standard models. These extensions in turn suggest experimental designs that are then implemented in the laboratory by our faculty and graduate students. Faculty research in political behavior (Alvarez, Katz, Kiewiet) and behavioral finance (Camerer, Jin, Plott) are complementary and add strength more generally to under-standing social behavior. We also have on our faculty a small but very active group conducting research at the boundary of biology, psychology, and the social sciences (Adolphs, Camerer, Mobbs, O’Doherty, Rangel). This group offers a separate PhD option focused on the behavioral neuroscience of decision making (see the catalog entry for “Social and Decision Neuroscience”). Utilizing fMRI brain-imaging, eye-tracking, and other biological measurement technologies, this group, often in collaboration with other social science faculty and graduate students, has begun to explore the neural foundations of decision making in individual choice, game theoretic, and market settings.
- Quantitative History. Just as with the theoretical, experimental, and empirical work using contemporary, historical research conducted at Caltech employs mathematical modeling and sophisticated statistical techniques to attack a wide range of historical questions. Historical research conducted at Caltech addresses questions that cut across economics, political science, political economy, and even finance, often combining archival work with state-of-the art statistical techniques. These include the development of capital and credit markets in Europe (Hoffman, Rosenthal), the evolution of wealth distribution from 1800 to the present (Rosenthal), the causes of recurrent financial crises in capitalist economies (Hoffman, Rosenthal), and the determinants of economic and technological growth.
- Applied microeconomics and econometrics. Empirical research in social science blends creative collection and analysis of field data with rigorous application of tools and methods from econometrics and statistics. We offer courses and supervise students in these areas. A number of faculty members specialize in empirical work in a number of fields, including finance (Ewens, Jin, Xin), industrial organization (Shum, Xin), political economy (Alvarez, Gibilisco, Katz, Kiewiet, Lopez-Moctezuma, Sherman, Shum), and behavioral economics (Camerer, Jin). Methodological areas of specialization include econometrics (Sherman, Shum, Xin), causal inference (Alvarez, Katz, Sherman, Shum), machine learning (Alvarez, Katz, Xin), and Bayesian statistics (Katz).
Caltech has two state-of-the-art onsite laboratories for experimental research in economics, political science, game theory, decision theory, and financial economics: The Laboratory for Experimental Economics and Political Science (LEEPS, established 1987) and The Hacker Social Science Experimental Laboratory (SSEL, established 1998).