An anonymous reader writes: Noah Smith argues that the field of economics frequently uses math in an unhealthy way. He says many economists don't use math as a tool to describe reality, but rather as an abstract foundation for whatever theory they've come up with. A possible solution to this, he says, is machine learning: "In other words, econ is now a rogue branch of applied math. Developed without access to good data, it evolved different scientific values and conventions. But this is changing fast, as information technology and the computer revolution have furnished economists with mountains of data. As a result, empirical analysis is coming to dominate econ. ... [Two economists pushing this change] stated that machine learning techniques emphasized causality less than traditional economic statistical techniques, or what's usually known as econometrics. In other words, machine learning is more about forecasting than about understanding the effects of policy. That would make the techniques less interesting to many economists, who are usually more concerned about giving policy recommendations than in making forecasts."