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Tasked with proving God’s existence before the court of Catherine the Great, the mathematician Leonhard Euler is believed to have written a complex algebraic formula on the blackboard, before saying: “Hence, God exists.” Knowing nothing of algebra, his audience was confounded. Economist Paul Romer coined the term “mathiness” to describe a similar process.

A group of economists used rigorous maths but then, posited Romer, they applied a biased interpretation – which may have been politically driven. These were mostly macroeconomists, including Nobel Prize winners such as Edward C. Prescott and Robert Lucas Jr, who tended to use models based on constant and decreasing returns to scale. Reluctant to abandon a valued principle in favour of the alternative of increasing returns to scale, which lay at the foundation of Romer’s new theory of growth, they interpreted the maths in their own models in a distorted fashion, according to Romer.

The concept is something we must all avoid by not using or interpreting maths to a larger extent than necessary. Economists must be well trained in maths so they can discern mathiness when they meet it. Of course, as social scientists they also need to understand historical, political and social contexts. And that’s why, in our new introductory course, Core Economics, we give students the formal tools and also the empirical ideas needed for a more integrative analysis.

Professor Antonio Cabrales is Chair of Microeconomics at UCL.


Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience is this year’s recipient of the Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize, recognising scientific work of high social relevance to the development of children and young people.

Behavioural and brain-scanning studies carried out by Professor Blakemore and her team have revealed that the brain develops both structurally and functionally during adolescence, suggesting the need to revise the tendency of attributing adolescent behaviour to hormones and changes in social environment.

The research has helped overturn the previously held belief that no major neurodevelopmental changes occur after early childhood. Her work also has implications for both curriculum design and teaching practice, ensuring that classroom activities make use of “neural plasticity” to make the most of an adolescent’s learning potential.

“It is truly humbling that my lab’s research has been recognised by this highly prestigious award,” says Professor Blakemore. “I am indebted beyond words to my wonderful mentors and to all the brilliant people who have worked at UCL over the past 13 years.”


Alumni have raised more than £45,000 to support the work of the UCL Institute for Global Health (IGH) in Nepal following the devastating earthquakes in April.

As well as promoting sustainable, environmentally friendly and earthquake-resistant building methods such as rammed earth and earthbag construction, the IGH has been able to offer public health advice and psychosocial training to the population to help them cope with the effects of the earthquake.

Dr Naomi Saville leads the IGH effort, and says: “Public health advice and sustainable housing is more than an immediate solution to a crisis – it’s a longer term solution that will help save lives in the future. Thanks must go to our alumni for being a part of this solution.”

For more, visit: www.ucl.ac.uk/online-giving/support/ucl-nepal-appeal

  • Contents 2015/16Contents 2015/16
  • DeconstructedDeconstructed
  • InboxInbox
  • A UCL beginner’s guide to…A UCL beginner’s guide to…
  • Free RadicalFree Radical
  • Alumni Network launchAlumni Network launch
  • Jeremy Bentham SpeaksJeremy Bentham Speaks
  • The Strong RoomThe Strong Room
  • Extra CurricularExtra Curricular
  • CloisteredCloistered
  • Life, the Universe and EverythingLife, the Universe and Everything
  • This Radical LifeThis Radical Life
  • Paper ChasePaper Chase
  • Beautiful BacteriaBeautiful Bacteria
  • CitiesCities
  • Hello London!Hello London!
  • Lessons for lifeLessons for life
  • In Bentham’s footstepsIn Bentham’s footsteps
  • This idea must dieThis idea must die
  • London  vs  WorldLondon vs World
Portico Issue 2. 2015/16