Ingela Alger, Program Director
CNRS Research, TSE
Ph: +33 5 61 12 85 17
What does economics have in common with biology? At first glance, the answer is “Nothing:” for while biologists study cells, plants, animals, and the human body, economists analyze markets, firms, and other institutions created by humans. However, while these two disciplines clearly have distinct objects of study, they share an important goal, namely, to discover laws governing the functioning and behavior of living beings. At second glance, then, the answer is, “Potentially a lot.”
The two disciplines complement each other in many ways. To name but a few natural points of connection:
- Evolutionary logic, the central theoretical building block in biology, is increasingly used by economists to predict preferences from first principles, such as habitat.
- Biologists, on the other hand, are increasing the degree of sophistication of the individuals in their models, for instance by taking into account information processing and signaling.
- Two powerful forces stand out as being ubiquitous in most species: competition and cooperation. While cooperation and competition are common among all living beings, economists and biologists may have approached the issues from different angles, and there may be “gains from trade.” Two examples:
- How are insights from research in biology on dispersal patterns and local competition related to insights in urban economics and development economics?
- Biologists and economists alike have devoted significant resources to study cooperation and competition within the family; what can the two disciplines learn from each other?
- Biologists and economists alike develop sophisticated mathematical and statistical tools, and interdisciplinary communication may help enriching them in unexpected ways.
- Economists and biologists may together build models that recognize that humans are but one species in the dynamic ecosystem that is Earth. Such an endeavour would likely be useful not only for humans, but also for other species, some of which we depend on to survive.
The Biology program at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse promotes the exploration of these and other common research interests by organizing a range of activities, including an Economics and Biology seminar series, regular conferences, and Ph.D. courses.
Several biologists and ecologists in the Toulouse area from Évolution et Diversité Biologique (EDB), Station d’Écologie Expérimentale du CNRS à Moulis (SEEM) and Research Center on Animal Cognition take an active part in many of the Institute’s activities.