The Econophysics of migration

Sorry to report a second time in the same week about Econophysics (previous one here), but this paper is just too bizarre for me not to mention it. Physicists have the reputation, maybe wrongly, to be very bright, methodical and keen on logic. Hence it surprises me very much when I see this papers were completely senseless arguments are made and empirical evidence is tortured in utmost comical ways. I sincerely hope only the worst physicists make it to Econophysics and my view of the profession is thus biased.

Today's paper is by Anca Gheorghiu and Ion Spanulescu. It starts with a paragraph that has nothing to do with the topic, migration, that should from the onset get a failing grade from any teacher beyond elementary school:
Physics, is the most suitable for modelling the economic phenomena and structures or financial-banking operations, because it takes into consideration the process variables characteristics and permits to use some procedures – including the mathematical one – especially probability theory for minimizing or eliminating such influences depending on human factor and unexpected phenomena also, which cannot be predicted by direct methods.

I think was is meant here is that physics bring statistics to the table when analyzing economic phenomena. Color me shocked. After some generic rambling about what causes migration, the authors come up with an "improved model" (their words) for migration: the net present value of migrating equals the benefits of migrating less the costs of migrating. We are making significant progress here.

But there is more. Gheorghiu and Spanulescu then think of various countries as attractors, and that various forces pull people towards the respective countries. This is of course the well-known gravitational model of migration. Hey, we are using Physics concepts in Economics already! Of course, these economic attractors must be defined, and they come up with gold reserves, computers per capita and the proportion of Internet users. Why is a bit a mystery to me. The empirical evidence is presented in the form of histograms, which are apparently at the forefront of statistical techniques.

For some reason, the authors then compare countries to positive and negative electric charges and try to somehow fit migration into the Coulomb's law of electrostatic interaction. I was hoping the electro-magnetic properties of gold, the use of electrons in computers and the Internet would justify the previous empirical analysis, but no, it is entirely forgotten. Indeed, there is no attempt to somehow link all this to any measurement.

I have already spent too much time on this.

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