Chung-Tang Cheng, 2019-20 HOPE Center Fellow


Chung-Tang Cheng is a Taiwanese native, a PhD student at the London School of Economics, and a HOPE Center fellow. So when he first arrived in Durham at the beginning of September, the first thing he did, naturally enough, was attend a Durham Bulls baseball game.

Wait—a baseball game? Why, yes. As it turns out, Tang is a baseball player, a pitcher and outfielder, and a lefty to boot.

“I played baseball in high school and college, and in London I play for an amateur team—the Sidewinders,” Tang relates.

Tang came to the Center, though, with more than just a fastball and bat speed. He came with the intellectual imprint of the Center through his master’s adviser, Hsiang-Ke Chao, who himself was a fellow of the Center in 2014–15, and through his PhD adviser, Mary Morgan, who has made several visits to Duke over the years.

Tang’s research focuses on econometrics and especially its methods. “I’ve tried to look at how economists get to know things through methods rather than ideas. How have economists used methods to build a bridge between data and theory?”

He says that economists usually argue about either methods or ideas. But in Tang’s view, the ideological differences are unsolvable—“a matter of belief.” Methodology, he’s quick to add, is a matter of belief too. “But you also have criteria trying to guide the methodology.”

While at Duke, Tang is working through the papers of H. Gregg Lewis, who spent his career at Chicago and Duke. Lewis’s papers are in the Economists Papers Archive, housed in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

One of Lewis’s former Duke colleagues, Marjorie McElroy, presented Tang with Lewis’s old ashtray. Tang keeps it in his office.

A college campus such as Duke’s, Tang says, was new to him. “At the LSE, we don’t have a campus in the way that Duke does. You step out of an LSE building, and you are on a London street. You step out of a Duke building, and you are still on a college campus.”

In April, Tang will present a paper on the economist Guy Orcutt at the HOPE conference. Orcutt and Lewis were active at the same time, but they were taking different empirical approaches and using different methods.

In the end, Tang says he is fascinated with how economists produce empirical knowledge. “How do economists get to know things? How do they decide that something is a fact? Through one method or another, they come to believe their ideas are true. That’s the process that I hope to understand.”