Journal of Marketing Behavior > Vol 4 > Issue 1

The Theorist as an Endangered Species?

Phanish Puranam, INSEAD, Singapore,
Suggested Citation
Phanish Puranam (2019), "The Theorist as an Endangered Species?", Journal of Marketing Behavior: Vol. 4: No. 1, pp 43-48.

Publication Date: 26 Mar 2019
© 2019 P. Puranam
Information systems research methods,  Computational


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In this article:
What Theorists Do 
What Intelligent Machines Do (Today) 
The Case for Extinction… 
…And the Case Against 


Machines (algorithms) are becoming ever more capable of the robust detection of complex patterns, as well as automating the estimation of causal effects through randomization. Do these developments devalue theories? I argue that theory (and theorists) will continue to be most useful when data are scarce, or when even the contours of what is the "right data" are unknown. Where data are sufficient for algorithms to make useful predictions or isolate causal effects even without any causal understanding, theorists may still be useful primarily to explain and justify to fellow humans (for instance in law courts), and because we derive satisfaction from explanations. Both, however, may be transient phenomena.