"The Chronicle describes a remarkably bitter debate, much of which centres on choices regarding methodology. Mr Parry writes:
When economists gripe about historians retreating from economics, historians offer a counternarrative: "The problem is the economists left history for statistical model building," says Eric Foner, a historian of 19th-century America at Columbia University. "History for them is just a source of numbers, a source of data to throw into their equations." Foner considers counterfactuals absurd. A historian’s job is not to speculate about alternative universes, he says. It’s to figure out what happened and why. And, in the history that actually took place, cotton was extremely important in the Industrial Revolution.
Reading Mr Foner's remarks, one wants to respond: But how do you know? How do you know cotton was extremely important to industrialisation if you don't consider the counterfactual? Mr Foner is describing a history of description rather than a history of explanation. Don't get me wrong; description is a critical part of the work of the historian. Before we can venture to explain why something happened we must have some sense of what happened. But it is flatly unscientific to reckon that description isexplanation."