The conference organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (hereafter PAS) in 1961 on “the role of econometrics in formulating development plans” represents a milestone in the work of Ragnar Frisch but also in the history of econometrics, challenging the more or less normative status of econometric models. The PAS study week is interesting in two respects: while (and because) econometrics is acknowledged as a “scientific approach of economic phenomena,” the PAS invited the community of econometricians to revisit the role and contribution of economics to social justice and welfare issues. Thereby, the article investigates how econometrics was anchored in a tension between being stated as a tool of knowledge defined within a reference to positivism on the one hand, and as a mean of changing society and creating a better world on the other. Three main issues of debate can be identified over the fifteen hundred pages of the proceedings: (1) the aim of econometric modeling (explaining and/or planning); (2) the scientific status of the model; and (3) the role of value judgement in the work of the econometrician in the practice of econometric modeling. The debates reveal that the question of building a “science” of economic phenomena is still intense thirty-two years after the birth of the Econometric Society. They help us understand what grounded the practice and ambition underlying the work of these econometricians and how they define and face the challenge of “neutrality,” of both the model and their own practice.

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