mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
institutions and legitimacy
Social Science Neglects Big Questions
Features Icon
Features
show comments
  • Jim__L

    “Part of the reason, of course, is that the straightforward quantitative
    problems are easier to solve. But as Avent says, “lacking the tools or
    theory to think through something does not mean that something isn’t
    important.” To restore their legitimacy in this age of unsettled
    assumptions, Western academics would do well to ask deeper and perhaps
    more difficult questions about human behavior.”

    This is why Western academics need to leave a place at the table for religious leaders. The world’s major religions are comprehensive theories on all of life — including the bits that simply aren’t amenable to quantitative solution.

    Externalities are fatal to social science models. A more holistic approach is needed — and we have existing holistic approaches that have worked for five hundred, thirteen hundred, two thousand years and more. And no, things haven’t “changed” so much that they’re irrelevant now; unfashionable maybe, but still as relevant as ever.

  • Andrew Allison

    This post makes the assumption that holders of advanced degrees are experts in anything other than the topic of said degree. It also confuses social science (a field which, in addition to producing reams of irreproducible studies, is completely dominated by the far-left) and economics. And finally, it suggests academics are, ipso facto, experts on human behavior. Perhaps voters across the Western world are rebelling against the judgment of “experts” of all kinds because of the latter’s track record.

    • f1b0nacc1

      A professor of mine pointed out that Political Science was simply “History taught badly”….that says it all

      • Andrew Allison

        As recently demonstrated rather conclusively, Political Science is an oxymoron. Social Science is even more so.

        • Boritz

          No discipline with “science” in the name is science.

  • QET

    The reason is not, or not only, that quantitative problems are easier to solve (which is true only when they have been modeled with a view to a solution in advance, which they typically are). The primary reason is that reducing the practice of social science to the form of quantitative analysis enables all of the multitudes in academic social science–full professors, assistant professors, associate professors, graduate students–to “publish” with the frequency necessary to maintain the illusion demanded by every college and university throughout the Western world that “original research” is being conducted, that new “knowledge: is being produced with the regularity of a Ford assembly line. The style of social science publication has reached Kabuki status. Anyone can be trained to repeat the steps necessary to get published, thereby assuring the maintenance of a career. Please refer to Starbuck’s The Production of Knowledge for a fuller elaboration.

  • Fat_Man

    “Thou shalt not sit with statisticians nor commit a social science.”

    W.H. Auden “Under Which Lyre”

  • LarryD

    The ideological domination of academia means there are a lot of questions that cannot be asked, because they challenge received dogma.

    • JR

      This is how dogma breaks. You lose legitimacy.

      • f1b0nacc1

        My karma ran over your dogma

  • Aldus du Flaperon

    A lot of empirical findings in the social sciences, including economics, are simply false. The situation is worse than in bioscience. Furthermore, social scientists, when addressing the general public through the media, often cannot resist presenting their opinions and unsubstantiated generalisations as science. In fact, such attitudes are strongly favoured by the media.

  • FriendlyGoat

    The question social scientists should have been pressing on economists for the past 50 years is this. Do high-end tax cuts create more living-wage jobs in America or in any modern industrialized countries? If so, given the jobs and needs met only by the public sector in America and all countries, EXACTLY how does that occur? What models can be constructed to show that you can find enough free-enterprise ideas to keep small towns from near death all over America and Europe, NOT incur a 20-trillion national debt in America, and be sure that financial traders have low taxes on the schemed gains? The social scientists not FORCING the economists to debate this decades ago instead of the arcane minutia that they dwelt upon is why we have stupid citizens and the growing messes we now see with debt and towns.

    • LarryD

      I think you’re looking at the wrong part of fiscal/monetary policy. Credit inflation generates lot of profits for financiers without generating prosperity. Credit inflation causes booms based on false credit signals, the booms invariably collapse. Some politicians mistake booms for actual growth, and keep trying to fuel them.

      • FriendlyGoat

        I think I was identifying the one SIMPLE question we should have been asking. As soon as you say “fiscal/monetary policy”, most people’s eyes glaze over. DO TAX CUTS CREATE JOBS? IF SO, HOW, WHERE AND WHAT JOBS? This is what we needed and did not ever get before doing stupid things again and again.

  • Philip Sagan

    Self-awareness in the social sciences of the preference for dealing strictly with the easily quantified was articulated as early as 1940, according to von Hayek, who commented in his Nobel lecture that year that “Unlike the position that exists in the physical sciences, in economics and other disciplines that deal with essentially complex phenomena, the aspects of the events to be accounted for about which we can get quantitative data are necessarily limited and may not include the important ones. … And because the effects of these facts in any particular instance cannot be confirmed by quantitative evidence, they are simply disregarded by those sworn to admit only what they regard as scientific evidence: they thereupon happily proceed on the fiction that the factors which they can measure are the only ones that are relevant.”

  • Eurydice

    No, it’s not that quantitative problems are easier to solve – it’s that people forget what quantitative models and expressions are supposed to represent. Models are simply a mathematical shorthand for past human behavior. They don’t drive human behavior, nor do they predict it, and they only work so long as humans choose to let them work. And I would say that experts are not just politically disconnected, they’ve become disconnected from their actual field of study, which is the study of human behavior within certain systems.

  • ljgude

    “what course of action is most likely to avert a crisis of institutional legitimacy that will leave everyone much worse off.” Angelo Codevilla made the point recently that our elites have become progressively incompetent. (Pun intended) Defenestrating the elites may leave us better off, not worse off – not because experts are not useful, but because to be useful they must be competent. Instead they are largely a self referential pack of ideological idiots mainly interested in competitive virtue signalling and have no concept of truth and so no interest in finding it. Culture, gender, truth itself, are all just mental constructs – to quote Hillary – “perception is everything.’ I’m a card carrying member of the intelligentsia but even I know when I’ve been rolled. (Pun intended.)

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service