Let’s Abolish Social Science

#1
C C Offline
http://thesmartset.com/lets-abolish-social-science/

EXCERPT: [...] In my New University, there would be only two faculties: natural sciences and the humanities. The social sciences would be abolished.

Social science was — it is best to speak in the past tense — a mistake. The dream of a comprehensive science of society, which would elucidate “laws of history” or “social laws” comparable to the physical determinants or “laws” of nature, was one of the great delusions of the 19th century. Auguste Comte formulated a Religion of Humanity based on “the positive philosophy” or Positivism. Karl Marx went to his grave convinced that his discovery of laws of history had made him the Darwin or Newton of social science.

Positivism mercifully had little political influence, except in 19th-century Brazil, to which it contributed the national motto “Order and Progress.” In the 20th century Marxism split between a revisionist branch which became indistinguishable from welfare-state capitalism and communist totalitarianism, which survives in pure form today only in North Korea, and from the devastating effects of which Russia, China, Eastern Europe, Cuba, Vietnam and other countries are slowly recovering.

By the mid-20th century, the utopian fervor that had inspired earlier attempts at comprehensive sciences of society had burned out. But within post-1945 Anglo-American academic culture, more than in continental Europe, the ambition to emulate the methods of the physical sciences in the study of human beings persisted.

Economics, for example, grew ever more pseudoscientific in the course of the 20th century. [...] After 1945, the institutional economics associated in the U.S. with John Kenneth Galbraith was purged from American economics faculties, in favor of the “freshwater” (Chicago) and “saltwater” (MIT) versions of mathematical economics, which focused on trying to model the economy using equations as though it were a fluid or a gas.

While “physics envy” has been most pronounced and destructive in economics, pseudoscience has infected other disciplines that study human behavior as well. The very term “political science” betrays an ambition to create a study of politics and government and world politics that will be a genuine science like physics, chemistry or biology.

In the late 20th century, an approach called “Rational Choice” spread through American political science departments like oak blight through a forest. The method (or, to use the ugly word preferred by pseudoscientists, the “methodology”) of Rat Choice, as this school is known to its detractors, was borrowed from pseudoscientific neoclassical economics. Culture and institutions were downplayed, in favor of attempts to explain political outcomes in terms of the strategic self-interest of rational individuals.

While studies of domestic politics have been damaged by Rat Choice, the field of political science I know best, International Relations, has been warped by a different kind of pseudoscience. Much of the discipline has adopted the approach to the scientific method of the late Imre Lakatos, a Hungarian émigré who sought to provide an approach to scientific reasoning that would be an alternative to the explanations of the scientific method by Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend, among others. Lakatos, who died in 1974, was a mathematician and physicist, and might have been surprised and dismayed by some of the uses to which his thinking has been put. Stilted and ritualized language about “Lakatosian scientific research programs” mars the published work of many otherwise thoughtful and insightful IR scholars.

I once asked a leading American IR theorist who had become a major figure in a presidential administration if any IR theories — including those of the sub-school that he led — had ever come up in discussions within the government about foreign policy. “Not once,” he said.

You might think that the ancient humanist discipline of law would be more resistant than others to pseudoscience — and you would be right. Still, legal theorists afflicted with physics envy and economics envy have made attempts to turn law into a social science. The most important was the late 20th century “law and economics” movement.

Within the academy, a growing number of scholars are speaking out against the degeneration of social science disciplines into pseudoscience and scholasticism....
Reply
#2
Yazata Offline
Quote:EXCERPT: [...] In my New University, there would be only two faculties: natural sciences and the humanities.

What about all the applied subjects like engineering and medicine?

Quote:Social science was — it is best to speak in the past tense — a mistake.

I'm inclined to agree. The social sciences emerged from an 18th century enlightenment that was tremendously impressed by the amazing success of Newtonian physics. So they imagined that if those same methods could just be put to work transforming society and social relations, a new age of progress, peace and plenty would inevitably ensue.

The idea certainly isn't dead today. It's still implicit in American 'liberalism' and European 'socialism', with their dreams of grand social change schemes imposed on the people by 'scientific' government elites from above. (That's what a lot of the current rhetoric about 'science denial' is really about.)

Quote:The dream of a comprehensive science of society, which would elucidate “laws of history” or “social laws” comparable to the physical determinants or “laws” of nature, was one of the great delusions of the 19th century.

That 'social science' project collided with the fact that there don't seem to be any abstract underlying laws of history or society analogous to the laws of physics. So the 'social sciences' were still-born and stunted right out of the gate, unable to make the kind of progress that was happening in the natural sciences.
Reply


Possibly Related Threads…
Thread Author Replies Views Last Post
  Is social science akin to a cargo cult? C C 0 34 Feb 8, 2021 08:40 PM
Last Post: C C
  Women led nations haven't fared much better in pandemic + Social science lacking bite C C 0 62 Jan 1, 2021 09:32 PM
Last Post: C C
  Social scientists revisit anthropology’s science wars C C 0 192 Oct 15, 2019 07:55 PM
Last Post: C C
  Motivated Reasoning Is Disfiguring Social Science C C 2 385 Feb 25, 2019 06:14 PM
Last Post: Yazata
  The Devolution of Social Science (unreliable, ideological pseudoscience, etc) C C 1 515 Oct 10, 2018 05:12 PM
Last Post: Syne
  Why It Took Social Science Years to Correct a Simple Error About ‘Psychoticism’ C C 3 597 Apr 14, 2017 11:35 PM
Last Post: Syne
  The Tyranny of Evidence: Do the social sciences border on being junk science? C C 0 799 Nov 18, 2015 08:41 PM
Last Post: C C



Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)