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July 04, 2008


passer by

"social sciences have a role to play" First thing to do is to force social sciences to play to a more rigorous and more scientific view of science, Poppers not Khuns.

As we see from this weeks research on A levels from Durham University, a d in the physical sciences is worth a b in the social sciences, all we have done is fill up our universities and then our government and industries with dorks...only today we have so called social scientists calling for sex education for infants, next week we will get the same bunch complaining about the sexualisation of children.

What I think we are really talking about when we talk about intelligence or IQ is self awareness, or the ability to see over the horizon, to see what cannot be seen thru just using your senses, unfortunately as Pinker points out we are not born a blank states, and many dont have the ability to do this, so it comes down to "leadership" which requires us to adopt a more elitist education policy, right now we are a nation of half wits lead by dorks.

Not everyone has your brain Chris in fact few do, more important in this world than intelligence is trust.


Good article. Nice to see an attractive female gratuitously displayed once more.

Waiting For Robot

How many of our current social scientists are _proper_ social scientists, who are trying to correct for selection biases, and where can we find them?


"Proper" social scientists put out their work, findings, and/or conclusions out to the public domain to be peer reviewed, tested, junked or improved upon. I guess non-proper social scientists don't do this so much.

Personally I think pure science is easier. Set up hypotheses, test them in labs etc. Medical science is harder though - anyone got the advice that there is a 1 in 1000 chance of a certain condition developing etc?

The big challenge of social science is to find some kinds of relationships, rules, and patterns amongst human behaviour. Which is not always understood, nor as predictable as molecules.


Depends upon what you mean by easier, Glenn. It's certainly easier to see how the input of pure science over the last hundred years has vastly improved our lives, compared to seeing the 'loss' that would result from not having acquired the body of 'knowledge' that we have from the social sciences during the same time.

passer by

I don't buy the medical science / social science comparison, everyone understands that some of us are aspirin people and some are paracetamol, both are proven in the scientific sense, most statements put out by social scientists and quite a few economists are conjecture dressed up as science.

Adam McNestrie

Another insightful blogpost. I haven't time to make a substantive post, but I think Stumbling and Mumbling is the best blog I've chanced upon.

Thanks for the link to Potlatch too.


«Not everyone has your brain Chris in fact few do, more important in this world than intelligence is trust.»

Trust and wisdom. As to intelligence and the UK's dorkish elites, well... I have worked (as a foreigner) quite a bit with a lot of Oxbridge people and my pithy summary is that Oxbridge is the obvious proof that intelligence and wisdom are not the same thing.

Which supports Chris's point about managerialism (even if I I blame managerialism on politics, not viceversa as he seems to do).


«quite a few economists are conjecture dressed up as science.»

It is usually dishonest propaganda dressed up as mathematics (Arrow-Debreu-Lucas being the foremost example).

Bob B

"The uselessness of experience"

Quite. I make a point of looking out of the window every morning to check on whether the sun has risen.

"everyone understands that some of us are aspirin people and some are paracetamol"

I hedge bets.


I think that you might be missing a few tricks cookie. Social science has resulted in us understanding the benefits of free trade a bit more, trying to limit monopolies, and has lifted up quite a few people from poverty. Taylorism and mass production resulted from social science - the understanding of the organisation of production and labour - which made mass produced goods so cheap and sowed the seeds for a massive uplift in real incomes.

I don't say social science is responsible for creating the market; but science wouldn't be as successful over the past 200 years without being commercialised into goods and services that are bought and sold in markets. And well, economics is the study of market processes.

What I meant by science being easier is that much of scientific discovery seems to take place in labs, and around single hypotheses. When I did a Ph.D. in economic policy, I knew science Ph.D students who all they did was run lab tests day in and day out, around one hypothesis, for 3 years. Their references were about 2 pages long. Whereas I was dealing with quite complex stuff - economics, public policy, organisational theory - and had about 20 pages of references. I honestly think it was more difficult for me - I had to learn a hell of a lot in a short space of time.

Bob B

Sadly, one of the many public policy burdens for citizens is politicians and political activists who really believe they personally know all they need to know about economics without the need to open even a basic textbook on the subject.

passer by

Just to clarify, what I mean by the paracetamol/aspirin comparison, is that some of us respond to aspirin better than paracetamol and vise versa, but the science behind both is clear, it tends to be how drugs work, take the "race specific" drug BiDil, it is aimed at coloured people but that does not guarantee it will work with all colored people or indeed not work with white people.

science tends to work on a trail and error basis and there is no better example than the drug industry, social sciences (not all btw) tend to work in paradigms thus they are accustomed to not recognize trail and error (don't punish criminals many say, poverty is the cause, as wealth rises and crime rises too) and are very prone to double think.


Eh? "It’s to show that personal experience is useless as a guide to what’s true of large samples."

So you take a group that suffers from such widespread discrimination that most people don't notice it, or think 'it is only natural', and you publish a list of why "I don't think much of them", portraying them as lesser beings who by implication don't deserve being treated as equals.

And this act of kicking the underdogs and helping to perpetuate their 'don't give them an inch' status was to show that we should not extrapolate from small samples? It was supposed to be obvious to all your readers that women really are capable beings despite your flatly saying that they are not?

I think you are overestimating some of your readers.


I think this post makes a far better point at the dificulty in stating truths which we wish were not true. Uncomfortable truths are not allowed by Social Science. Consider the Professor who claimed men to be brighter than women, or another who has suggested that Jews are brighter than gentiles. I find it annoying that my life experiences confirm both these claims and I note no male readers have denied the assertions about women as being untrue. I think your point shows how accurate/useful stereotypes are in making sense of the World. We guess Scots are stingy and the data proves we are right. Perhaps it is time to do a post on Stereotypes.

Matt Munro

It's confirmation bias - the bloke down the pub confirms your preconceptions about scroungers so you give him statistically improbable weight. However, given that few people think rationally - or spend their spare time on the ONS website - how else are they going to inform their opinions other than through subjective experience ?
"Social science" (an oxymoron if there ever was one) is wibble - it's approcah to understanding human behaviour is analogous to trying to understand how a car works by studying a traffic jam...
More importantly - Who's the bird in the pic ?

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