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In Defense of the Social Sciences
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August 10, 2010, 04:13 PM
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Allow me to refer once again to Jim Manzi`s article in City Journal:
What Social Science Does—and Doesn’t—Know

Our scientific ignorance of the human condition remains profound

Manzi complains that the social sciences never come up with anything useful and "nonintuitive" compared to physics and other hard sciences. That`s because, according to Manzi, social scientists don`t use the right methodology: experimentation. (By the way, Manzi`s company, Applied Predictive Technologies, will sell you the right methodology. Just dial 1-877-400-2559.) And, indeed, physicists get a lot of respect, especially since they built the atomic bomb. (Nothing makes people respect you more than the ability to vaporize them en masse.) In reality, though, the social sciences have uncovered a huge amount of useful knowledge about humanity. The vast field of cognitive testing, for example, which has, for better or worse, greatly altered American life over the last century, is a triumph of the social sciences. Or consider hydrogen bomb-designer Stanislaw Ulam`s challenge to economist Paul Samuelson: Tell me something you econ fellows have come up with that is both true and non-trivial. Samuelson puzzled over that one for years, then finally came up with Ricardo`s theory of comparative advantage. But Spearman`s g-Factor theory of 1904 is worth comparing to comparative advantage in nontriviality. What social scientists can`t do is the same thing as physicists can`t do: the impossible.

Just as social scientists have failed to figure out how to eliminate many social and racial disparities, physicists have failed to make possible many desirable technologies lovingly imagined in the science fiction novels of my youth.

Where`s my teleporter? Where`s my faster-than-light starship? Where`s my anti-gravity device? Where`s my time machine? C`mon, physicists, there must be something wrong with your methodologies!