Social Sciences Flunk Science Test
A historian of science confirms: the so-called “social sciences”
deserve the criticism they’ve been getting for decades
Mark Solovey, a historian of science at the University of Toronto, has a new book out that debunks the scientific status of the so-called social sciences. It’s titled: Social Science for What?
Early in the Cold War era, “social sciences were criticized for not being really scientific – for being ideological and political in ways that may seem to have been disguised as science,” says Mark Solovey, a professor in the Institute for the History & Philosophy of Science & Technology at the University of Toronto.
The irony is that Solovey is a defender of the social sciences, like sociology, anthropology and psychology. He thinks there is room for them at the federal funding trough. But since they are so different from the “hard sciences” and have long been disputed as sciences, he understands why the government has looked at these fields with a squinting eye. In a press release from the University of Toronto (13 April 2022), he gives some historical background:
“When the NSF was established, its founders had to decide: Is there such a thing as a social science and, if so, how would we know if we see it?” Solovey says. “Certain areas of research have been institutionalized, such as sociology, economics, anthropology, political science. Psychology has areas that are more social, others that are more biological. There have always been boundary disputes.”
The press release asks if the social sciences have been hampered by “scientism” which the article defines as “the perception that natural science, governed by immutable laws and grounded in rigorous methods of inquiry, existed on a more elevated plane that the social sciences needed to emulate.”
Social sciences “are uniquely concerned with human society and social relationships, which are entangled with normative judgments and morality.”
Social scientists would defend their turfs by claiming they strive to produce “evidence based” research like the physicists and biologists. They strive for quantitative accuracy with statistics, surveys and graphs. They publish in peer-reviewed journals, don’t they? They have the -logy suffix, don’t they? “But,” the press release cautions, “they are uniquely concerned with human society and social relationships, which are entangled with normative judgments and morality.” Notice that astrology ends with –logy, too, as does astrobiology (which has no “bio” in it). Physics and astronomy are legitimate sciences without a -logy in their suffixes. It’s not the name but the practice that counts.
Should the Government Fund Social Science?
Social science has traditionally only received marginal amounts of federal funding from the National Science Foundation. Its 2% cut in the Eisenhower era swelled to 7% in the Kennedy and Johnson eras, but dropped again under Reagan, and has wavered in subsequent decades. Solovey thinks that social scientists could rescue some of their prestige (and funding) under a new umbrella, a proposed NSSF: National Social Science Foundation.
In their investigations of employment trends, poverty, political behaviour, human sexuality and so many other domains, Solovey notes that social scientists continue to rely on sources of public and private support. The contributions that they can make to society are all the more critical in times of global illness, war, and climate change.
Solovey would like to see the social sciences get more respect. But will the public respond favorably after he has already exposed these fields as “entangled with normative judgments and morality”?
Because social sciences tend to be entangled in morality, one can find “experts” in these fields coming to opposite conclusions. Consider this in economics, where you can find conservative supply-siders like Art Laffer and Thomas Sowell at polar opposites with the Keynesians and socialists. The same is true in “political science.” Atheists and theologians at opposite ends of the spectrum have views on “anthropology.” They will never agree, because their entire worldview assumptions are opposed.
“Experts” in these fields can be well educated and scholarly, just like historians can. Individuals in these fields can have many reasonable and evidence-based things to say. But their subject matter is very different from the study of atoms or cells. For instance, some of them have toyed with how to “nudge” people to accept government vaccine mandates or overcome skepticism of anthropogenic climate change. Such powers can be used by tyrants to enforce conformity and quash dissent.
Our experience with today’s social sciences is that they are bloated with quackery and leftism. As with any barrel of rotten apples, there are probably a few good ones left. But in our reporting, social scientists who make the mainstream media are lopsidedly leftist, woke, pro-LGBT, anti-conservative, anti-Christian and Darwinian. The last thing taxpayers should do is let them operate under the prestige of “science” and suck at the government teat. Here are a few examples we have reported:
- Retraction Note: “Evolution of Religion” Study Pulled (11 July 2021)
- Evolutionary Anthropologists Fail Big Time (22 July 2020)
- Big Science Driven by Political Correctness (3 Dec 2017)
- Scientific Brainwashing Is Back (8 April 2016)
- Secular Anthropology Fails Consistently (26 July 2015)
Like other humans they claim to study, social “scientists” have free speech. They can put their opinions out there in social media, blogs and news organizations. That would expose them to accountability and critique without the safety zone of “science” to artificially shield them.