Friday, June 04, 2010

Science isn't Objective


It tries to be, that's the ideal, but scientists are humans like anyone else. Those who claim their side is scientific, are basically saying the other side is prejudiced and ignorant. It could be true, but both parties in the US have significant anti-(ideal) science wings.

Anyway, think about psychology, which in the first half-century was dominated by Fruedian analysis, an embarrassment (penis envy, Oedipus complex). Think about the fact that most economists thought socialism was more productive than capitalism until the the latter half of the twentieth century, or that large-scale macro models could predict business cycles. Lots of smart, well-intentioned people spent their lives studying and lecturing false ideas, all under the guise of 'science'.

Comedian Harald Eia (see picture), in Norway produced a set of TV segments exposing the politically correct banality of Norwegian sociologists. The videos are here. From
Bjørn Vassnes, Science Journalist, Norway:

In Norway, the social sciences have been more dominated by ideology and fear of biology than in perhaps any other country. This has a long history starting in the 60s. Social science became very much bound up with the ideology of the Social Democrats, who put pride in the fact that Norway was the most egalitarian country in the world....

And in Norway this became a big problem because there are few scientists, and most research is sponsored by one source, the Norwegian Research Council, which has strong links with the government...

But the main problem, which Eia has exposed so brilliantly, is that much of Norwegian social science, and gender science in particular, is built on very shaky ground. Most studies have been done without even considering factors like heredity: The reason why some people turned criminals, or did badly in school, was always explained by social and cultural factors. To even mention heredity as a possible factor, was met with condescending laughter or irritation...


I wish it were in English, my Norwegian is not so good.

16 comments:

Michael F. Martin said...

There is probably a basic human need for stability that fields in which ideas are communicated through less precise language fulfill through conformity, but which fields in which ideas are communicated with more precision fulfill through... more precision.

Freud was actually very smart. Of course psychoanalysis is garbage. But if you read his books, like Civilization and its Discontents, there are plenty of interesting and valid observations. He's a bit like Fama in that his imitators are far more pernicious than he himself. And that's without getting into the state of their respective fields before they came on the scene. On that score, perhaps, Freud comes off looking better than Fama.

Robert Johnson said...

I use the development of practical technology as a mental shortcut for evaluating whether any knowledge and understanding is being produced by the people in a particular field. If real knowledge is being generated, then usually practical technology will soon be built out of that knowledge. For example, lasers and atomic bombs demonstrate that physicists generated new knowledge and understanding during the 20th century. It's hard to point to similarly successful technologies that have come out of the social sciences (and by 'successful' I just mean that the technologies do what they were designed to do - like read a CD, or kill thousands of people).

It's a mental shortcut, because some knowledge just doesn't have practical application, or we lack the resources to make use of it. But I don't think that's the explanation for why (for example) economists still argue about whether governments should try to spend their way out of recessions. I think the knowledge has not yet been produced that can safely put that question to bed.

Robert Johnson said...

Maybe science needs clearer criteria for distinguishing between questions that have been well and thoroughly answered, and those to which the answer remains "we're not sure". That might save a lot of hot air that could be put to better uses.

Anonymous said...

Where's your scientific rigor?

Your headline says "science" your blog says only social science. Yes, even science involves scientists that are human & vulnerable to bias, but your method of citing one theory & using unconnected evidence to "prove" it evidence for social sciences let alone the "real" sciences.

Raise your own standards before criticising others.

DaveinHackensack said...

I remember reading a few years ago that Norway hired a philosopher to help determine "good" ways to invest its huge sovereign wealth fund. Maybe they can hire one to help figure out the best forms of research to subsidize as well. It sounds like some of their social science research has been a giant waste (unless it was just intended as a sort of jobs program).

DaveinHackensack said...

"Your headline says "science" your blog says only social science."

Anon, there has been evidence that parts of the hard science establishment aren't objective either. A recent example is the scandal with the global warming researchers in the UK.

gizmoduck said...

This flaw is much attenuated in other fields of science.

A big difference in scientific fields is whether claims are empirically testable. A bridge either stands, or it doesn't. End of story. Even complicated ideas in physics turn out to be testable, does light bend around the sun due to the warping of space as predicted by General Relativity? Yes. Does Earth leave a wake in the ether? No.

On the other hand, much of science is not testable. String Theory has yet to make a falsifiable prediction. With global warming, we probably won't know until all present theorists are dead.

With social science, there are just inherently too many confounding variables. True believers can always claim an experiment doesn't actually show anything. eg. Communism had to be run through decades of real life "experiments" and hundreds of millions of deaths before it was thoroughly discredited among academics that should have known better.

Anonymous said...

Yet another article in which Eric shows he is a closet eugenicist.
The reason the social scientists scoff is simple: they know that the difference in the means between groups is dwarfed by the variance inside groups.
Look at the late 19th and early 20th century: the poor and unskilled came southern europe and eastern europe. Specifically, Italians used to be perceived the same way Mexicans are today. They gravitated to the construction trade. There were theories to explain why the warm climate made southern europeans slow, while northern europeans (and protestants) were smart. And today Italians are 2/9ths of the Supreme Court, above average in education, and above average in income. And Catholics are 2/3rds of the Supreme Court.
So Eric, take your concept of how genetics explain today's economic and social stratas and explain it to some Dagos and Guineas I know in NYC.

Anonymous said...

More examples: Irish were imported to build the Erie Canal.

Irish Pride said...

"they know that the difference in the means between groups is dwarfed by the variance inside groups."

This is a pointless observation. It's like saying the variation in heights among women dwarfs the mean difference in heights between men and women. That's true, but it doesn't make mean difference in height between men and women insignificant. It doesn't obviate the need for a separate league (the WNBA) for women who want to compete in professional basketball.

Also, in case you haven't noticed, non-European or non-Asian group has replicated the success of Irish, Italian, and other immigrants in the U.S., despite decades of discrimination in favor of non-Asian minorities. The great grandson of an Irish dockworker might be a doctor or engineer today; there are 50% odds that the great grandson of a Mexican immigrant is a high school dropout. How long can you ignore your lying eyes? The evidence against egalitarian fantasies is everywhere.

Martin said...

Dave, ok, some hard sciences have issues as well. But, darn it, nobody messes with Archimedes, Pythagoras, Leibniz, Gauss, Laplace, Fourier etc.

http://xkcd.com/435/

Anonymous said...

The evidence against egalitarian fantasies is everywhere.

Why are you surprised that the Asians have been able to match the Irish? Everyone knows that Irish people are alcoholics who look like monkeys and dominate low-paying jobs. They're White Negroes for Chrissakes!

Anonymous said...

What is wrong with eugenics? Its proper application could solve many, or even most, of our social ills. Offering cash bonuses to induce certain criminally prone/welfare prone populations to get permanent birth control would be a good start, and would be consistent with the principles of a free society.

DaveinHackensack said...

Martin,

Leibniz was one of the last universal geniuses, but even wasn't entirely objective. His philosophy was guided by his religious faith (unlike that of his contemporary, Spinoza, who started with a blank sheet of paper, as it were). In a similar way, some global warming scientists seem to be guided by their own (secular) faith.

Martin said...

I was talking about maths, not philosophy, and in Leibniz case integral calculus.

DaveinHackensack said...

I know what you were talking about, Martin. I was talking about something else. Just like you started talking about something else when you shifted the convo from a current science scandal to Leibniz & co.