Oppenheimer Doom Music
Bill Frisell: "Throughout"

On Social Science

There is a lot to say for the scientific method, but in the social sciences it is often little more than a magical trick: the ritualistic application of statistics to poor data measured by imaginary instruments.

Author unknown, found on a sheet of paper in my files, in quotation marks so apparently not my words. There's no mystery about why I copied it, though. I've believed for a long time that the "social sciences" are at best only half-scientific. The hardheaded scientific part is statistics--the statistical methods, I mean, not necessarily any particular instance of their use. As we all know, statistical results are no better than the data which is their raw material. And even valid statistics can easily be manipulated to make them say what someone wants them to say, a practice we can see in action any day.

The real value (where there is real value) is interpretation and evaluation of the facts, which means general intelligence, logic, common sense, insight, intuition, wisdom, imagination--in a word, the subjective. That's not a criticism of the project, but of its claim to being "science." Its worth is very dependent on the gifts of the practitioner. I'm an enthusiastic fan of Philip Rieff, who considered himself a sociologist,

These days there is, apart from those more or less intrinsic limitations, a great deal of social science that is obvious political and ideological advocacy which claims authority by the fact that it comes from someone with a Ph.D.  I don't think this is working very well anymore, with no lack of Ph.D.s proclaiming that the emperor's clothes are a miracle of craft and style. 


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The syntax and vocabulary don't seem quite right for Lewis, but he did make this same point in at least one of his essays.


Thank you for reminding me, because I had meant to mention something Lewis says in That Hideous Strength: if memory is correct, the older academic guy who resists the evil ones and is murdered by them says something like "One cannot study men; one can only get to know them." Using "men" in the old general sense of course.

I'm pretty sure the quote isn't from him, though. Doesn't sound like him to me. I wonder why I didn't make a note of the source. There was a bit more to it but that's the part I liked.

I wonder if the quote could be from Christopher Lasch. I threw the piece of paper away so I can't examine it for clues. But it sort of looked like I used it to transcribe the quote just because it was handy at the moment. I think the other stuff on there was older. It hasn't been that long since I read a couple of his books, but long enough for me to have forgotten that I copied this. :-/

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