International Debate

Defensive Political Science Responds Defensively to an Attack

July 23, 2013 937

AbacusNicholas Christakis, a medical scientist perhaps best known for his controversial claim (see alsohere), based on joint work with James Fowler, that obesity is contagious, writes:

 

The social sciences have stagnated. They offer essentially the same set of academic departments and disciplines that they have for nearly 100 years: sociology, economics, anthropology, psychology and political science. This is not only boring but also counterproductive, constraining engagement with the scientific cutting edge and stifling the creation of new and useful knowledge. . . .

I’m not suggesting that social scientists stop teaching and investigating classic topics like monopoly power, racial profiling and health inequality. But everyone knows that monopoly power is bad for markets, that people are racially biased and that illness is unequally distributed by social class. There are diminishing returns from the continuing study of many such topics. And repeatedly observing these phenomena does not help us fix them.

 

I have just a couple comments here. I’m no economist so I can let others discuss the bit about “monopoly power is bad for markets.” I assume that the study by economists of monopoly power is a bit more sophisticated than that!

I have studied racial profiling, and I can assure you that this work is not about the claim “that people are racially biased.” I can also assure you that, whatever it is we have learned, it’s not true that “everyone knows” it.

As Duncan Watts has written so memorably, it’s easy to say that everything is obvious (once you know the answer).

Regarding the question of illness being distributed by social class: Is it really true that “everybody knows,” for example, that Finland has higher suicide rates than Sweden, or thatforeign-born Latinos have lower rates of psychiatric disorders. These findings are based on public data so everybody should know them, but in any case the goal of social science is not (just) to educate people on what should be known to them, but also to understand why. Why why why. And also to model the effects of potential interventions.

The study of the contagion of obesity is just fine. In fact, I was once part of an NIH panel where where we recommended funding some of this research. But to say that this is the real stuff, and then to dismiss studies of monopoly power, racial attitudes, and variation in disease rates—that’s just silly.

Resources are limited, and I think it’s good to have open discussion about scientific priorities. So I applaud Christakis for sticking out his neck to participate in this debate. Even though I don’t agree with his particular recommendations.

by ANDREW GELMAN

Read the original article, and others like it, at the political science blog The Monkey Cage

Related Articles

The Long Arm of Criminality
Opinion
April 29, 2024

The Long Arm of Criminality

Read Now
Why Don’t Algorithms Agree With Each Other?
Innovation
February 21, 2024

Why Don’t Algorithms Agree With Each Other?

Read Now
A Black History Addendum to the American Music Industry
Insights
February 6, 2024

A Black History Addendum to the American Music Industry

Read Now
When University Decolonization in Canada Mends Relationships with Indigenous Nations and Lands
Higher Education Reform
January 9, 2024

When University Decolonization in Canada Mends Relationships with Indigenous Nations and Lands

Read Now
Kohrra on Netflix – Policing and Everyday Life in Contemporary India

Kohrra on Netflix – Policing and Everyday Life in Contemporary India

Even Social Science Space bloggers occasionally have downtime when they log in to Netflix and crash out. One of my favourite themes […]

Read Now
The UK Pandemic Inquiry – Missing the Point?

The UK Pandemic Inquiry – Missing the Point?

The post-mortems on national governments’ management of the COVID-19 pandemic are getting under way. Some European countries have completed theirs, with rapid […]

Read Now
NSF Guidelines Amidst Foreign Threats To Research Security

NSF Guidelines Amidst Foreign Threats To Research Security

Reflecting concerns that foreign governments have illicitly obtained research developed by the United States, posing threats to research security and hindering international collaboration, the National Science Foundation released “NSF Guidelines for Research Security Analytics.”

Read Now
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments