Why social science is riddled with “flaky research and questionable theories”

Because “ Graduate students were entering the field in order to change the world rather than discover truths. ”

For last night’s party theme, the news desk chose EMS Crying Towel!: Liberals attacking social sciences.
If it weren’t for the misunderstandings social scientists have inflicted by widely publicized fake data, one would almost feel sorry for people so friendless.

But then the frog pitied the scorpion too, and …

Anyway, from the Inbox:

How a rebellious scientist uncovered the surprising truth about stereotypes

Left-wing bias, he said, was undermining his field. Graduate students were entering the field in order to change the world rather than discover truths. Because of this, he said, the field was riddled with flaky research and questionable theories.

Jussim’s talk began with one of the most egregious examples of bias in recent years. He drew the audience’s attention to the paper: “NASA faked the moon landing – therefore (climate) science is a hoax.” The study was led by Stephan Lewandowsky, and published in Psychological Science in 2013. The paper argued that those who believed that the moon landing was a hoax also believed that climate science was a fraud. The abstract stated:

We…show that endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that the CIA killed Martin-Luther King or that NASA faked the moon landing) predicts rejection of climate science as well as the rejection of other scientific findings above and beyond commitment to laissez-faire free markets. This provides confirmation of previous suggestions that conspiracist ideation contributes to the rejection of science.

After describing the study and reading the abstract, Jussim paused. Something big was coming.

“But out of 1145 participants, only ten agreed that the moon landing was a hoax!” he said. “Of the study’s participants, 97.8% who thought that climate science was a hoax, did not think that the moon landing also a hoax.”

See also: Seven Myths of classroom social psychology

Two main things to see here: The field is riddled with this sort of thing, and the practitioners do not need to reform; they can function successfully as PR for powerful causes.

Second, now that a number of sciences are reckoning with the reality of drift, it may be time to acknowledge once and for all that the study of current human social behaviour is not a science, any more than opera is.

That’s not to say it isn’t valuable or can’t teach us anything; it’s just not best approached as a science.

If it weren’t approached that way, so many of the scandals either wouldn’t be happening or wouldn’t be scandals. And whose business is it anyway then?

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Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

  • Justin St.Denis

    This article would have been great to read just before my encounter with a Ministry of Education senior staffer and former school principal at a party yesterday evening. I might have gone easier on her had I done so. As it was, she just stood there stunned as I reacted to her telling about a recent seminar she attended about – I kid you not – male privilege and the patriarchy. I blew an intellectual gasket and, in a calm voice, absolutely destroyed everything she had just said. I felt horrible when I realized she was near tears, but there was no turning back. “I am so sorry, but when people spout absolute nonsense in the presence of those more familiar with dealing in empirical evidence and actual facts, you are bound to garner a negative reaction.”

    Sometimes I wish I was younger and had a greater level of tolerance for unadulterated bullshit. Oh, well…

    • mauser 98

      … they really wanted to say “white male privilege”
      the teachers / educrat types i know live in a bubble… they will not consider an opposing view.
      total obedience to the government with out question

      endless pay raises , gold pensions keep them there

      • Justin St.Denis

        She sounded more “brainwashed” than “advocate” quite frankly. That’s why I felt like crap after taking her down.

    • Physics grad

      “I felt horrible when I realized she was near tears”

      You should have felt glorious and reveled in her tears of cognitive dissonance. That was not a time to relent but rather to push the point until she either collapsed in a bubbling mess on the floor or ran screaming from the room never to return to a public forum ever again.

    • Clausewitz

      The best way to disinfect liberal and progressive idiocy is through the cleansing light of day exposing their stupidity for what it is. You did well my son. At parties I usually keep quiet till I come across some pontificating and braying foole like the women you met, then it’s full steam ahead with actual facts. Never back down, never surrender.

      • Justin St.Denis

        I still feel shitty about it. She was stupid, and that is not a crime. But thanks, I know what you are saying. My social upbringing means I respond to a woman with quivering lips and misty eyes in a protective manner, especially when I caused the quiver and mist. I’m still a bit of a sucker when it somes to women, even if they are stupid.

  • Editor

    I would submit students coming out of journalism school also see their role as “changing the world” rather than simply reporting on it.

    • Waffle

      The pomposity of the “me” generation.

    • Clinton

      Yes. That’s precisely the mentality that gives us institutions like
      the New York Times defending Dan Rather and his “fake
      but accurate” story on President Bush. When everything is
      political, as it is for the left, truth is only true if it advances the
      agenda, and falsehood is false only if it’s inconvenient.

    • Clausewitz

      There no longer is reporting, there is only opinion.

  • Hard Little Machine

    It’s all ‘settled science’ until they start talking about vaccines then all of a sudden the entire topic is up for debate ‘because of nefarious inscrutable conspiracies and forces who seek to distort the truth.’

  • Hard Little Machine

    BTW there’s no such thing AS social SCIENCE.

    • Clausewitz

      As a History grad, I fully concur.

  • I like Denyse’s posts, but I find the fonts used in her quotes too small — hence I tend to skip over them. Eye strain — maybe it’s just me.

  • Ed

    Activists disguised as academics began to appropriate the scientific method when they observed how much respect science enjoyed in the public imagination, especially following the dramatic success of the Manhattan project. But, as this article beautifully shows, the appropriation was mostly stylistic and intended only to confer authoritativeness to what is pretty nakedly political activism. When liberals today brag “I believe in science” (like AGM) they’re talking about this type of corrupted science, where “research” is just a tool to support pre established conclusions.

    • Editor

      Sokal and Bricmont’s “Fashionable Nonsense” is an interesting exposé of post-modernist academics appropriating scientific vocabulary in order to give a veneer of scientific legitimacy to their deliberately unintelligible ramblings.

      • Ed

        Also excellent, is Stanislav Andreski’s “Social Sciences as Sorcery.”

        It has the additional advantage of being extremely funny. Some of the examples of flim flammery he exposes are incredible.

    • Clausewitz

      Problem is that they never use the scientific method, they just claim they do. Mostly they just make their bullshit up as they go along.

  • Xavier

    Science today is a politically correct hypothesis seeking evidence.

    • Physics grad

      That is cargo cult science.

  • BillyHW

    Fake “sciences” were created to give women something to do while men invented real things.