. . . social science is the worst.
You know what? I’m tired of being four steps behind what’s going on in the worlds of social and brain science, really, really tired of still finding myself beating that nature versus nurture horse, an argument that’s really more of an elephant burial. That horse is dead and gone, trampled to dust and there is nothing to mark the spot where it was except memory.
I’m sure it was less than half a year ago that while reading The Blank Slate that I was forced to confess that my conception of the mind was suffering exactly the errors Pinker described, that I really wasn’t giving chemistry, biology, etc., their due, and I still unconsciously and tacitly thought of the mind as somehow magical. I could reject the soul, but it had only morphed into the magic, pure energy of the mind or something. I hadn’t thought it all the way through, clearly. I’m cured now, or at least I’ve taken the cure. On the one hand, I feel its immediate effect, and it certainly will work – but on the other, I’ve just seen how patient this disease is, so, vigilance, I guess.
All the ramifications of the work summarized in The Blank Slate are boiling over these days, and yes, it’s true: Left wing ideology has had far too firm a hand in social science generally. However, contrary to what all the talk out there about irreplicable studies and the beating social science is taking, this isn’t news, that ideology is what drives the studies of human things, crime, child-rearing, politics, etc.
Most of those things have been the province of religious teaching and law, forever, right? That’s ideological. So let’s put this thing in perspective. Religious teaching and law is pretty static. The religious – fair to associate today’s political Right with religion, I think? – weren’t interested in social science, and if the great preponderance of social scientists were from the Left, then it’s probably true enough to say that the Right just wasn’t f@#$%^g interested. So social science just marched off towards the future and turned Left at nearly every fork in the road.
Right? I mean, correct?
So now, that’s the debate, between a science that has been left to its own devices, the checks and balances of the opposing viewpoint absent during the centuries of its development (maybe this is one major cause for the apparently widening divide between the secular and the religious generally) – and the same old static, incurious attitudes of the world’s churches (not to mention the world’s parents), now armed with the tools of medical and brain science and knee-jerk Twitter clickbait headlines. Of course the researchers in the articles rarely share the world-shattering enthusiasm of the headlines . . .
That is today’s academic scandal: headlines that say what their articles do not support, sometimes even saying the opposite. I wonder, how many times when we see “an internet search produced 10,000 articles that support X” was it only the flashy headline that did and not the text?
The point is that, just as Leftist ideologies emerged as a potential solution for the existing power structures of the church and aristocracy (remember, democracy was leftist and revolutionary against the conservative systems it replaced too), so too has the more particular Leftism of social science come into being as a counterpoint to the existing way people understood our human interactions. The existing system that the new Leftist social science would replace was religious, authoritarian and often brutal. The idea perhaps, that it was a new field of knowledge and that it somehow wasn’t ideology that drove it before, or that it doesn’t matter that it was, is bogus. The battle in this sense isn’t Left VS Truth as some might narrate it, it’s Left VS Right as always. Of course, as always, there’s not much room for truth in either camp.
From what I understand, ‘authoritarian’ is exactly the complaint levelled at the Leftist professors directing their researchers, so we should probably view that as an old problem, authority, not as an inherent failing of the Left alone. (That’s my focus, authority and force or not, there’s a meaningful way to view people and the world if you like social science.)
So yes, the political Right should keep a foot in the door of social science, get involved in the debate, provide necessary criticism and keep it from straying into dogma, it’s just that the political Right may not have the will to do any science themselves and if they’re going to correct these wandering Lefties, they’ll need to get up to speed in the subject matter, they’ll need an opposing theory, and maybe one that’s better than ‘that’s just the way it is,’ that is to say, more detailed. It’s point by point that we (social scientists and Lefties, separately and together) have slid into an ideological compromising position, but it’s still going to have to be a point by point refutation. No scientific community is going back to the Church and rolling over to the doctrine of ‘that’s just the way it is’ anytime soon. Scientists aren’t declaring that the world is changed with the discovery of every new allele, that’s a writer’s function, and it’s there – here – where ideology has always ruled. Not a lot of academics are looking for a way to eviscerate liberal sciences, even geneticists . . . it’s cultural, this little war.
The scientists are producing some gems on the nature side of the old argument, and some folks are employing them as projectiles against social science generally, which is already hurting from no fault of anyone else’s, but there’s a too-easy mistake to make here. It looks for the world like good, secular science VS old, ideologically-tainted science, but that is a rare, PR friendly battle in a nasty old war. The general flow of this war is the world’s old guard, old money, authority structures, still the Churches, all against modernism, liberalism and against the science that supports it.
The geneticists, the scientists, they’re doing the tests, and they don’t seem to be doing it for any particular ideology today so far as we know, although it may be possible to say that the entire political spectrum has been sliding to the Right and so maybe that effect hasn’t exempted all scientists. If the gene crowd is Leftist, perhaps they are perceptually more so than in past days, but in reality probably a bit less. I mean logically, a committed Lefty’s motivations towards genetics while it’s making such gains would be comparable to the conservatives of the past’s enthusiasm for psychology anyway, but the point is, the geneticists are probably not pooling their money to fund campaigns against the psychology department, are they? Hmm. Come to think of it, maybe they are competing for the same funds . . . please don’t tell me that’s all there is to this!
The science that conflicts with the old social science, that’s how science works, point, counterpoint. The PR that’s out there about it, though?
That’s not really coming from science, at all, is it?
That’s an anti-science interest using one branch of science against the other and ultimately against secular science generally, maybe. It’s either that or it’s just the Biology department being sore winners and taking it upon themselves to finish the Psych department off once and for all.
Dec. 4th., 2015