The Cat Is Out Of The Bag About Social Science

Of 100 studies published in top-ranking journals in 2008, 75% of social psychology experiments and half of cognitive studies failed the replication test

Source: Study delivers bleak verdict on validity of psychology experiment results | Science | The Guardian

Conservatives are accustomed to being pilloried in the social science literature for any number of undesirable traits. According to social “scientists,” we’re rigid, authoritarian, narrow-minded, unimaginative, hide-bound, xenophobic, racist, sexist, homophobic, and just plain downright dull, and those are our good features.

Real scientists know that the social sciences in general are somewhere between weak and very weak.

“The key caution that an average reader should take away is any one study is not going to be the last word,” he added. “Science is a process of uncertainty reduction, and no one study is almost ever a definitive result on its own.”

In my view, this comment goes a long way to undermine the social sciences standing as sciences, because in, e.g., physics and chemistry, a study is presumed to be the last word – i.e., sound – until and unless a later study come out that casts doubt on the original one. That doesn’t happen often, but occasionally subsequent researchers in synthetic chemistry, for example, will mention that “in their hands” a published reaction failed to work. (Some reactions are “techniquey,” so the inability to get a reaction to work as described could be either because it just doesn’t work, or the chemist doesn’t have the requisite skill. In light of this, needless to say, researchers do not lightly include an “in our hands” statement; they’re pretty sure the damned thing doesn’t work before they warn others.)

But that’s the exception, rather than the rule. Apparently we are to understand social science studies as something that might be correct, might be rubbish, who knows until we have a show of hands? This is not science; this is glorified polling, but apparently social scientists are OK with it:

As Alan Kraut at the Association for Psychological Science puts it: “The only finding that will replicate 100% of the time is likely to be trite, boring and probably already known: yes, dead people can never be taught to read.”

A couple points here. First, “Association for Psychological Science” sounds a bit … defensive. There’s no “Association for Physical Science” or “Association for Chemical Science,” is there? But more importantly, you’re damned right we should expect results to replicate nearly 100% of the time. Willingness to accept flaky results is not science; it’s better to have a smaller corpus of hard results, than an abundance of soft, useless ones.

Nevertheless, despite the manifest problems with social science, leftists routinely cite social science studies as “scientific,” and use such studies as vehicles for advancing the leftist agenda. (For example, in the Prop. 8 trainwreck, the presiding jurist, in defending his decision, mentioned the failure of the California AG – who in a Kafkaesque twist, was charged with defending Prop. 8 – to cite any “scientific” studies to support the state’s nominal position. Those attacking Prop. 8 had, of course, a plethora of such “scientific” studies supporting their position.)

In this connection, note the lede from the New York Times:

The past several years have been bruising ones for the credibility of the social sciences. A star social psychologist was caught fabricating data, leading to more than 50 retracted papers. A top journal published a study supporting the existence of ESP that was widely criticized. The journal Science pulled a political science paper on the effect of gay canvassers on voters’ behavior because of concerns about faked data.

This invites the suspicion that the social sciences have either been suborned into advancing the leftist cause, and/or that the social scientists have been willing accomplices. Whether the social sciences will in time ever become real sciences is anyone’s guess, but at this juncture they’re far from it, and apparently moving further from it.

4 comments to “The Cat Is Out Of The Bag About Social Science”
  1. Man, I could write a dissertation on flaws of Social science.
    But it’d bore me to death. At least a pusback against PETA gets my blood moving.

    We didn’t even touch upon the notion of WEIRD science.
    That many social science experiments pull their participants from colleges which makes them overwhelmingly: White, Educated, and I forget the other 3 initials, but it boils down to “middle-class” and a few other things.

    Subject selection alone should kill the social sciences, and yet they persist.

  2. The thing is that laymen don’t appreciate how bad social science is. Social science has arrogated to itself the credibility earned from real sciences, but it does not deserve that credibility.

  3. Science is testable theories or predictions about the universe and how it works.

    Dignifying these bullshit studies with the label “Science” denigrates the real scientists.

  4. Hmpf…how come nobody asked me first? I was married to a psychologist; I could have told you right away that it was all BS – would have saved them the time and trouble of making yet another study…

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