Cory Leonard

The Social Sciences’ ‘Physics Envy’ – NYTimes.com

In career on May 4, 2012 at 11:28 pm

Insecurity abounds, even for the super-smart:

But we believe that this way of thinking is badly mistaken and detrimental to social research. For the sake of everyone who stands to gain from a better knowledge of politics, economics and society, the social sciences need to overcome their inferiority complex, reject hypothetico-deductivism and embrace the fact that they are mature disciplines with no need to emulate other sciences.

The ideal of hypothetico-deductivism is flawed for many reasons. For one thing, it’s not even a good description of how the “hard” sciences work. It’s a high school textbook version of science, with everything messy and chaotic about scientific inquiry safely ignored.

A more important criticism is that theoretical models can be of great value even if they are never supported by empirical testing. In the 1950s, for instance, the economist Anthony Downs offered an elegant explanation for why rival political parties might adopt identical platforms during an election campaign. His model relied on the same strategic logic that explains why two competing gas stations or fast-food restaurants locate across the street from each other — if you don’t move to a central location but your opponent does, your opponent will nab those voters (customers). The best move is for competitors to mimic each other.

via The Social Sciences’ ‘Physics Envy’ – NYTimes.com.

via The Social Sciences’ ‘Physics Envy’ – NYTimes.com.

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