Never listen to an anthropologist or sociologist

Good afternoon from Boise!

Sorry I didn’t send an email last night, I was exhausted from the conference—which ended late yesterday.

One of the presentations I attended yesterday was on the sociology of academia. In particular, it looked to answer two questions:

“Do the humanities and social sciences form distinct blocs, separated by beliefs about human nature, culture, and science?”

and…

“Are the ‘science wars’ over? Have scientists and scholars converged on basic beliefs about the validity of science?”

To answer this question, Joseph Carroll and his colleagues sent out a survey to people from 22 different areas of science & the humanities. All of them had published in top journals.

The survey asked questions that related to seven different areas:

  • Human nature and cultural variation
  • Gender
  • Human behavior
  • Cultural theory
  • Human values, beliefs, and feelings
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Belief in science

He then realized that the responses to these questions fell into four belief clusters, which allowed him to categorize the respondents into two main groups:

  1. Those who emphasized genetic causes AND believed science could explain human nature, the human subjective experience, etc.
  2. Those who emphasized environmental causes AND were skeptical of science’s ability to explain human nature, the human subjective experience, etc.

Interesting.

Which disciplines do you think fell into category 1? What about 2?

In category one fell the evolutionary social sciences, psychology, economics, political sciences, and philosophy.

In category two fell literary studies, history, history & philosophy of science, anthropology, sociology, education, women’s and gender studies, and ethnic studies.

These huge belief differences explain the mudslinging that occurs between the fields in group 1 and those in group 2, they’re also really depressing. It’s unlikely that the fields in group 2 are going to improve and get closer to the truth over time—they don’t believe in the scientific method as a valid way of explaining human nature and subjective experience, after all. Without a rigorous framework for evaluating information, and its likelihood of validity, the fields in group 2 are going to be hostage to fashion and the strong opinions of bullies in the field.

I’m particularly struck by how those in education departments, which train our teachers & drive education policy, seem to be so anti-science. That is a partial explain of why our educational system is such as mess.

Jason Hreha