Friday, August 28, 2015

Maybe the Social Sciences Aren't Really Science

For the last seven or eight years our watchword has been something akin to this idea from 2013's "The Next Time Someone Tells You Economics is a Science Remind Them of Mendeleev":
...Two other points to consider:1) The mere fact that economists use the tools of science (Maths) to do their work no more makes economics a science than bid and ask spreads make carbon trading "market based"....
From the New York Times:
Many Psychology Findings Not as Strong as Claimed, Study Says
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 studysupporting 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. 
Now, a painstaking yearslong effort to reproduce 100 studies published in three leading psychology journals has found that more than half of the findings did not hold up when retested. The analysis was done by research psychologists, many of whom volunteered their time to double-check what they considered important work. Their conclusions, reported Thursday in the journal Science, have confirmed the worst fears of scientists who have long worried that the field needed a strong correction. 
The vetted studies were considered part of the core knowledge by which scientists understand the dynamics of personality, relationships, learning and memory. Therapists and educators rely on such findings to help guide decisions, and the fact that so many of the studies were called into question could sow doubt in the scientific underpinnings of their work. 
“I think we knew or suspected that the literature had problems, but to see it so clearly, on such a large scale — it’s unprecedented,” said Jelte Wicherts, an associate professor in the department of methodology and statistics at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. 
More than 60 of the studies did not hold up. Among them was one on free will. It found that participants who read a passage arguing that their behavior is predetermined were more likely than those who had not read the passage to cheat on a subsequent test....MORE
As noted in UPDATED--Tyler Cowen on Izabella Kaminska's "Counterintuitive Model of the Modern World":
...Combined with being at the market for pretty much my entire adult life, focusing on energy and ag, and thinking that Alan Sokal's "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" was hilarious, I end up with plenty of solitude at parties....
I tease my Sociology/Anthro/Psych friends with the Sokal paper.

Alan Sokal is a professor of mathematics at University College London and professor of physics at New York University. Back in 1996 he submitted "Trangressing the Boundaries..." to the journal  Social Text and got it accepted by said learned Journal. His paper argued that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct and was, of course, complete gibberish. The paper is among the most cited in the field with some 900 cites at last count. It's also created a cottage industry of critiques and commentary.

Good yuks at the expense of the humanities folks, right?


In August the peer-reviewed (which Social Text was not) Journal, Advances in Pure Mathematics, accepted for publication “Independent, Negative, Canonically Turing Arrows of Equations and Problems in Applied Formal PDE”.

The paper was computer generated and was, of course, gibberish.**
If the journal of an academic discipline can't figure this stuff out, how the heck am I supposed to?