26 June 2010

Rakehells and Methodists

Christopher Achen writes:
The notion that the social world wcould be an object of scientific study has a relatively brief history. ... [T]he scientific orientation to the social world remains controversial. Scoffers abound, both outside the ranks and within. Many humanists suspect social science of doing violence to the human spirit--thus Auden's "Thou shalt not ... commit a social science." In less gifted language, natural scientists often take the same position, though for essentially opposite reasons. Invoking mythical histories of Brahe, Kepler, and Newton, they proclaim that social scientists are not scientific enough. The unworthy publicans must not be allowed in the front rows of the scientific temple. So magisterial are these judgments that some of the sinners themselves regularly pronounce mea culpas.

Most social scientists, however, are unrepentant, and understandably so. First of all, being a young flouter of the conventional wisdom has its attractions. The rakehell acquires much of his self-respect from his effect on the local burghers and the elderly ladies at the Methodist church. By the same token, social scientists reason, no academic group that offends both English professors and physicists can be all bad.

Christopher Achen. 1982. Interpreting and Using Regression.

Creative Commons photo via Wallyg.

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