Features, Social Science

Why Social Scientists Should Not Participate in the March for Science

Many social scientists are excited about and poised to participate in the upcoming March for Science, which is being described by the organizers as a “celebration of our passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community.” I realize that this will be a controversial position, but I believe the best way social scientists can contribute to the March for Science is to quietly sit this one out. I am very much pro-science and share some of the concerns people have about cultural and political threats to science. That being said, in my opinion, the social sciences are currently too compromised to help the cause. Even those who have the best intentions risk doing more harm than good.

Why? For one, there is very little political and ideological diversity in the social sciences. It is true that many academic fields lean left, but this especially the case within the social sciences. Check out Heterodox Academy for details. In many social science departments it is easier to find a Marxist than a Republican. In fact, it is quite common for social sciences departments to have no Republicans at all.

Many have criticized social science research for being ideologically biased and, frankly, many of these criticisms are fair. For one, social scientists have spent decades using sloppy empirical methods, or no methods at all, to make the case that conservatives uniquely possess a number of undesirable personal characteristics (e.g., prejudice and intolerance). However, as I discussed in an article for Scientific American, recent studies reveal methodological flaws of past research and show that liberals are no more tolerant or nondiscriminatory than conservatives.

Moreover, a number of the psychological concepts social scientists and activists have used to support social justice-oriented interventions and policies have not stood up well to empirical scrutiny. Take, for instance, the concept of stereotype threat. Psychologists proposed that female math performance is undermined by the existence and situational awareness of the stereotype that women are bad at math. However, the stereotype threat explanation of women’s math performance has failed multiple replication attempts. Meta-analyses have offered no support for the idea. And the original supporting research has been widely criticized as having many methodological and statistical problems. Still, many social scientists, activists, and college administrators continue to teach and champion the idea.

Unfortunately, the stereotype threat example is not an anomaly. The concept of unconscious or implicit biases as measured by the implicit association test (IAT) has also received considerable criticism. Many social scientists, activists, college administrators, and science journalists, have made empirically unsupported or exaggerated claims about the predictive power of the test while neglecting to mention or consider its many problems and limitations. More generally, the term unconscious bias is carelessly and unscientifically employed by many, including social scientists who should know better, to explain outcomes they find personally undesirable.

The microagression concept is another example. Again, many academics, activists, and college administrators are enamored with it, without scientific justification. Psychology professor Scott O. Lilienfeld summed it up perfectly with the title of his very thorough articleMicroaggressions: Strong Claims, Inadequate Evidence.

The truth is, some social scientists, though certainly not all of them, and many social activists and journalists have weaponized the social sciences for ideological warfare. This has created quite a mess. One way social scientists can stand up for science is to clean up this mess and dedicate ourselves to fighting ideological bias within our fields. We have a lot to offer and much of our research is very good and has little or nothing to do with social and political alliances. However, we cannot afford to ignore the very real threat that ideological bias poses to the empirical social sciences.

In addition, social science has its own internal “war on science” problem that few seem willing to confront. This problem results, in part, from the reckless use of the social science label. Not all of the social sciences use or support the scientific method. Even within a given field there is often a division between actual scientists and scholars who do not take a scientific approach to their research. Take, for instance, the field of sociology. There are certainly many empirical sociologists doing high quality empirical research. However, a sizable part of the discipline is part of the postmodern or social constructionist movement that rejects the use of quantitative methods.

I have been arguing with postmodern sociologists since I was a graduate student over 15 years ago. (See my interview for more details on this issue). The basic point is that postmodernists reject the scientific method. And their research methods are fundamentally ideologically biased. Moreover, postmodernists advocate blank slate theories of human cognition, emotion, and motivation that are at odds with decades of very sound empirical research from biology, cognitive neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, and personality psychology.

Postmodernists also directly attack the scientific enterprise. Consider, for example, the “research as rape model” presented in sociological textbooks such as An Introduction to Sociology: Feminist Perspectives. The model proposes that conducting scientific research using human research participants is a form of research rape. Wait for it. The scientist is violating the research participant, taking something (data), and giving nothing in return. This is, of course, argued to be the result of an oppressive, patriarchal, and colonialist approach to science.

Professors in postmodern fields such as gender studies are actively teaching ideas that are more conspiracy theory than scholarly research. If you want to laugh or perhaps cry from seeing what postmodernists are up to in the social sciences, follow the New Real Peer Review @RealPeerReview on Twitter. Many academics focus on attacks on science from politicians and the general public without realizing they are being flanked by postmodernists from within the academy.

In addition, postmodern social scientists and their inspired disciples are using these ideas to serve social justice goals. This is a serious problem for a number of reasons. Most notably, many of the postmodern theoretical positions are at odds with decades of research on how to reduce prejudice and improve intergroup relations, and could thus cause harm to members of the marginalized groups they are supposedly seeking to help.

How can we social scientists make a stand for science when there are clear examples of ideological bias in our fields and some members of our fields are wrongly using social science to support political agendas? How can we make a stand for science when we have many anti-science postmodernist colleagues among our ranks? If we won’t even defend science within the social sciences, how can we defend it to the public or our elected officials?

I know people want to be part of the movement and make a public stand for science. I also know that many social scientists can fairly argue that their research is scientific, has important implications for the public, and is not ideologically contaminated. I feel this way about my own work. That being said, we need to think rationally and tactically about what is best for science. Perhaps we would be better off sitting this one out and doing the slow but important work of reducing ideological bias in our research, fighting the tendency to weaponize social science for ideological and political purposes, and challenging the non-scientific and sometimes anti-science scholarship that is being sheltered within the academy. This work might not be as fun as the collective catharsis of a public march, but it could have a much longer lasting and rehabilitative effect on the social sciences and how they are viewed by politicians and the public.

More generally, it is not clear to me that the March for Science is a good idea in the first place. There are important questions worth considering. Is a march the best way to communicate the concerns of scientists and persuade people these concerns are legitimate? Will the organizers be able to control the message and keep participants from injecting politics into the march unnecessarily and in a way that ends up damaging the cause? Will anyone besides those marching even care? I worry about these issues as well. At a minimum, we social scientists could help by recusing ourselves.

 

Clay Routledge is a Professor of Psychology at North Dakota State University. Visit his website here and follow him on Twitter @clayroutledge.

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78 Comments

  1. The social and political sciences are trapped in a pre-Copernican, i.e. pre-Darwinian, dark age, because of a previous generation of academics’ overreaction to the Nazis having hijacked and abused, for their own evil purposes, the half-baked ideas of social Darwinism, making everything the Nazis touched a taboo that now not even academics themselves are allowed to discuss.

    The Nazis had a criminally insane racial ideology that saw profound racial differences where they did not exist between different groups of Europeans (including European Jews, of course) and made a nasty, and equally insane, issue of “racial purity”. In overreaction to this academics decided to deny the importance – even the very existence – of race altogether, even between peoples from different continents where racial differences are manifest. How important these differences are we can’t really say, because no one is allowed to discuss them.

    I don’t believe that race is important for the reasons that racial supremacists do, but because of its role in determining any deep and meaningful sense of both personal and group identity, which the state doesn’t seem to want its citizens to have.

  2. I understand the intent behind your article and many of your points are valid; however, I disagree. Social scientists are behind their ‘typical’ science minded colleagues because social science is a growing body of research. It’s difficult to offer empirical evidence simply because human nature is complex. Regardless, it does not mean social scientists have a free for all. Yes, many must rely on theory instead of data, but the march is the perfect opportunity for social scientists to demonstrate their dedication to unbiased and substantive research.

    • The problem with your answer is that they don’t seem to understand the tools they use, especially their statistical tools which are ill-suited for what they wish to accomplish. Simply put, the selection criteria they use to filter the data for their multi-variable regression models.

      It works with hard, physical things that can be measured without selection and interpretation bias. But not for human behavior for which they have to make various selection and weighting criteria that are based on their subjective biases.

      In short, bias-in, bias-out.

      • And do climate change scientist really understand how to accurately model climate science? No! and since the Author is not advocating Climate science to be excluded then neither should social scientists.

        • Bill says

          They’re not “climate change scientist” but climatologists, or climate scientists. Further, contrary to your proclamation, their models *are* accurately modeling climate (not “climate science”), and becoming progressively more accurate. As a psychologist, I can only wish that my own field was progressing as well.

          • Daniel Mannix says

            They have been so inaccurate in the past, that they can only become more accurate–they could hardly become less accurate and still call themselves “scientists.

    • jeff says

      If they want to demonstrate their “dedication to unbiased and substantive research” they should probably start by demonstrating it in their published work.

    • Edward Binns says

      What dedication to unbiased research? Undergraduates get into the social sciences for sentimental reasons. They have nothing in common with, say, physics or chemistry majors. Most social science wannabes are afraid of mathematics and can’t be taught to read a meniscus. Politically, one side has a “lock” on recruiting sophomores. This has been true for decades. It has a vast majority that feels free to purge outsiders. The dedication is to a utopia, not to unbiased research that is verifiable by indifferent outsiders.

  3. Lucrece says

    I think your piece is rather naive in assuming only the social sciences are guilty of this and should be particularly exempt from the march.

    Biology, engineering (particularly software/computer science engineering), and chemistry are quickly falling to postmodernism. The picture you gave above running their mouth on white supremacy is, after all, published by an engineer.

    The sciences have long been invaded by activists.

    • I think there’s a distinction, though, between the politics of an engineer and the science of engineering. I find it hard to imagine “feminist aerodynamics” or “decolonializing quantum mechanics”. Maybe you have something specific in mind that you could share?

      • Lucrece says

        Yet, for every fringe fraud you pick out of some social science, there are scientists like Lee Jussim and Charles Murray. Economics is a social science that has even won a Nobel Prize.

        Just because homeopaths and ostepaths exist, doesn’t mean medicine is not a science.

        What the social sciences need is a purge, not being marginalized to the point where nobody but the crazies join them.

        Do you really want to kick out economics and cognitive psychology out of the sciences so they end up in the clutches of humanities departments for further corruption?

        • Edward Binns says

          Yes. Yes I do want to kick the fake sciences of economics and cognitive psychology down to the humanities. Economists don’t even understand depreciation and why it is an expense. Ask any certified public accountant about economics. What has cognitive psychology achieved? Prison reform? No. These areas are witchcraft supported by cults that love Jaques Derrida. To hell with it. At least stop them from stealing federal grant money.

      • James says

        Have you not heard about sexed equations? E=mc2 is sexist and privileges the speed of light over femisnt fluid dynamics or somethinghttps://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luce_Irigaray

    • Yep. Evolution and global warming (now renamed “climate change”) are two good examples. Science has always been like this. Always. Look at the history of science and you will see it has always been corrupt with politics. The scientific method only works in theory if you have honest folks using it, which we don’t.

      • rose says

        Kuhnian nonsense and Kuhn wrote his Structure of Scientific Revolutions long before the Standard Model of Particle Physics was agreed in the early 1970s – a model whose every component has now been empirically proven and upon whose theories and premises hundreds of key modern technologies critically depend. Of course science is influenced by politics but it is always kept on course in the long run by its methods – the need for replicated experiment and the constant process of peer review and refinement by theories that better fit current findings and are replicated in experiment. Science builds from a corpus of knowledge of tested facts about the real world – and scientists must have this training in knowledge and methods – which include rigorous mathematical measurement and survey before they can practise science

    • Richard Burkel says

      I can’t seem to find a single sentence where he said that social scientists are the ‘only scientists’ guilty of this! Perhaps you could point one out? Or perhaps you are reading it with a biased viewpoint?

  4. NPHooks says

    Finally, someone whining about how feminists are ruining science and should stay out of it! I’m disappointed this didn’t use “social justice warrior” or “racism against white people/sexism against men” anywhere, though.

    • If you can’t handle the truth of it, you should move on. My wife is a scientist and, consequently, I have a lot of scientist friends and acquaintances. The second you get them away from their specialty and commenting on social science, they’re just as bad as any idiot mouth-breather.

      And that’s, ironically, because while they’re real scientist, they have a hard time understand that the ‘social sciences’ are mostly frauds and hacks who project their own biases on issues. And that is because of feminism, intersectionality and other post-modernist influences. And post-modernism is a core philosophy in the SJW sphere.

  5. cassandra laningham says

    What about stay-at-home parents? Are they allowed to go?

  6. Amy says

    Seriously? Based on this logic, I can’t march for gay rights or in support of immigrants because I don’t belong to either class. I’m sure the scientists would rather have me attend in their support rather than stay home.

    That’s not how we won civil rights in this country. Everyone should be involved on some level. Then again if activists listened to every academic telling them what to do from the sidelines, change would have been even slower to occur.

    • Claire Elizabeth says

      I think perhaps if social scientists want to participate they should be doing it as allies or something? (It feels very weird using the world ally in this context so hopefully you get what I mean.) You’re not going to go to an LGTBQ rally as a straight person and say that it’s about you, for example. I think the tone of this article is aiming more towards that: social scientists shouldn’t make this about their field while there are still problems in it.

      Of course, I do also agree that the more empirical sciences have become politicized as well over the years. I’m studying to be a biologist at the moment, and it’s pretty remarkable how politicized the research grants at my university are, which makes it very hard to have truly unbiased results.

      • BDG says

        Right, but as you just said, science, not just social science, is already politicized. The (non-studied, ‘anti-empirical’) assumptions this article makes are numerous but start with the assumption that natural, or physical, or computer sciences are somehow apolitical. Energy technologies, climate science, drug research, ecology studies, and so on are all explicitly political. I’d argue that social scientists are actual much more prepared and aware of this problem than other scientists because the common assumption by scientists about there own work is that it is without a political quality which is absurd.

        • Samedi says

          @BDG
          Another advocate for the worn-out cliche that “everything is political”. I suppose it could be true if you stretch the definition of “political” so broadly that it comes to mean “done by humans”. Throwing in a bit of tu quoque doesn’t help your case either.

          The point of the article, in my view, is that is hypocritical of social scientists to march against the current administration when so many of their own number are themselves anti-science. Rather, the best way to defend science is to stand up against its foes on the “right” and the “left” instead of giving in to a crass, and frankly unintelligent, partisanship.

          • BDG says

            @Samedi
            Uh, no not everything is political. Me taking a poop is not political. Me walking my dog is not. Science is, and has pretty much always been part of the political process of the West since the Scientific Revolution (or do we now forget the battle it was to get here–for the sake of what? Appearances?). Do you honestly think the research of genetics is not political despite numerous groups using genetics to ‘prove’ this claim or that claim. Or what of climate science, literally the politicized science in the States. Ignoring the political quality of your work is giving other people with separate interests to take advantage of your naivete. This is dangerous. To you think the individuals who worked on the Manhattan Project were unaware of the political nature of there job? What of those individuals who worked in NASA during the Space Race? I just don’t really understand this push back on ‘politics’ in science as if it ever wasn’t.

            And yeah, the author understanding of ‘anti-science’ practices within the social sciences is not something I’d call trustworthy. Looking at science as a social practice, or examining the underlining assumptions in ‘objective’ methods is not anti-science, its a healthy part of the self-critical view of scientific research. We are now just finding that biases are being coded into algorithms for Google search and Facebook–this type of research is important.

    • ‘Seriously? Based on this logic, I can’t march for gay rights or in support of immigrants because I don’t belong to either class. I’m sure the scientists would rather have me attend in their support rather than stay home.’

      So should this march be open to every Tom, Dick, and Jane? Maybe, but that’s not really how the march is set up, and for good reason. If you want to petition the march to allow in non-scientists, go ahead, but if they’re sticking by their guns they really shouldn’t be allowing social scientists to tag along.

      • JSB says

        “Do you honestly think the research of genetics is not political despite numerous groups using genetics to ‘prove’ this claim or that claim.”

        Other people abusing scientific findings for their political aims is not the same thing as those scientific findings being politically distorted in the first place. It’s not naive for scientists to pursue their research dispassionately. It’s naive to think that distorting scientific findings with political bias will somehow lead to positive results instead of unintended consequences.

        • icarianne says

          Brilliant reply.

          And I say this as someone who got a PhD in a highly reputed and thoroughly postmodernist humanities dept in the US. I found my professors to be deeply ignorant of history and philosophy and my training to be awful (e.g.: we did not get a single class on methodology, we read Foucault’s critique of the Enlightenment without reading more than 2 pages written by Enlightenment philosophers, etc.). But somehow I managed to stay until I got my degree.

          I can honestly say that the only criterion for evaluating the quality of a paper or dissertation in my field (anthropology) is whether one knows how to mobilize fashionable concepts or theories… Anybody with good writing skills can get a PhD as long as he or she knows how to do this. Rigor is not at all required.

          I would add that this practice is not even ideological, as it is done without any consideration for political consequences (which are in fact reactionary when considered from a more traditional leftist standpoint). What I saw at my university was a bunch of careerists who pretended to be radical in the hope that this would get them the much-coveted tenure track position. These “academics” are not driven by ideology (adhering to an ideology once meant engaging in some for of self-sacrifice) but by self-interest and narcissism.

          Or if it is driven by ideology at all, it is that of a self-reproducing bourgeoisie. It is ultimately an assertion of class power. Any sense of working towards the common good by overcoming you own particular biases was thrown out the window a long time ago.

          A purge is much needed indeed.

    • Alan Loux says

      I think your analogy is off. It is not an issue of being or not being a member of the group being supported in the rally. It is an issue of falsely claiming to support something you actively seek to undermine in real life.

      A better analogy would be recommending that the Grand Wizard of the KKK not attend a civil rights march unless and until he has demonstrably rejected his racist ideology.

  7. Thank you for writing this article. Vocal social scientists on social media are demanding that the Science March’s organizers accommodate their identity politics agenda, which is only “legitimized” as “science” by their credentials.

    If they keep up their current behavior, they will ruin any positive impact the Science March might have by painting scientists in a negative light. Keep in mind that many members of the public do not know any scientists and may see these vocal social scientists as representative of all scientists – even though most scientists are nothing like them.

    For people who claim to be scientists, they are unusually incapable of seeing the big picture. Further, they have no compassion for the many people who will be harmed if scientists and science supporters are unable to act in impartial (non-partisan) ways in order to gain broad public support and affect change.

    Since I am certain that this article will be read by social scientists, I would like to ask them to consider truly vulnerable people, such as those with life-threatening illnesses who will have little hope for a cure if biomedical research funding is cut. Please also think of the harm that will come to many people from increases in pollution and reduced environmental protections.

    Please think of others and not just your own political agenda.Thank you in advance for not attending the Science March.

    • “If they keep up their current behavior, they will ruin any positive impact the Science March might have by painting scientists in a negative light. Keep in mind that many members of the public do not know any scientists and may see these vocal social scientists as representative of all scientists – even though most scientists are nothing like them. ”

      I don’t know, I get the sense that most people outside academia thinks of the po-mo social scientist identity politician as an intellectual charlatan pushing a dubious political agenda with bad “science”, and without tarring all scientists with that brush. For that reason, the OP may be right that social scientists of the identitarian activist stripe would do well to apply themselves to the question of whether and in what sense their projects are ill-founded (or at least in need of overhaul). This march certainly doesn’t look like the best use of their time.

    • Gertrude Gorglesnort says

      When scientists act to “gain broad public support and affect change,” they are not acting as scientists; they are acting as politicians. Science is about reproducible results. Public support, broad or not, is irrelevant, as is affecting change.

      If you want to be a scientist, then work on science. If you want to drive public policy, then run for Congress. But please, please, PLEASE stop trying to use scientific credentials to drive personal policy choices, then accuse anyone who disagrees with your choices of being “anti-science.” That approach destroys the credibility of science by reducing it to just another matter of opinion. It also demonstrably destroys science itself, by producing a political orthodoxy within the research community which predetermines which questions can be asked, how those question can be structured, and how the results can be interpreted — and that holds true whether your field is social psychology or quantum physics.

      The very idea of a “march for science” is an oxymoron. The “march for …” phenomenon is itself a child of the left, an attempt to demonstrate authority by mass support. Engineers don’t march to make bridges stronger or electricity flow more efficiently. Such idiocy is symptomatic of a modern Dark Age, where scientific validity is predicated on a set of socioreligious axioms rather than the fundamental principles that real science is built on.

  8. Doc says

    I think a few of the comments are missing the point. He’s talking about how the march will be perceived by people not taking part in it.

    If everyone participating in a march is perceived to have a genuine stake in the stated objective it will be far more effective at getting its message across.

    I’m sure you’ve all seen marches infiltrated (or overrun) by ‘professional protesters’ who you see at every protest or march in the county. The message becomes at best diluted or at worst warped.

    There is a danger of a similar thing happening here. If this march (ostensibly for science) becomes overrun by postmodernists (who are demonstrably anti-science), this will warp the message and its understandable that actual scientists would not want to lend their support to it.

  9. BDG says

    Empirically though, his concern just isn’t true. The Atlantic had a recent piece about this very issue covering a study that has shown that this ‘effect’ isn’t real. For someone so concerned about political bias perhaps he should start with his own?

        • JSB says

          The paper you linked to is about whether political advocacy hurts the credibility of scientists. But that’s not what Routledge’s article was bout. His concern was that postmodernist identitarians (who are not real scientists) joining the march will damage its message. That seems pretty legit, since pretty much everyone thinks these ideologues are discredited except for those who have already joined the cult. Therefore social scientists are better off cleaning house than taking a stand to defend their already compromised disciplines from external threats.

  10. John says

    Well said. Though I suspect the only social scientists who would accept to recuse themselves would be the objective (aka real scientists) ones.

  11. Matt says

    As an economist — and therefore a social scientist — I am divided about this post. I found it very thought-provoking and you have some really good points, but I also have my quibbles. It took me a while to decide how I felt about it, but after some reflection, here are my thoughts on the two sides, following a brief disclaimer.

    Disclaimer: I will first and foremost say that not marching is silly, since many non-scientists (that is, not “even” social scientists) will be also be marching. You should instead suggest that social scientists march as “allies” to science, as other commenters have suggested.

    Beyond that, let me explain my division. I have a few points to make here. First, you really lump all social sciences together in a grossly over-simplified way with this article. To suggest that economists have “sloppy empirical methods” is absolutely bogus. I want you to look at a paper like this classic on demand estimation and tell me that the empirics are sloppy: http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/2171802.pdf. I suppose this is just a single counterexample and doesn’t necessarily show that the norm for the discipline is tight empirics, but I can personally attest that it is. Graduate-level econometrics is no joke, and often the difficulty of the empirics determines the difference in what caliber of a journal a given paper lands.

    To that end, I cannot vouch for the empirical rigor of the rest of the social sciences. I have a moderate familiarity with the psychology literature, both because I do some behavioral/experimental economics and because I have many friends who are PhD psychologists (mostly from grad school). I have consistently been amazed by the lack of sophisticated empirical techniques in most psychological work, however, so perhaps your critique does apply more in psychology than it does in economics.

    Beyond psychology, I have heard it said before by a particular “rising star” economist that economists’ work often bleeds over into areas usually studied by other social science fields simply because those fields do not have the empirical rigor that we economists do. The term he used to describe economists was “academic imperialists” (which is a term I admittedly kind of like). I have never read more than maybe one or two papers in passing across any other social science, though, so I can’t vouch for them.

    I have read a fair amount of academic papers in ecology, though, and I’m similarly amazed by how unsophisticated their empirical methods generally are — especially for a “hard” science. (I also do environmental economics and took an environmental economics and ecology interdisciplinary seminar throughout all of grad school.) By comparison, economists have much less “sloppy” empirical methods than this “hard” science. That said, ecologists face data issues that are quite different from those faced in economics, so I think their empirical methods are generally more focused on how to get around such issues, which is fair.

    At the very least, I think that saying social scientists have “sloppy empirical methods” shows that you are not familiar with academic economics, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least slightly offended by your statement (though I admit I should not be offended if your statement simply comes from a lack of exposure to the economics literature).

    As for the political leanings of social scientists, I’ll again take issue. I have two major points here. First, while economics, like any academic discipline, tends to lean left, it leans left far less than the other social sciences. (I don’t have numbers on this, but I would be shocked if this isn’t true.) To your example of finding Marxists versus finding Republicans within the academic discipline, I would be very hard-pressed to find a Marxist academic economist, but I know many Republican academic economists. Among younger academic economists, you’ll probably find more (non-extreme) Libertarians than traditional Republicans, but there are also many of those among older academic economists. (Full disclosure: I’m a left-leaning academic economist.)

    At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t matter in what direction any given scientist leans. I would wager that there are more left-leaning “hard” scientists too. Does this mean we should we not march for the “hard” sciences? (Hold that one major grievance that just popped into your head — I’ll discuss it in a moment. Bear with me down this path for now.) A chemist’s left-leaning political stance doesn’t invalidate his/her work. The same is true for a scientist in the social sciences. As a left-leaning environmental economist, and therefore a scientist, if I find a result that says “it would benefit the local economy if we drill for oil underneath this public park” (for example), then I have a moral obligation to report that finding. I might not personally like the idea of drilling for oil underneath the public park, but as a scientist, I have a duty to be objective and report all of my findings. Anyone from any social science (or “hard” science) who does not do so is not actually a scientist; a scientist seeks the truth, and a scientist reports his/her findings regardless of his/her personal opinions on the matter. That is how science works.

    This brings me to a related point: you assert that many social sciences don’t even use the scientific method. I again cannot comment on anything beyond economics and some portions of the psychology literature, but that statement is certainly not true for any that I’ve ever seen. As I teach in my principles courses, social scientists are often forced to use a different series of steps that those in the “hard” sciences, but our steps still follow the scientific method. We can’t always design an ideal experiment to collect the ideal data, and so we generally use existing data and apply sophisticated, creative econometric techniques to “back out” an experiment from that data. The results are always imperfect, but that is exactly why we have peer review and criticism. We have to start somewhere, and then we build from that point onward. At the core, though, we absolutely use the scientific method even if the process of establishing cause and effect is a bit different.

    With all of that said, however, I do see your point (and thanks for holding on to that grievance for a moment). Even if every single self-proclaimed social scientist in the world were actually a truly impartial scientist in every aspect of their work, the fact that more of them are left-leaning would still be ammunition for the anti-science wing of conservatives. They could simply assert that these social scientists’ political affiliations are interfering with their work and causing the results to skew left, and those who are uneducated on the matter may believe those assertions at face value. (There are many reasons they may choose to believe that, but we’ll leave that stone unturned for now.) By extension, then, these people may believe that if social scientists’ work cannot be trusted due to social scientists’ leanings, then surely the same applies for scientists in the “hard” sciences. Thus, we should not march for social sciences, and we should just focus our efforts on the “hard” sciences, where political leanings are not as directly related to the topics of research. I understand your argument on this front.

    But what is the solution? If we simply make this a march for the “hard” sciences, then perhaps we sway some of those people to liking the “hard” sciences while still distrusting social sciences because we specifically did not connect those dots. Is that a victory? Perhaps so, at least on some level. I would argue, however, that that does not really achieve a true victory, and that by creating this separation, we are actually weakening the perception of the social sciences. Are we willing to gain public trust in the hard sciences if it weakens public trust in the social sciences? By arguing the idea that the “hard” sciences are unbiased by ideologies while staying silent on the issue within the social sciences, it’s almost as if we are tacitly admitting that the social sciences are actually plagued by ideological bias. A conservative pundit might then ask the (loaded) rhetorical question, “If the social sciences are not plagued left-leaning ideological bias, then why did you not march for them when you supposedly marched for ‘all’ of science?” By not marching for all of science, we are (at least in their eyes) admitting that this problem exists in the social sciences. And, as I said before, while I cannot vouch for all of the social sciences, I can completely attest that this is not true within economics. This is why I will be out marching for all of science on April 22.

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  13. “Will the organizers be able to control the message and keep participants from injecting politics into the march unnecessarily and in a way that ends up damaging the cause?”

    Absolutely NOT, anyone whose seen any of the #ScienceMarch accounts can easily see this has nothing to do with science this is a social justice march pretending to be a science march.

  14. stripey7 says

    The best response is to participate critically. I plan to carry a sign saying, “Defend climate science/Defend vaccine science/Defend sex difference science.”

  15. Freelunch says

    Nothing more eye rolling then a trash post mod hot take full up with anecdotes. Can we all just ignore the plant philosophers.

  16. Czesuaf says

    > However, the stereotype threat explanation of women’s math performance has failed multiple replication attempts. Meta-analyses have offered no support for the idea.

    BS. That one meta-analysis concerned only math in school-age girls. Other studies replicated the ST effect.

    • Citation? It was my understanding that stereotype threat was a poster child for the crisis of replication in the social sciences.

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  18. Yeah Nope says

    The social observation studies are not sciences, therefore they should never be referred to as such. Most are nothing more than social engineering platforms masquerading as education, more concerned with controlling thought than encouraging it. Any educational institution engaging in those activities should lose all federal funding immediately.

    Fields predicated on the use of an ideological “lens” must be eradicated, the very idea of such is anathema to science.

  19. David T, MD, PhD says

    “a sizable part of the discipline is part of the postmodern or social constructionist movement that rejects the use of quantitative methods.”

    Apologies for being late to this discussion, but I only just read this column. I was struck by this example of a phenomenon I see quite often: people, especially scientists, who use the terms “postmodernism” and “social constructionism” often do not know what they mean, and in this case the irony is that Prof. Routledge’s identification of ideological biases leading to flawed research outcomes is a perfect illustration of postmodernism’s core lesson. Lyotard offered the best definition of “postmodernism” in his “Report to the Academy” many years ago, when he wrote that postmodernism is, essentially, a rejection of master narratives. His point is that scholars are often unaware of their biases, biases that shape their research in ways they do not recognize. Or, to put it slightly differently: all observations are made from a position, and if that position is political (i.e. liberal or conservative) it may influence what a researcher sees, how that researcher selects what to consider important, etc. I take it that this is also Prof. Routledge’s argument: ideological diversity is important in order to counter the biases that can creep into scholarship and research conducted from a single ideological perspective. Prof. Routledge is articulating a nice lesson of postmodernism. I am not sure what his beef with postmodernism is, but surely it is not the point that researchers have biases that can influence their work. Indeed, the Heterodox Academy is one of the best examples of the basic perspective of postmodernism that I know of.

    “Social construction” is another, related notion that gets misused frequently, and perhaps is being misunderstood here as well. The broadest implication of ‘social construction’ is that there is a difference between reality and our knowledge of reality, to put it in simple terms. Unless Prof. Routledge was born with complete knowledge and understanding of chemistry, physics, biology, psychology, art, etc, present in is mind from the start of his life, he, like the rest of us, has had to learn those subjects. Learning is a social act in which some knowledge is selected for presentation in some way at some time and in some depth, etc. That’s social construction. Or, to put it passively, a learning being such as a human child absorbs knowledge and understanding that is socially and culturally shaped in complex ways — we understand a good deal about this process, and one place we start (unless you’re a French Rationalist from a couple of hundred years ago) is that the knowledge and understanding that a child acquires is not already present in some form in the child’s brain, needing simply to be revealed. We do not have immediate and unmediated access to all of reality, and at the same time members of any community believe in things — ghosts come to mind — that have no reality. Social constructionism is nothing more than the recognition that knowledge and understanding of the world is mediated, and may even be false, and changes historically.

    Finally, I am bewildered by the linking of postmodernism and/or social constructionism with a rejection of quantitative methods. There is no necessary relationship between postmodernism or social constructionism and any particular set of methods, qualitative or quantitative — indeed, some of the research that Prof. Routledge critiques, which presumably he regards as postmodern or social constructionist, is in fact quantitative. We tend to find people in the humanities self-identifying as ‘postmodernists’ — and they pretty much rely exclusively on qualitative methods, but they’re claiming to be doing science. Some social scientists recognize the fundamental validity of social construction, but also use quantitative methods routinely in their research.

    • icarianne says

      The problem is that you assume social constructionism to be the right approach to understanding human behavior. As if the question of the relationship between knowledge and reality had not been asked by philosophers long before Foucault, and as if Foucault and his heirs had settled that question once and for all.

      The irony is that postmodernism had far less impact in France than it did in the US… and the reason for this is that the French read Foucault, Deleuze and the like in a much more subtle and critical manner than Americans do. Why? Because they are far better versed in philosophy and their critical skills are much stronger.

      The majority of American social scientists embraced postmodernism uncritically because they are not as sophisticated intellectually as they would like to believe.

      “French theory” is, after all, an American construct.

  20. People put way too much trust in “science” to find any truths. If you look at the history of science, science has been wrong about a lot more things (most things in fact) than it has been right and it has always been highly corrupted by politics. All you have to do is look at evolution and how militant the so called “scientists” defend it as a “fact” when it is nothing more than a very flawed theory to understand “science” is highly overrated at finding any truths. People always drag out the “scientific method”, “peer review” and other nonsense but those don’t make science honest or right. After all, corrupt, dishonest and highly biased people have just corrupted that process so that it does basically nothing to help find any truths. The best thing people can do is take anything “science” a lot less seriously and with a “big grain of salt”.

    • Science gets it wrong i agree but it also gets it right, science is the closest humans are going to get to the truth than any other method. To deny this is to bury your head in a bag of salt. Allow others to augue out your bias and to recognise it is where we need to start just as the post alludes too.

  21. John Egan says

    A lava lamp without an education is boiled cabbage.

  22. Stanley Loper says

    While it is true, as pointed out by some, that the infection of post-modernism has spread to the natural sciences I do believe the author spoke to his own science, the social sciences because that is the field he knows best. That would be the same for me. I was an undergrad when I first became aware of an entire body of “research” built on nothing more than air as far as I was concerned. As time went by I became aware of more. The author mentioned the “research” on conservatives which never quite seems to get there because the first models for it were radical left-wing dictators so that just about every refinement of the model still fits progressive and communist leaders better than conservatists. We can thank the communist Frankfurt scholars and their master, Stalin, for that one. Sociology and other social sciences were easy to infiltrate with postmodernist thinking because the social scientists were still grappling with how to quantify and standardize empirical methodologies as late as the early 1950s.

    What we have in the social sciences are things like published feminist papers which are little more than misanthropic screeds which would have no space in any reputable journal were it not for their fear of being called chauvinist pigs. We also have minority “research” which seems to be geared towards denial that anything is any different today than it was in the 1960s civil rights era and that blacks are still held down by racists who had to become more subtle with their racism, hence pretences such as “microaggression” and the redefinition of racism placing a focus on who has “institutional power” to bolster a new claim that it is impossible for blacks and latinos to be racists since they presumably hold no institutional power. The social sciences are in a sad state and sadly leading the way in our political violence on the streets through the young minds twisted by post-modernist professors.

    • David T, MD, PhD says

      “the redefinition of racism placing a focus on who has “institutional power” to bolster a new claim that it is impossible for blacks and latinos to be racists since they presumably hold no institutional power.”

      That’s poststructuralism, not postmodernism.

      • icarianne says

        True, for insiders, postmodernism and poststructuralism are not one and the same thing. But the terms are often used interchangeably by outsiders to refer to a rather similar worldview. I suspect you are just splitting hairs to discredit someone who does not agree with you….

        It is true that those who have not studied the poststructuralist paradigm are unaware of the debates taking place within it. But again, the problem is that poststructuralists (broadly taken) consider their basic premises to be beyond critique; hence their inability to engage with epistemological approaches that are based on alternative premises (say, the Hegelian dialectic).

        Again the lack of philosophical knowledge is what makes American social scientists susceptible to embracing poststructuralism uncritically.

  23. ttaerum says

    All of this begs the question, “what is science?”. Like the question, “what is purple?”, we imagine we know it when we see it and we attach many marvelous virtues to it. It is whatever succeeds in explaining what happens around us – it can be predictive, it can be competitive, it can be replicated, it can be used to build or modify things never before imagined, it lets a pieces of the universe observe the universe. What is most amazing about it is science is driven by miserably imperfect individuals seeking a perfect solution. It seeks to be all things for all people whether it is physics or sociology, genetics or psychology. It cannot fail and yet to be scientific it must fail.

    Ultimately, the march for science is about money for science. There are few scientific experiments that can succeed without resources, and there are very few scientists so in love with science that they work for a meager existence. Science is amazing but it comes at a price.

    • Not really. Im in the sciences for over 35 years and have never worked in academia or needed public funding. The big breakthroughs are via technology, pharmaceuticals, aeronautic, energy, agricultural, etc. companies.
      Microsoft, Apple, Ford, Boeing…etc. And increasingly their private equivalent in China, India, etc. The march fr science will be in the private sector…AI, bioengineering, telecommunications, microchips, seld driving vehicles, Crispr, etc.

      • ttaerum says

        I see… you’re marching (as the article indicates) primarily to safeguard the scientific community, celebrating your passion. This is really not about money – you don’t need money… the problem if I understand your statement then must be Microsoft, Apple, Ford, Boeing aren’t protecting you and letting you be passionate. To celebrate my passion for science I’m going to read a few articles… and you’ll march – we’ll both celebrate.

  24. luysii says

    Some social science bears the same relationship to science as chiropractic does to medicine. Both are exercises in branding.

  25. A march about topical academic policies in the USA is irrelevent to science.

    A rocket flies because of the same property of physics regardless if the only engineer is a communist, fascist or or capitalist. Genetics are what they are regardless of the political correctness of the time.

    Its no wonder the Chinese, and soon the Indians, have surpassed the USA in bioengineering and AI technology. Americans are being left behind debating the equivalent of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

  26. Daniel Wistrand says

    As a chemist and physicist I find the entire march to be nothing more than political hoopla. It is organized by those who hold that anyone who doesn’t support the “science” they believe in as being anti-science. It is the “progressives” constructing labels, just like the “alt-right” garbage and the “microagression” you touch on. The war on science is actually coming from the left because it demands concurrence with the do called science that fits its political narrative.

    • daddybones45 says

      Well said. And all this has been done before and well-documented. We’re well into a new age of Lysenkoism.

  27. richard lewis says

    I mostly agree with these familiar points. But I was irritated by the unspoken assertion at one point that postmodernism is equivalent to using non quantitative methods. I would go further and argue that the crisis of social science has come about in a pincer movement between postmodern and social justice oriented research (which usually but not always coincide) on the one hand and over use of statistics, especially multiple regression, on the other. 40 years ago if you perused journals in the social sciences you would find a lot of stuff in the solid middle ground where researchers pursued objective knowledge of complex social phenomena without reducing them to presentist ideological resentment or to a regression table.

    Both aspects of the pincer I believe have something to do with the lack of real, grounded specialist knowledge nowadays in the social sciences – for example historically, culturally grounded knowledge of a region, a type of labor, the dynamics of a particular industry, or a period of history. And that in turn is due to the overall degradation of social science as it moves from being a pursuit of truth, to being a giant theological enterprise, pursing the twin goals of globalist liberalism: technocratic, top down interventionism (hence regression analysis) and multicultural anti-nationalism (hence social justice).

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  29. Joseph says

    Check yourself​ before you wreck yourself. I love when people disparage the social sciences and their entire argument is “why is being a reactionary bad?”.

    • icarianne says

      I consider myself on the far-left, but I believe in universal, unbiased science (the whole point of science is to move beyond ideology for the greater good) and I find postmodernism-infused social theory to be deeply reactionary (and bound up with the assertion of class power).

      So “why is being a reactionary bad” again?

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  31. Pathrik says

    The true issue here is ideology not scientific methodology. Fields such as economics often pretend to have scientific validity, when many of their theories continuously get debunked every few years. and in the sciences where people presume to follow a scientific reasoning but are mired in the same old politics as everyone else (e.g. if you’ve worked in a scientific academic department at a university you know this to be true.)

    I do sense an accurate unease among many about social science departments today. I think in the pre-1950s era the world was fearful of scientific dictatorships being formed. In this view, the scientific community was feared to be pushing the world towards a ‘Brave New World’. Scientism, for lack of a better word, was arrogantly trying to resolve all problems with little regard for humanist reasoning. With this came a backlash and a view that social sciences needed to be strengthened to provide a counterbalance to scientific amorality.

    Today it seems the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. Many of the most dangerous ideologies being pushed on campuses come from the very social science departments that are supposed to incorporate ethical, philosophical and social reasoning in our public life. The social sciences today are dominated either by cultural Marxists or globalists to my mind. In some ways they are as scary and dangerous as the eugenicists of previous eras.

  32. Mind blown says

    Wait so acedemia is against the march because you all can’t get your disciplines together enough to agree that defunding the institutions that monitor global diseases, educate our youth, protect public spaces and national parks, and generally serve the public good, is a bad?

    You all are a bunch of premadonas. Social science, empirical science.. get over yourselves. This bickering is insanely idiotic. We may as well just say f it and let the planet burn… Cut down the rest of the rainforests and suck on a jar of palm oil while scratching our backs with a gorilla hand while hooting like a bunch of howler monkeys. Can we just put ALL taxable income into the military already?

    Seriously, arguing over people wanting to get paid to do research meaning scientists are just look make a buck? I don’t know about you all but not all of us are privileged to be able to work outside of academia and do research. I like to eat and clothe myself. This article and 99% of the comments that follow are mind blowingly stupid. This is what is wrong in American discourse and why we are an embarrassment in the global academic community. Yes the march is for political reasons! Of course it is over funding. Obviously there are problems in academia that need to be discussed and fixed. Yes science gets it wrong, that’s why there is peer review. What?! Studying marginalized people and the processes that cause worldwide problems in the global south makes people lean left? What a novel thought?!

    Fixing the problems in both social and hard sciences, while does have something to do with why people are wanting to have their voices heard, shouldn’t be why you stay home. That’s like saying some feminists hate men so women should just stay in the kitchen. It is so stupid. No wonder so many people think science is a crock. You all think so hard you argue against yourselves. Why should we fund science when scientists themselves believe their disciplines are 99% frauds. Full disclosure: I didn’t check the data on that one.. SMH

  33. Dr. Escobar says

    I will be marching. I am a psychologist. A “social scientist”…who is able to read the scientific literature and understand psychological concepts to guide humans. the APA is behind us and for that I am proud. I can’t believe you have the hubris to urge people to stay home. Last I heard it was still a free country. Protesting is a form of self expression. Who are you the marching police? We as academics, researchers, and thinkers must unite to dispel mythology, and “fake news” and other irrational beliefs that this administration is promoting. Anyone who is committed to analytical thinking. rational and logical thoughts, evidence based ideas, should join us. REALITY is under attack. We are the adults in the room, and we are going to LEAD. That is why we march. Please join us! RESIST!

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