Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Are Sociologists About to Follow Economists into a Dead-End in Pursuit of Becoming a So-Called “Hard Science”?

A recent blog post HERE

The author asks “is sociology as a hard science major”?

Why don't we offer a "hard science" sociology track? If you teach at a university with a lot of decent social science departments, it's an easy major to implement. Except for math soc, all the courses are there already. My version:
Intro soc
Research methods
Social theory
Basic stats (hypothesis testing) + applied regression analysis
Microeconomics
Demography
Social Network Analysis
Mathematical Sociology/computational models
Intro game theory
Breadth: a few courses in qualitative topics; three courses of topics in sociology (like race, gender, education, etc.); a capstone course
The background that a student would need is about 1 year of calculus and some computer literacy. The only course that soc depts don't already offer is math soc. But I think that could be offered, or made an elective. At a competitive R1 school, I'd imagine that you could get 3-4 majors per year. A minor could probably bag you 5-8 students per year. I bet a few hard science types would be happy to tack it on as a double major. And the cost would be zero.



Comment

Mathematics is classed as a “hard science”. Since about 1870, economics faculties, gradually at first and then in an all-fronts rush since the 1950s, melded economic theory into mathematics to claim the title of being the “hard science” in the social sciences.

A few yeas back, some mathematically astute economists met with some physicists to show off their astuteness and maths skills, and the physicists were mildly amused at their claims (in private they were probably rolling about uncontrollably in laughter). The physicists recognized the economists’ maths as ‘so 19th century’, because maths had moved on a great deal from the calculus of two variables.

All this left economists with the virgin individualists of “Max-U” Homo economicus, existing in an imaginative world of general equilibrium and Pareto theorems, but not much nearer in the 21st century to understanding how real world economies function.

Hence, I am worried about this suggestion, which the accompanying comments seem to suggest it might be welcomed, though I don’t think much of their ambition. Even the sponsor suggests that “At a competitive R1 school, I'd imagine that you could get 3-4 majors per year. A minor could probably bag you 5-8 students per year. I bet a few hard science types would be happy to tack it on as a double major. And the cost would be zero”.

In short, the drive for a “hard-science” accolade is driven by the ambition of recruiting a handful (between 4 and 8) of additional students for sociology. To acclaim this very modest target with the additional illusion that “the cost would be zero”, is the height of folly.

What would sociology lose in the process? If it is anything like what economics has lost with its crowning mathematical achievement being the unreal, non-existent, and non-operational idea of general equilibrium, I think the sponsors need to think again.

To make sociology a “hard science” it is better to stick with relevant and accurate analysis of sociology applied to the real-world, with less jargon and more relevance, and above all less ideology and fewer political agendas.

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