Re: JP Barlow, Ph.D, Social Engineering

Ira Brodsky (
Wed, 18 Sep 1996 17:07:24 -0600

Robin Hanson wrote:

>>Furthermore, I don't claim that what the social sciences study are
>>illegitimate topics. (This is my way of apologizing to anyone on this list
>>who works in the "social sciences" and may have been offended by my
>>remarks.) We just need to remember that political philosophy backed by
>>statistics is still, at bottom, political philosophy.
>Conversely, statistical inference packaged as political philosophy is
>still at bottom statistical inference. I really do think that most
>people really believe whatever political philosophies they do because
>of inferences they have made from what they see about how the world works.

I think there's a tension between what we believe through inference, and
what we want to believe. Political philosophies usually take a long time
to play out; even afterwards there's often serious disagreement over what
happened and why.

>I am a professional social scientist, and I will defend the social
>sciences, *if* any of you have a concrete argument to offer against them.
>So far these are just empty claims.

Well, I was staking out a position. More accurately, they are
not-yet-substantiated claims.

Robin, I suspect you would be a very formidable debating opponent. I
accept the challenge. <g>

>Consider an analogy with "computer science". The vast majority of
>"computer experts" most people meet or see have an agenda - they are
>people selling you hardware, software, programming services, systems
>with computer components, etc. These people will usually say
>whatever it takes to make a sale. But that doesn't mean there isn't a
>community of people elsewhere doing careful computer research.

Actually, people doing "careful" computer research often don't agree.
(Check out the controversy over Qaulcomm's CDMA cellular telephone
technology as reported (somewhat inaccurately) in the Sept. 6, 1996 issue
of The Wall Street Journal.) The difference is that in computer science,
you can design objective and repeatable experiments.

Most social science I have encountered focuses, by necessity, on
observation. While experimentation is sometimes employed, it's extremely
difficult to limit the number of variables.

>Similarly, most "social experts" most people see or meet are
>representatives of some group with an agenda, pushing some political
>position, selling some management consulting, etc. But that doesn't
>mean there isn't a community of people doing careful social research.

I'm sure there's something to what you say. Tell me more about "careful
social research."

Ira Brodsky
Datacomm Research Company
Wilmette, Illinois