2.2 Are the Social Sciences Yet Sciences?


The promise of a new moral authority (a non-authoritarian and rational authority) in science which we pursue here must not be mistaken for any plan simply to expand the offerings of the social sciences as they are at present being given to us. A glance at an average sample of what has been put forward by activists, in the name of social sciences, is enough to revolt both a scientist and a moralist not to mention the man in the street and his political representatives. But this need not continue; the biological sciences have followed the physical sciences to an effective maturity, and there is no reason why, with massive support, the social sciences should not do the same. Let us therefore ask how and why their light on important human affairs has been either wavering or positively misleading.

First, one must recognize that the social sciences came as a late child to the scientific family. Among their peer sciences psychology, sociology, and economics were recognized late and were late to receive support. Only recently have many universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, admitted such studies as psychology and sociology to the circle of academic sciences, and only in the last year has the National Science Foundation begun to direct research funds through a specifically assigned branch, as in the older sciences. Meanwhile, the practical leaders actually in charge of social affairs administrators and elected political representatives are disinclined to aid what they view, in many cases with justice, as the activities of impractical reformers or emotional revolutionaries impertinently disguised as scientists.

The gist of the criticisms from other scientists should also be stated: (a) that the social sciences have not shown themselves technically as capable as the physical sciences in discovering basic laws, and, therefore, in ministering to society's problems with an adequate technology. The physical and biological sciences have had cause, from the standpoint of precise methodology and objectivity, to be embarrassed by this third erratic sister. And (b) that they constantly confuse means with ends science with values and either naively or as political partisans, preempt to themselves as "reformers," the right (as one senator expressed it) "to tell other people how to live." They may have some rights of that kind, but only if they achieve the stature of real sciences (Malinowski, 1937)[1].

With substitution of rigorous research, objective measurement, models and calculation for the too long tolerated loose discussion of pretentious and bogus "theories" these immaturities of the social sciences will surely cure themselves. Unfortunately, the more serious disablement that of indiscriminately mixing value judgments with strictly scientific inferences and predictions is a more insidious disorder, likely to be eradicated more slowly. In fact, it is likely to require a deliberate extirpation, based on a re-education of students in the social sciences to a new discipline of thinking. As Illinois University Vice-President Lanier (1971) recently said, nowadays a social scientist who makes himself "part of the action" is often likely to make himself also "part of the problem" and we need "a code of ethics among social scientists comparable to that required of physicians and psychologists." Social scientists inevitably have to make recommendations in which socio-moral values are also involved, but only by learning explicitly to set their ethical assumptions in one part of a document and their scientific findings in another, before putting them together, will social scientists gain the respect of fellow scientists and win acceptance by a now justly circumspect social and political leadership.

In the physical sciences, by the nature of the data and laws, a deliberate or accidental contamination of conclusions by personal values posing as science is far less of a danger. But there have been instances e.g., Oppenheimer, writers in the Journal of the Atomic Physicists, Soddy, Carrel, Haldane, Russell where the prestige of science has been consciously or unconsciously used to support left or right political values, or in Russell's case, deviant standards in sexual morality. In these cases the writer is usually not deliberately using his scientific prestige in any more direct way than to show it as a badge of intelligence. The reasonably alert reader has no difficulty in sorting out the writer's personal opinion offered as that of an experienced scientist, but admittedly loyal to some value system from an ex cathedra, authoritative scientific statement by a specialist in the field. Several comments by the present writer, here similarly offer only the experience not the documented proofs of a senior psychologist. In the social sciences, unless new safeguards for separating personal from objective research conclusions are deliberately and explicitly introduced, contamination by propagandist values will become a perennial, insidious and deadly danger.

The danger is not only that politicians and private institutions with axes to grind will find tame or corruptible social scientists to support their positions. The greater danger which recent experiences both here and abroad, e.g., Lysenkoism in Russia, have revealed is that partisans primarily political in interest and intention either accidentally or deliberately infiltrate the ranks of science. In the case of the Lysenko episode, and comparable events in Nazi Germany, the disturbing realization to scientists was that the exile or death of those ejected from their academic positions followed what seemed initially to be severe technical criticism by fellow scientists, but was actually politically staged. Incidentally, an unanticipated result of the "democratic" process initiated in some universities of having promotions of professors depend partly on a grade given by students has been pressure from the usual "leftness" of the young against independent minded social science professors lacking the fashionable coloration. Thus instead of the professor teaching the austere objectivities of a science, the classroom becomes from the beginning an emotional invasion of science.

Important though this issue of maintaining the ethical standards of science within science may be, it should not be confused with the main theme of this book. Effectively projecting the accepted community values of fair play, honesty and justice into the social dealings of science is vitally important. But our larger and more radical task here is to show how ethics may be developed for society out of science, not to bring the existing revealed ethics of society into science. Its aim is to develop a basis for moral values as a special branch of science, rooted in the objectivity of science itself.















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