Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hard Problems in Social Science, Redux

. Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Last April, Thomas blogged about the Harvard "Hard Problems in Social Science" initiative. Here were his contenders:

A. Aggregation
Across levels of analysis--micro to macro
Across space--society is not defined by national borders.
Across policy domains--Very little happens in isolation.
In short, constructing general equilibrium models based on the knowledge generated from the last thirty years of partial equilibrium research.

B. Endogenizing Change
Partial equilibrium models kind of rule this out. Thus, endogenizing change requires prior development of theoretical models that are not wedded to an equilibrium conception of politics.

Here is what he wasn't so much interested in:

Defining what is meant by "a problem in social science" is a necessary first step that the conveners appear unwilling to take. As a result, the participants in the Saturday convention held very different conceptions. Many seemed to drop "science" to focus on social problems, e.g., the gender gap in pay; the racial gap in educational achievement; inability to engage in effective state-building operations. These aren't problems of social science, these are social problems. Some went the other way and focused on the science to the neglect of the "social" (like the lone political scientist presenter who focused on post-treatment bias. Perhaps important, but a problem of method not of social science per se. Taleb focused on inability to estimate tiny probabilities. Again, clearly important, not obviously a problem of social science in particular.

Here is the result of the symposium. In some ways Thomas should be pleased. In other ways, not so much.

(Edited to better characterize Thomas' previous post.)


nick gogerty said...

This graphic map showing the attributes of "wicked" problems in social science may be of interest.

It is more accessible and is a good framework for causal factors. could be the basis for root cause failure analysis. http://stanford.edu/~rhorn/a/kmap/mess/uc3CharacteristicsMesses.pdf

Thomas Oatley said...

I am not sure whether to be amused or dismayed by the fact that bad collective decision making was ranked higher in net importance than emergent properties.

Hard Problems in Social Science, Redux
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