Getting scientific priorities right

14 Feb, 2013 at 09:10 | Posted in Theory of Science & Methodology | 3 Comments

Or is it simply the case that studying cultural attitudes toward a phenomenon doesn’t really convey a solid understanding of how that phenomenon actually works? Is trying to understand debt by analyzing people’s attitudes toward debt somewhat akin to trying to understand the physics of a liquid-crystal display by studying the cultural effects of prime-time television?

Noah Smith


  1. That line of study would be extremely relevant if the purpose of your endeavor is social engineering in relation to debt.

    • Goes without saying – but still I think most people do also want to know the deep inner workings of mechanisms, structures and institutions, and feel frustrated when only left with “surface elaborations”.

      • Oh, I did not mean “social engineering” as in the political science kind. I meant “social engineering” as in the fraud and confidence tricksters kind. 🙂

        Certainly there is relevance for attitude studies in political science and its social engineering. In organic chemistry (my field) the mechanisms are always found in case studies rather than quantitative science, it really only becomes quantitave when enough case studies has been conducted. The type of quantitative studies that the quote talks about are unable to understand the mechanism, since the data simply do not contain that information. A mechanism is A -> B, trying to say something about this process from simply studying B requires that there is only one mechanism.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Blog at
Entries and Comments feeds.