As someone who fell in love with political science and social science in general, I was pretty startled by Charles Lane’s opinion piece that appeared yesterday and was ready to take it apart here. But it’s already been done, and well done I might add, by two others here and here.
There is a lot to disagree with in Lane’s article and much is covered by the other two authors but the most shocking and wrong claim he makes that can’t be highlighted enough is, “hypotheses about society usually can’t be proven or disproven by experimentation. Society is not a laboratory.” This claim is so misinformed it is hard to stymie a laugh when reading. I understand that some conservatives despise science, especially when it proves ideas true that are contrary to their beliefs. But trying to dismiss social science in a way that proves you have no idea about what it is and what it does is just dishonesty through selling your beliefs about something which you clearly possess no knowledge.
Lane also throws out the old conservative claim that bias has a lot to do with social science. Another laughable claim by someone who clearly does not know what he is talking about. Personally, I was taught by both conservatives and liberals, all of which were pretty amazing instructors in their own right regardless of political leanings and at no point did their beliefs make one bit of difference in the science that was presented in the classroom.
And this is the true chasm between what people who have had thorough instruction in social science know and those who haven’t believe. Those who haven’t been exposed to a lot of the instruction believe it is simply a conversation debating opinions about society or behavior in a respective field. Those who have spent a lot of time know it is about what has been proven through research and generating ideas about where the research can go next, just like in hard sciences.
This is not to suggest people who haven’t had certain instruction are stupid and cannot grasp ideas at a certain level. That is most certainly not true. We all have our interests and in many cases we all become extremely knowledgeable in the areas of life we come to love, whether that is food, music, football, fashion, technology, etc. But the content of the social sciences is clearly misunderstood by many who have not been exposed much or at all to the science behind them.
And judging from his opinion, Charles Lane is one of them.