The social sciences have had a rather rough time in the last years, especially because they are so easy to fake and people can get away with credits for having spent a few late nights writing “science” about what they thought was right. It is the risk of the job, practically, and it can also be the frustration that leads “scientists” to make some sort of discovery just be up there with the real scientists.
So let’s do a short recap: Diederik Stapel, a very well-known and respected psychologist was literally caught fabricating data, which, in turn, led to the dismissal of a good number of his papers; the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology declared that ESP existed and it was not entirely accepted and the journal Science started investigating one of its political science papers because they thought the data was also faked.
But this is not where it all ends: in the last year, there was a major effort to re-establish the conditions for approximately 100 social studies and it was established that more than half of them did not provide the same results when tested. This analysis was mostly done by psychologists who considered some papers as valuable work and wanted to make sure that the results could withstand the test of time.
The journal Science contains all their conclusions which can be found in Thursday’s edition and has given scientists the probable impulse to go out into the field and see that science is applied accordingly, not fabricated.
And the studies that have been re-analyzed were not simple, basic studies. They were some of the foundations which enable scientists to understand memory, learning, personality and relationships. If the basics are wrong, the majority, or even everything, that we have built upon them is a lie. Thus, these sciences are a lie.
But the main issue here is not necessarily in the literature, but in the nature of these sciences. Social sciences are, by default, quite difficult to handle because of their position in between science and philosophy. We are working with people and no two individuals are the same. Or are they? People are driven by the same instincts more or less, so are we different or identical?
You see, the very laws of social science allow us to question anything and assume anything is real. Therefore, two different things can be real at the same time or completely different. While the majority of the experiments might have proven false, who knows how many of them were actually false and how many of them actually changed people’s knowledge by learning about them and changed their behavior?
This is what is fascinating about social sciences, but it is also their downside. Nonetheless, a broader investigation is required at least to make sure of who is wrong and who is right. Or if anybody is wrong or right in the first place.
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