Monday, 20 January 2014

2.9013...bullshit

Andrew Gelman is running with a wonderful story today about the credulousness of some (note I didn't say all) academic psychologists. The tale is nicely told by Vinnie Rotondaro here. It's got all the ingredients I love: outrageous bullshit, unhelpful metaphors, non-linear dynamics as obfuscation, unrepentant quackery, journal editors that need to be prodded with a poker before they will concede that they have published something that makes no sense and authors that confess that they don't understand parts of the articles they put their names to. The icing on the cake is that the splendid Alan Sokal played a key role in the exposure of yet another "intellectual imposture". You can read the American Psychologist article here.

Meanwhile well known British social science orientated universities carry on appointing notorious  imposteurs to positions of honour and esteem. It's as if some of the social sciences, for instance sociology, are regarded as so unimportant that intellectual integrity is well worth sacrificing to "impact". 

Sometimes I pause and look askance at the intellectual landscape of my discipline and wonder: how did we get here? Part of the answer is that  in the upper echelons there are too many gutless time-servers who know the truth but don't want to rock the boat. Quite often I extract confessions from some of them to the effect that they know that X or Y is bullshit, but they don't want to come out in public and say so. They are reinforced by at least as many who are so intellectually feeble that they can't spot duds when they stare them in the face. 

This is the toxic mixture that has made British sociology to all intents and purposes  ignorable.  We've created a situation where senior figures can BS for England about the concept of "public sociology" but are incapable of contributing anything of value on matters of substance.

1 comment:

Primula Monkey said...

"It's as if some of the social sciences, for instance sociology, are regarded as so unimportant that intellectual integrity is well worth sacrificing to "impact". - Yes. Completely. Utterly even.

"intellectual landscape" - no, not really. Quoting dead Frenchmen is more a habit (habitus even) than a landscape.

"British sociology to all intents and purposes ignorable". Yup. You can certainly rely on it to trot out unthinking liberal positions about well anything really, but, given they're unthinking, they're readily ignorable.

T'is a shame really because done right sociology could add so much/be such a positive force. Instead, we live in "Thinking Allowed" land where every week 2 pieces of cockamamie qualitative tosh churned out by someone who unreflectingly thinks what they think/live is important is important gets presented as analysis.

You're a senior bod at an elite institution - do something about it.