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Caveat Emptor

The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Quantophobia is back in town

Good manners prevents me from saying much of what I really think about this piece by Robert Dingwall: Quantophrenia is Back in Town. Disingenuous is the politest I can manage. 

He serves notice as to how he intends to proceed in the opening paragraphs - policies are "half-baked, racism (quite irrelevantly) is mentioned in passing, the quantitative deficit in British social science is "supposed", the practices of North America and Europe are "assumed", ESRC, the Nuffield Foundation and HEFCE are "seeking to ingratiate" themselves with an  elitist clique (never actually named).

And the crux of it is:

"...sociology’s great contribution is to ask exactly what is being counted and what this means for the outcome, rather than necessarily doing the counting itself. Our skepticism about quantification is a positive contribution to societies and organizations."

Good God man, have you actually read any sociology journals recently? I can see little evidence there that sociologists have greater skills in asking what is being counted than practitioners of the other social sciences and lots of evidence that many prominent sociologists  are clueless about numbers (even when they use them). 

And, perhaps you haven't noticed that the requirement to master even a modest amount of elementary statistics has been removed from the vast majority of UK sociology undergraduate degrees and where it hasn't an examination of the course content reveals that it has largely been reduced to the most dumbed down software button pushing imaginable.

Ask the students, or even better many of their teachers to explain what a confidence interval is and 80 per cent will give you an answer that implies they believe in magic.

And before you start poking me with a sharp stick, I'm all for skepticism about numbers. But skepticism without knowledge or understanding is just a pose and the last thing sociology needs is more poseurs.


Brendan said...

Nice piece. Dingwall was wrong about so many things -- including the very nature of Q-Step -- I would not have known where to start.


Didier said...

Can I entice you to write a blog post on why you think students are lured into blah-blah sociology?