Popular Posts

Caveat Emptor

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

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

It's democracy Jim, but not as we know it

Seems like time for the words of a great Irishman.

Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Statistical Power

There is a quite interesting article in today's Guardian by Will Davies about, How Statistics Lost their Power. No it is nothing to do with the probability of rejecting the null when the alternative is true, but a rather fanciful discussion of the alleged decline of belief by mass publics in quantitative descriptions of their societies. 

To my mind he mixes a lot of things up in the first section where the story of political arithmetic, trade indicators and the beginnings of the sample survey are all jumbled together. By the way he seems to bring the latter forward  to the 1920s. The big innovations actually happened about 20 years earlier and were associated with people like the Norwegian Kier, but then again being a proponent of elitist quantification I guess that is just the sort of petty minded concern with accuracy that you would expect from me.

What he neglects to say anything about is how social scientists have themselves contributed to a generalized distrust not just in the use of numbers to describe the social world but even in their  very calculation. Things were already bad in the 1970s, so bad that a prominent British  Althusserian   Marxist found it necessary to write a little book defending the use of official statistics! Well, if you were a Marxist you couldn't really admit it was all a social construction, after all the Master himself used the Blue Books pretty uncritically.

But after that it was pretty much downhill following the rise of autoethnography, poetry writing, epistemic communities etc.

The brave Marxist, after writing an auto-critique, took himself off to Australia.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Epistemic Communities

Social media directed me to this paper put out by the NCRM. I  know that there are some members of our profession who are incomprehensible  and pride themselves on it, but the abstract seems to grant some kind of legitimacy  to incomprehensibility. How else should one interpret its advice about "validity within epistemic communities"?

If its now acceptable to admit that there are different criteria (standards?) of validity depending on which tribe you belong to isn't it time to  admit  that in some of the social sciences pretty much anything goes (as long as as you can get enough fellow-travellers on board) and consider seriously the implications of this for journal refereeing, REF panels etc. 

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to ban the social poets or wish them any harm. I just want them to have their own epistemic community, their own sources of funding and their own journals far away from the rest of us where they can adopt whatever criteria of validity they find pleasing without interfering with those of us that want to do social science. Then we'll see how long they can last when they have to stand on their own two feet.

Strangely enough my recreational reading at the moment is Stanislaw Lem's Solaris which is all about mutual incomprehensibility. Synchronicity or what?