Monday, May 21, 2012

How Reliable Are the Social Sciences?

But how reliable is even the best work on the effects of teaching?...For making informed decisions about public policy, though, we need to have a more precise sense of how large the difference in reliability is. Is there any work on the effectiveness of teaching that is solidly enough established to support major policy decisions? The case for a negative answer lies in the predictive power of the core natural sciences compared with even the most highly developed social sciences.  Social sciences may be surrounded by the “paraphernalia” of the natural sciences, such as technical terminology, mathematical equations, empirical data and even carefully designed experiments.  But when it comes to generating reliable scientific knowledge, there is nothing more important than frequent and detailed predictions of future events.  We may have a theory that explains all the known data, but that may be just the result of our having fitted the theory to that data.  The strongest support for a theory comes from its ability to correctly predict data that it was not designed to explain. more

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