We have had a good week on Ethnography.com grappling with the diffrerences between the Social Sciences, and the Cognitive Sciences. Last month it was the Social Sciences and Population Genetics.
I am of course a Social Scientist, and much more in tune with what Michael Scroggins and Max Holland write. They are squarely in the traditions of the social sciences regarding the nature of culture, definitions, and interpretations of data. They are also well-read in the natural sciences, and trying to tie the two fields together, a difficult task. As several of Michael’s earlier posts point out, his dissertation work brings him into close contacts with biologists in DIY bio labs. He does this on the general assumption (as I understand it) that biologists have culture too, and that the techniques and approaches Boas used to study Native Americans, and Malinowski used to study Trobriand Islanders in the early 20th century are relevant to studying scientists in 21st century California. Max has written an engaging thesis (and book) about similar issues which I have so far only skimmed. It is worth a closer look, as you can see from his blog from earlier this week.
Much of the discussion at Ethnograpy.com over the last few months frankly exhausts me. It points out how little other people have read in my social sciences as they point to the psychometric, population, and other studies which they regard as more important than Boas, Malinowski, and their successors. But it also points out how much I have to read in their fields. Most important it points to different criteria for validity used between different disciplines. Frankly, I don’t get what is so great about physics and mathematics. Both sound like great disciplines, but why are SAT scores on the math portion of the SAT “better” than those on the English portion? How could anyone think that Physics is harder than Philosophy? Have they ever tried to read Hegel?
I guess the sum of this rumination is to say that while I continue to disagree with dad, Dailliard, Razib Khan, Randall Parker and others who posted here, I also appreciate their comments which both help me examine my own positions, and point me to the many many things that I have not read. Inter-disciplinary work is difficult—more difficult I think than staying comfortably within our own disciplines where we can go to seminars of the converted, and perform the self-congratulatory rituals needed to preserve the status quo. This is why I appreciate it that they take the time to write thoughtful comments.
And “dad” for what it is worth, I still don’t think it makes much difference whether the sperm donor for my putative child is a nuclear physicist or the ticket taker at the movie theater. Still, you rhetorical question helped me frame my thoughts more precisely—it was a good question!
PS. What do you think of the Dennett quote that Max posted? “There is no such thing as philosophy-free science; there is only science whose philosophical baggage is taken on board without examination” (Dennett 1995)?