Month: November 2011

On lack of consilience in the social sciences

O.E.Wilson’s characterisation of the social sciences is spot on (emphases mine):

“…There is also progress in the social sciences, but it is much slower and not at all animated by the same information flow and optimistic spirit [as in natural sciences]. Cooperation is sluggish at best; even genuine discoveries are often obscured by bitter ideological disputes. For the most part, anthropologists, economists, sociologists, and political scientists fail to understand and encourage one another… The efforts of social scientists are snarled by disunity and a failure of vision. And the reasons for the confusion are becoming increasingly clear. Social scientists by and large spurn the idea of the hierarchical ordering of knowledge that unites and drives the natural sciences. Split into independent cadres, the stress precision in words within their speciality but seldom speak the same technical language from one speciality to the next. A great many even enjoy the resulting overall atmosphere of chaos, mistaking it for creative ferment. Some favour partisan social activism, directing theory into the service of their personal political philosophies.” (p. 201)