Wherever there are humans, there is a pecking order. In the field of research, the dividing line lies between science and social science. Hard science works with data that can be measured and the results verified by others. Social sciences can sometimes seem a little more like jelly. Data driven, yes. But conjecture can make it seem wobbly. How does one measure an idea or a mental illness?
Scientists know when a black hole forms, it creates an event horizon, a place where gravity and light fight for dominance. Scientists can tell us why it happens and why it occurs. When a quiet neighbor walks into a school room with a gun and shoots everyone in sight, that action is less understood.
What makes us tick, it seems, is harder to quantify than black holes. When we examine our minds with our minds bias can occur. The likelihood of error further increases because, in the academic world, a career is governed by the principle of publish or perish. The need to generate published articles, given the fierce competition, can generate dubious material. (The Problem With Sexy Science,” by Kiera Butler, Mother Jones, Jan/Feb. 2019 pgs. 66-67)
According to reporter Kiera Butler, some researchers may gin up their research to appear in print. Peer reviews have become lax and one scholar charges that if an editor believes an article will attract a number of readers, the submission never get critical read. (Ibid, pg. 67.)
A group of practitioners has decided to address this laxity and has launched the Open Science Framework website. There, “researchers can preregister experiments and share data, materials and research plans prior to publication.” (Ibid pg. 67) Happily, the number of social scientists using the site has doubled every year. The trend gives us hope that future data will come closer to what is true about ourselves. I’m not sanguine, however. Given the system and human ambition, I suspect there’s a lot of jelly ahead