Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Sociology is scientifically bankrupt

One of the themes I'd like to stress is that sociology is untrustworthy among the social sciences. Not only do sociologists dismiss biological sources of behavior, many of them do not even believe in the scientific method and see research as simply a way to advance their politics. Robert Trivers is right: the more social the discipline, the more corrupt.

Let's take a glaring example. A standard race study goes something like this: "We will use opposition to affirmative action as our measure of racism among whites. This variable is correlated in our data with voting Republican, so we therefore conclude that racism is widespread among Republicans."  Or they use the same reasoning with being in favor of the death penalty: "If whites favor it, it is because they hate blacks." Research like this appears in the prestigious journals all the time.

Let's do a simple validity check to see if there is something to what they are doing. They are claiming that underneath conservative political attitudes lies hatred for blacks.  You can't simply ask whites if they hate blacks because nobody ever admits to it. So you use a proxy which just happens to be an attitude held by your political enemies. If these attitudes are proxies, then they should correlate highly with a more direct measure of  racism.

I would argue the best question available on surveys that taps not liking blacks goes like this: "In general, how warm or cool do you feel towards African Americans?" If political attitudes are good substitute measures, they should correlate strongly with answers to this question. Keep in mind that the correlation should be .8 or higher to be a good proxy. 

I did correlations with General Social Survey data--a sample of 694 whites. What is the size of the affirmative action/coolness association? A whopping .10. And for coolness and the death penalty? An enormous .13. Trivial correlations, both of them. Almost unrelated. These conservative political attitudes are worthless as proxies of racism. 

So here's your situation, conservatives: Your taxpayer dollars support these charlatans who abuse science to vilify and undermine you. And you pay an obscene amount of money to have your kids learn at the feet of these propagandists. 

As a sociologist, I take no pleasure in agreeing with Razib's recent Tweet about sociology: "End it, don't mend it." 

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