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A plea to stop treating the humanities as if they were sciences

It is bad for the humanities and bad for the sciences. Maybe bad for society too.

In Scientific American, Maria Konnikova pleads, “Humanities aren’t a science. Stop treating them like one.” (August 10, 2012):

Nowhere is that temptation more evident than in history, where quantification and precise explanation is so incredibly enticing—and so politically useful. Witness the rise of Cliodynamics … : the use of scientific methodology (nonlinear mathematics, computer simulations, large-N statistical analyses, information technologies) to illuminate historical events – and, presumably, be able to predict when future “cycles” will occur.

Sure, there might be some insights gained. Economist Herbert Gintis calls the benefit analogous to an airplane’s black box: you can’t predict future plane crashes, but at least you can analyze what went wrong in the past. But when it comes to historical events—not nearly as defined or tangible or precise as a plane crash—so many things can easily prevent even that benefit from being realized.

Actually, it could turn out worse:

Bad for society too? Yes because, armed with unjustifiable confidence, Cliodynamicists could gain influence by claiming to predict who or what poses a security or crime threat based only on historical statistics and not on real time assessments in a specific area in the present day.

The type of thing your local pols and street corner plods would do far better, if competent.

Of course Konnikova is right. And the worst part is that all kinds of poseurs, frauds, and villains get involved in trying to “scientize” the humanities, further devastating the already “deconstructed” post-modern wasteland.

See also: History can’t be a science, but it can certainly be a pseudoscience

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One Response to A plea to stop treating the humanities as if they were sciences

  1. It’s absolutely pathetic.

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