Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Why I Quit the Social Sciences

MSNBC has an encouraging headline today:

Bucking the trend in many other wealthy industrialized nations, the United States seems to be experiencing a baby boomlet, reporting the largest number of children born in 45 years.

The nearly 4.3 million births in 2006 were mostly due to a bigger population, especially a growing number of Hispanics. That group accounted for nearly one-quarter of all U.S. births. But non-Hispanic white women and other racial and ethnic groups were having more babies, too....

The same report also showed births becoming more common in nearly every age and racial or ethnic group. Birth rates increased for women in their 20s, 30s and early 40s, not just teens. They rose for whites, blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Alaska Natives.


If I were to guess at the reasons, I would say things like: "people are confident in the future" or "people are well-to-do enough that they can support a larger family" or simply "Americans love family and value children."

According to "the experts," however, I would be mistaken. The actual reasons, of course, are:

a decline in contraceptive use, a drop in access to abortion, poor education and poverty.


Huh??? That the stupidest thing I've read in weeks. I must have missed the Supreme Court's over-ruling of Roe v. Wade, and the onset of the current Depression with its widespread poverty. I'm sorry, but poor education does NOT explain an increase in fertility among women in their 30s and 40s.

This is a prime example of social science failing to see the trees for the forest (to turn the metaphor around). They are taking a generalization and applying it to a specific case (the U.S.) which may not fit the generalization. All this "expert" did was think of the generalizations commonly used to explain the decline in fertility which usually accompanies economic development, then... and this is a basic logical fallacy... assumed that since fertility increased, the level of development as measured by the above factors must have declined.

Anyone who has had any logic training at all knows that:

If A (development), then B (lower fertility)
Not B,
ergo not A

is not logically sound.

That is what I hated about the social sciences. They all seem to believe that because the group acts a certain way on average, individuals within the group act the same way. No allowance is made for individual choice or action. Everything is averages, means and standard deviations.

Social Science cannot explain individual cases that deviate from the norm. It cannot account for Ghandi or Hitler, Mother Teresa or Stalin, the Pioneers or the Crusades, Jim Jones or Jesus Christ, and it cannot, apparently, explain why Americans love and value children more than Europeans do.