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What is Social Science

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A lesson that articulates the nature of the social sciences through an examination of some famous examples.

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What is Social Science

  1. 1. What are the problems inherent in this epistemological approach? WHAT IS SOCIAL SCIENCE? The application of scientific methods, standards and sensibilities in the study of social phenomena. Can these problems be overcome? How reliable is the knowledge thus constructed?
  2. 2. Concise And Coherent Theories A Few Key Concepts or Factors Explanation Prediction Universality Causal Mechanism Hypothesis Testing Observation Experimentation Evidence Data-Driven Mathematical Modelling Repeatable Results Reasoning Social Scientists Want To Grow Up To Be Like Scientists
  3. 3. A SOCIAL EXPERIMENT Who Wants Fifty Dollars? Instructions Grab a pen (or pencil) and a piece of paper. Sit on alternative seats. Everyone must participate. You cannot communicate with anyone else from this moment onwards. Conditions For Winning The person who bids the highest amount will win the fifty-dollar note. Everyone must pay the highest amount you have bid as administrative fee. More Instructions Write down the amount that you would pay for this fifty-dollar note. Write down your name on the paper as well. Fold the paper, so that your bid remains secret. What does the result of the experiment mean? Which hypothesis explains the result? (Or which hypothesis does the result support?) Did you notice that there was no causal explanation here?
  4. 4. The Rate Of Violent and Property Crimes Rose Dramatically In The U.S. Between 1950 And 1970 Why? It was hard to say. Many changes were simultaneously rippling through American society in the 1960s – a population explosion, a growing anti-authoritarian sentiment, the expansion of civil rights, a wholesale shift in popular culture. It wasn’t easy to isolate the factors driving crime. THE RATE OF VIOLENT AND PROPERTY CRIMES IN THE U.S. 50% higher than it had been in 1950. 1950 1960 1970 Four times the rate in 1950.
  5. 5. DOES PUTTING MORE PEOPLE IN PRISON LOWER THE CRIME RATE? No responsible government would allow researchers to test this in an experiment in the real world. In trying to answer such questions, researchers often rely on a natural experiment, a set of conditions in the real world that happens to mimic the experiment they want to conduct but, for whatever reason, cannot. Experiments are central to (natural) scientific inquiry, but there are times when it is not possible to conduct an experiment in natural science. Can you think of examples of such instances? What is the impact on the reliability of knowledge constructed? In recent decades, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) successfully filed a number of lawsuits against dozens of states in the U.S. to protest overcrowding in prisons. These states were ordered to let some prisoners free. In the three years after ACLU has won a case Prison population fell by 15% relative to the rest of the country Violent crime rises by 10% Property crime rises by 5%
  6. 6. The ratio of arrests per crime fell in the 1960s. The courts were less likely to send criminals to prison. Accounted for 30% of the rise in crime. The proportion of population between 15 and 24 rose by almost 40% between 1960 and 1980. Accounted for 10% of the rise in crime. Okay, But Does The Reduction In Punishment Account For The Full Extent Of The U.S. Crime Spike in the 1960s And 1970s? Return of Vietnam veterans Massive migration of African Americans from the rural south to the urban north All these factors combined still cannot account for the full extent of the crime surge. So, what’s the missing factor?
  7. 7. Is TV The Missing Factor? The data do not support the claim that watcing violent TV programmes will lead to violent behaviour. But what about the claim that children who grew up watching a lot of TV, even the most innocuous family-friendly shows, were more likely to engage in crime when they are older? This is not easy to test. We can’t simply compare kids who watched a lot of TV with those who didn’t, because two groups of children are bound to differ in a great many other ways. How do you set up the experiment so that you are testing for only the effects of watching TV? Kids in cities that got TV early Kids in cities that got TV later Kids in a city who grew up without TV Kids in the same city who grew up with TV vs. vs. For every extra year a child was exposed to TV in his first 15 years, we see a 4% increase in the number of property-crime arrests later in life and a 2% increase in violent-crime arrests. The total impact of TV on crime in the 1960s was an increase of 50% in property crimes and 25% increase in violent crimes.
  8. 8. Perhaps kids who watched a lot of TV never learned to entertain themselves. Perhaps kids who watched a lot of TV never got properly socialised. Perhaps TV made the have-nots want the things the haves had. Perhaps the parents became derelict when they found watching TV more entertaining than taking care of their kids. Perhaps parents relied on TV to occupy the kids instead of engaging them in character-development activities. KNOWING THAT TWO FACTORS ARE CORRELATED DOES NOT ALWAYS GIVE US A CAUSAL EXPLANATION. Why Did TV Have This Effect? Was TV Actually the Cause? The effect was the largest for those who had extra TV exposure from birth to the age of four. Since children in this age-group are unlikely to be watching violent shows, content couldn’t have been the reason.
  9. 9. How Does One Factor Affect Another? SCIENCE SOCIAL SCIENCE SIZE Independent Variable Dependent Variable The better we can keep the other factors constant in an experiment, the more certain we are of the result. Human beings respond to several factors all at once in real-world situations. An experiment that tests how people will respond to variations in just one factor may have very limited use in knowledge construction.
  10. 10. In Search Of Altruism People give a lot of their money and time to humanitarian causes. Does this mean people in general are altruistic? How can we know whether an act is altruistic or self-serving? Determining this in the real world is extremely hard, because it is difficult to understand the intentions behind another person’s actions. Furthermore, situations that motivate seemingly altruistic acts are typically anomalies (e.g. natural disasters), which means our responses in those situations are likely to be atypical anyway; so they probably don’t say much about our baseline altruism. Could we construct knowledge about altruism by peeling away all of the real world’s complexities and bringing the inquiry into the laboratory? HOW MUCH CAN WE REALLY LEARN FROM CONTROLLED EXPERIMENTS
  11. 11. Ultimatum Alan is given $20. He can offer any amount between $0 and $20 to Zachary. A Z The Zacharys usually reject offers below $3. On average, the Alans offer more than $6. So the Alans usually give substantially more than is necessary to ward off rejection. Altruism? Probably not, since the Alans have something to gain. IN SEARCH OF ALTRUISM
  12. 12. IN SEARCH OF ALTRUISM Dictator Similar to the Ultimatum Game, except that only the person given the money gets to make a decision. Classic Alan is given $20. He can offer Zachary $2 or $10. New Alan is given $20. He can offer Zachary anything between $0 and $20. On average, the Alans offer about $4. A Z Offer $10
  13. 13. Variation 1: Customers and Dealers Were Invited To Participate Customer names his price; Dealer then offers a card that’s supposed to match the offered price. On average, the Dealers offer cards of commensurate value. C D On average, the Customers make fairly high offers. IN SEARCH OF ALTRUISM Variation 2: Customers Approach Unsuspecting Dealers Customer names his price; Dealer then offers a card. List’s Dictator List’s observations at baseball card conventions The Dealers consistently rip off the Customers, with the out-of-towners cheating more often than the locals. C D
  14. 14. Variation 1: Classic Alan can choose to give up to $5 to Zachary. Variation 2: Take $1 Alan can still give up to $5, or can instead take up to $1 from Zachary 18% TAKE SOME How much money changes hands in each condition of the experiment? Here are the mean offers by game variant: $1.33 $0.33 Variation 3: Take $5 Alan can still give up to $5, or can instead take up to $5 from Zachary. 29% KEEP 71% GIVE 6% GIVE -$2.48 Variation 4: Earnings Alan can give or take up to $5, but the players have both worked beforehand to earn their money. 43% KEEP 35% GIVE 22% TAKE 66% KEEP 28% TAKE 30% KEEP 10% GIVE 42% TAKE ALL -$1 -$3 -$2 -$1 $0 $1 $2
  15. 15. What Does The Stanford Experiment Tell Us About Social Science? People modify their behaviour according to the situation they are in and the role they play in that situation. - Philip Zimbardo I don’t believe that result. - Steven Levitt

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