Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Imperialism, Science, and Sociology Still Can't Get No Respect

Sociology definitely has little man syndrome -- we're so obsessed with proving we're a real science, we often go quite overboard in defending and attempting to prove our scientific merit. But much like the hypothetical little man who feels the need to prove his toughness because of some perceived slight, it isn't really our fault. Working on a recent research project, I was required to read several articles from nursing journals. And even though these were highly respected journals in their fields, if any sociologist used their methodology and tried to publish it, they would be laughed out of the profession. These articles would look at 12 people and make sweeping judgements about the general population, while sociologists often look at thousands of people and then make very limited and qualified statements about the world. But this is probably because nursing is recognized as a real science, while most people think sociologists are social workers.

Psychology is similar -- because psychologists work with the brain, which is "real" as opposed to social forces which many of my students insist I'm making up, they get a lot of credibility for their statements,even though their methodology is at worst horrible and at best not at all sufficient for the claims they make.

During my brief period as a psych major in college, I heard the joke multiple times that psychology is the study of the college sophomore. Turns out, that's not a joke, it's true.

A recent meta-study done by researchers at the University of British Columbia found that between 2003 to 2007, undergrad students made up 80% of all subjects in the top 6 psychology journals and 96% of published studies used subjects from nations that only compromise 12% of the world's population.

Yet these researchers, and especially the media reporting their findings, seem to have no problem claiming these are universal results true of all people. This is a great example of imperialist hegemony; not only is psychology seen as "real" science (and therefore speaks to all people), I can't think of a more imperialistic assumption that to say that 20-something American college students represent all people in the world.

And yet, sociology still gets no love...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The sad thing is that "real" science can be bought especially in the realm of medical research. The latest issue of Mother Jones has an article describing research done at the University of Minnesota. It was sponsored by a drug company and one of the participants died. The article made two rather disturbing points. The first was that participants were not well screened in order to get the study going quickly. The second was that the study was designed to give the answer the company wanted by essentially asking the "right question" thus assuring the data collected fit the hypothesis.

I always looked at science as being the last bastion of honesty. Collect the data and let the conclusions fall where they may. Unfortunately, many researchers now need to be funded by private companies. Furthermore, the more money a professor/researcher brings in, the faster his/her star rises. Looks like about the only results one can trust anymore are extremely abstract ones that do not immediately lead to monetary profit.