Ralph D, particle physics, and BS

Rahul Mahajan rahul at hagar.ph.utexas.edu
Wed Jun 21 00:37:18 MDT 1995

Howie, I didn't miss the point about the epistemic difference between
social and natural science. What I suggested, which is paradigmatic of how
science is done, is to try to get around that by setting up experiments
where the effect is minimized. Grand theoretical objections can often be
effectively nullified in this way. I am open to the notion that the two
enterprises must be conceived fundamentally differently -- it just seems
clear to me that this important difference (that the behavior of the
objects of your study changes if you announce conclusions) is an
insufficient basis for mandating that distinction. We also still haven't
gotten at the question of the nature of that distinction, or how does the
SS project differ from that of NS fundamentally and still remain scientific
in some reasonable sense?

On the question about consensus, I certainly did not suggest that
oppositional thinking is less scientific or not scientific at all. In fact,
I think oppositional thinking generally contains more of the truth than
status quoism. My point was about the fact that there can exist sharp
oppositional divides that cannot be reconciled even on, in a sense, the
ABCs of economics. If this is possible in a field, how can the field be
scientific? Of course, you could say the capitalist economists are full of
shit, and Marxist economics is scientific. Anyone want to claim this?  Of
course, when talking about consensus, you run into the fundamental problem
you mentioned, since the scientists themselves are objects as well as
subjects. Still, however, development of a sufficiently powerful formalism
should be able to compel agreement on certain points, at least. A Marxist
economist and a capitalist economist still take a derivative the same way.


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