January 8, 2018

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What is Social Science?

POLI 110

Answering questions

Lots of types of questions:

  • Which ones can we answer?
  • Which ones can we answer scientifically?
  • What is a good answer?

Science?

Which of these is a fundamental quality of scientific inquiry?

Explain why.

  1. Exact measurement
  2. Making conclusions with high certainty
  3. Employing transparent procedures
  4. Seeking universal truths, laws
  5. Controlled experiments

Making claims

Claims

A statement about the world

  • What things/relationships exist or should exist

We can accept or reject the truth of a claim

  • But why would we accept or reject a claim?
  • What criteria can we use?

Criteria

Many possible criteria for evaluating a claim

  • Not all are scientific
  • Different criteria make different assumptions

A claim

Foreign aid is beneficial

Basis for the claim:

"The war against terror is bound up in the war against poverty." Who said that? Not me. Not some beatnik peace group. Secretary of State [and retired General] Colin Powell. And when a military man starts talking like that perhaps we should listen.

  • Bono

What kind of claim is that?

Appeal to authority (argumentum ad verecundiam)

Arguing that claim is true because a person with authority says it is true.

"Chief of police says that the gun control bill will lead to more murders."

"Immunization against relatively harmless childhood diseases may be responsible for the dramatic increase in autoimmune diseases." — Dr. Robert Mendelsohn MD, pediatrician

Appeal to authority

  • Herr/Frau Schmidt
  • Herr/Frau Dr. Schmidt
  • Herr/Frau Professor Dr. Schmidt
  • Herr/Frau Professor Dr. Dr. Schmidt

Basis for Claim: Authority

Problems with appeals to authority:

  • Expertise not a guarantee of being correct

Experts can be wrong

Claim:

Quantum mechanics is incomplete

Basis for the claim:

"God does not play dice"

"no-spooky-action-at-a-distance"

  • Einstein

Expertise may be false or irrelevant

Claim:

As far as the cyber, I agree to parts of what Secretary Clinton said. We should be better than anybody else, and perhaps we're not. I don't think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. … So we have to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is — it is a huge problem. … The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it's hardly doable.

  • Donald Trump

Basis for the claim:

I have a son. He's 10 years old. He has computers. He is so good with these computers, it's unbelievable.

Basis for Claim: Authority

Problems with appeals to authority:

  • Expertise not a guarantee of being correct
  • Experts may have an agenda

Experts have motive other than the truth

Claim:

"Climate change is not caused by human activity"

Basis for the claim:

"These scientists say the evidence does not support the claim."

  • These scientists also have had work paid for by Exxon Mobil

Experts have motive other than the truth

Claim:

"Given your condition, you should take this new drug, X."

Basis for the claim:

"I am a doctor."

  • This doctor receives gifts, meals, money from manufacturer of drug X.

Basis for Claim: Authority

Problems with appeals to authority:

  • Expertise not a guarantee of being correct

  • Experts may have an agenda

  • Too easy to cherry-pick authorities that agree

Claim:

Cutting the corporate tax rate will dramatically increase economic growth, offsetting the loss in revenue from the cut in rates

Basis for the claim:

Tax Foundation economic models find increase in GDP of 3.7% and deficit increased by only $400 billion over ten years.

  • But models from Joint Committee on Taxation (created by Republicans to use economic models more favorable to tax cuts), Tax Policy Center, and Penn Wharton all find small increases in GDP and deficit increase by $1.5 trillion over ten years.

Basis for Claim: Authority

Problems with appeals to authority:

  • Expertise not a guarantee of being correct

  • Experts may have an agenda

  • Too easy to cherry-pick authorities that agree

  • What happens when authorities disagree?

Proliferating authorities

Representative Tom Cole:

Though mainstream forecasters like the Joint Committee on Taxation and University of Pennsylvania have issued unflattering analyses of GOP proposals, Cole says his tax-committee colleagues tell him other models offer sunnier results in line with his core belief that lower taxes boost the economy. He doesn't know what those models are, but doesn't worry about that. He distrusts economic forecasts across the board because, he says, they're so often wrong. "I don't find any of that persuasive," he explains. "There are about as many economists as there are opinions."

  • Disagreeing authority leads to cherry-picking and/or irrelevance of evidence

Problems with appeals to authority:

  • Expertise not a guarantee of being correct

  • Experts may have an agenda

  • Too easy to cherry-pick authorities that agree

  • What happens when authorities disagree?

Basis for Claim: Authority

Beware:

  • The basis of authority is often "science."

  • Turns science into something magic and should not make it persuasive

What foods promote health?

Worst case scenario:

Studies Show That You Should Come Into This Room Right Over Here, And That You Should Come Alone

Recent studies suggest that it’s very important that you come into this room right over here just now. Studies also suggest that it’s equally important you do not waste time asking questions like “what room” and “why” and “why is this so important to you,” but just step this way through the door very quickly and by yourself, immediately. The studies were conducted, and the evidence is conclusive: this room just over here is where you should go next, without anyone coming with you. Scientists did them, the studies. Which ones? Yes. The studies are all finished now, and you don’t need to see them. The studies suggested that it’s not important you see the studies at all, but it is important that you hurry along, quickly now, because time is of the essence. The studies say now is the best time for you to be alone in that room.

Worst case scenario:

Recent studies suggest shhh and hush. A number of studies – more studies than you could count, but don’t count them – have all concluded the same thing. The room is for you. Go there now, without looking inside of it first or leaving the door cracked open behind you. All the studies agree. They’re all concerned about you, and they want what’s best for you, and for the room. The studies were published. The studies were conducted. The studies started and happened and ended, and they’re full of data, and the data is for you. As it turns out, “Things are best for you when you go into the room right now without bringing anyone with you,” one of the scientists from the study said. “That’s when things are best, in the room.” You should go there now.

The studies that show this

A claim

Foreign aid is beneficial

Basis for the claim:

If developing countries are poor, then obviously the problem is a lack of money. So giving them more money has to help.

What kind of claim is that?

Appeal to common sense

Bases for claims: Common Sense

Claims from common sense:

  • arguing that a claim is true because it is something "everyone knows" or "just makes sense"

Examples:

"Guns kill people, so of course gun control will reduce murders."

"Corporate tax cuts benefit everyone, because businesses with more money will pay employees more."

Bases for claims: Common Sense

Common sense can lead us astray:

  • Often based on superficial similarities

Claim:

"Governments should rarely or never run deficits"

Basis for the claim:

"People or families cannot spend more than they make, neither should the government"

  • Individuals/families have budgets, so do governments. But they are otherwise very dissimilar.

Bases for claims: Common Sense

Common sense can lead us astray:

  • Often based on superficial similarities
  • Often based on analogy between very different situations

Claim:

In 2003:

"US military invasion in Iraq will bring peace, democracy, and economic growth to the country."

Basis for the claim:

"The occupation of Germany promoted demilitarization, denazification, democratization and capitalist development while garnering widespread support within Germany and outside"

  • But the places, context of invasion, and the ways they were undertaken were totally different.

Bases for claims: Common Sense

Common sense can lead us astray:

  • Often based on superficial similarities

  • Often based on analogy between very different situations

  • Often good reasons what the opposite claim also makes sense

Claim and basis:

"Guns kill people, so of course gun control will reduce murders."

Counterclaim and basis:

"People kill people, so gun control will not stop murderers, because other weapons are available."

Claim and basis:

"Concealed carry of guns increases public safety, because crimes will be stopped or deterred by using guns in self-defense"

Counterclaim and basis:

"Concealed carry of guns decreases public safety, because availability means more people will make rash decisions to use firearms"

Bases for claims: Common Sense

Common sense can lead us astray:

  • Often based on superficial similarities

  • Often based on analogy between very different situations

  • Often good reasons what the opposite claim also makes sense

A claim

Campaign ad

Personally

  • feel that painting candidate as plutocrat is damning

Evidence

  • Study of political ads
  • Among least effective ads during that campaign

Bases for Claims: Personal experience

A claim from personal experience:

A claim based on one's own personal (nonsystematic) observation or one's own reaction to an observation

Examples

"No one I know is voting for ____, so they won't win."

"I've had two identical watches from Timex that broke; they make poor quality products."

"Broken windows" policing

"You're not going to find the scientific study that can support broken-windows one way or the other. … The evidence I rely on is what my eyes show me…"

  • NYPD Chief Bill Bratton

Bases for Claims: Personal experience

Personal experience can be misleading:

  • We generalize too quickly from a small number of cases and our experience

"I have a gluten intolerance. I had [some product] a few times and each time I felt sick to my stomach afterwards."

"Donald Trump is protecting manufacturing jobs. Carrier kept jobs after he pressured them."

Bases for Claims: Personal experience

Personal experience can be misleading:

  • We generalize too quickly from a small number of cases and our experience
  • Our exposure to the world may be skewed

"Poverty isn't a problem here, I don't know anyone who had trouble making ends meet."

Bases for Claims: Personal experience

Personal experience can be misleading:

  • We generalize too quickly from a small number of cases and our experience

  • Our exposure to the world may be skewed

  • We observe the world selectively

"I'm afraid of going to large public events out of fear of a terrorist attack or mass shooting. But I drive to work everyday."

Bases for Claims: Personal experience

Personal experience can be misleading:

  • We generalize too quickly from a small number of cases and our experience

  • Our exposure to the world may be skewed

  • We observe the world selectively

What is social science?

Monday

What are the bases for claims?

What are unscientific bases for claims?

Today: what makes social science different?

Unscientific bases for claims:

Authority

Commensense

Personal experience

Not an exhaustive list

Bases for Claims: Personal experience

Personal experience can be misleading:

  • We generalize too quickly from a small number of cases and our experience

"I have a gluten intolerance. I had [some product] a few times and each time I felt sick to my stomach afterwards."

"Donald Trump is protecting manufacturing jobs. Carrier kept jobs after he pressured them."

Bases for Claims: Personal experience

Personal experience can be misleading:

  • We generalize too quickly from a small number of cases and our experience
  • Our exposure to the world may be skewed

"Poverty isn't a problem here, I don't know anyone who had trouble making ends meet."

Bases for Claims: Personal experience

Personal experience can be misleading:

  • We generalize too quickly from a small number of cases and our experience

  • Our exposure to the world may be skewed

  • We observe the world selectively

"I'm afraid of going to large public events out of fear of a terrorist attack or mass shooting. But I drive to work everyday."

Bases for Claims: Personal experience

Personal experience can be misleading:

  • We generalize too quickly from a small number of cases and our experience

  • Our exposure to the world may be skewed

  • We observe the world selectively

Science not always preferred:

"What particularly galls police is that ivory-tower academics — many of whom have never sat in a patrol car, walked or bicycled a beat, lived in or visited regularly troubled, violent neighborhoods or collected any relevant data of their own 'on the ground' — cloak themselves in the mantle of an empirical 'scientist' and produce 'findings' indicating the 'broken windows' has been disproved. Worse, they allege that police have had little to do with the declines in crime."

Science not always preferred:

Scientific bases for claims:

Features of Science:

Transparent procedures

Systematic use of evidence

Test claim against alternatives

Acknowledge uncertainty

Transparent procedures

How did you arrive at your conclusion

  • What data / observations did you use?
  • What comparisons did you make?
  • What choices as a researcher did you make, and why

Why?

  • Others can know the assumptions required to find result
  • Others can question your choices
  • Others can replicate your work

Systematic Use of Evidence

Observations we make:

  • Based on clear rules for selection
  • clear rules for comparison
  • avoids "cherry-picking"

Doesn't need to be statistical:

  • We can do this using historical evidence, personal observation
  • As long as we set clear rules and procedures to minimize "cherry-picking"

Consider alternatives

Why?

  • Openness to being wrong
  • One positive piece of evidence can be consistent with many claims

Test your claim against other competing claims

  • Whichever claim "survives" many different tests is best

Acknowledge uncertainty

Two ways:

Limitations of your finding:

  • Openness about how your evidence could still be wrong
  • What questions remain unanswered after your study (what didn't it tell us)

How certain or precise are our answers?

  • Acknowledge possibility of chance relationships
  • Given this, how "confident" can we be about our results being real?

An example

An issue

Political views tied to upbringing, deep beliefs, cultural values

  • Not easy to change
  • Challenging belief on one issue can call all into question

But people do change their values on important questions

How does this happen?

One example:

How did people change their minds about same-sex marriage?

  • lots of opposition, rooted in cultural norms, religious belief, tradition

  • attitudes changed within generations

One example:

One answer:

Contact with a person who is homosexual can change minds

  • So-called "contact hypothesis" applied to many excluded minorities

  • Contact may humanize the other group, encourage taking their perspective, dispel prejudices

Some evidence

Some evidence

What are the bases of these claims?

Personal experience

Common sense

Authority?

Does this prove contact works?

Many other things are changing, not just contact:

  • Portrayals on television
  • Public figures who are homosexual
  • Political leaders/religious leaders suppoting same-sex marriage

Does this prove contact works?

Who has contact?

People to whom …

  • Children, relatives, or friends come out
  • Strangers reveal their sexual orientation

… may be more open-minded and persuadable. That is why they have these experiences.

Does this prove contact works?

Where does contact happen?

Places where …

  • People are likely to meet and talk to people who are homosexual

… may have weaker cultural norms or institutions opposing same-sex marriage. More tolerant places may be more attractive to gay people or make them more comfortable being out. Thus, contact occurs in more tolerant places.

An investigation

Researchers conduct an experiment:

Can a single conversation change minds on divisive social issues, such as same-sex marriage?

Are conversations about same-sex marriage more persuasive when they are with a gay person?

An investigation: set up

  • Gay-rights organization canvassed for same-sex marriage in California
  • Researchers worked with them to randomize which people received different "treatments"

Subjects

  • 972 registered voters
  • living in precincts that voted to ban same-sex marriage in 2008

An investigation: set up

Treatments

Subjects either saw:

  • Canvasser for same-sex marriage who was straight or gay
  • Canvasser for recycling program who was straight or gay
  • No canvasser

Survey

  • Answered survey questions about homosexuality, same-sex marriage
  • From 5 days after canvass to 280 days

Findings:

Transparent Procedures:

Paper: 4 pages

Supplementary Appendix: 24 pages

Treatments:

Who was treated?