Every so often, you get the journalist, or academic, who loves trashing social science. The complaints are ritualistic – you can’t do experiments, people use jargon and math, and so forth. Well, Forbes has a nice article called “Enough Already with the Sweeping Claims that Economics is Unscientific.” It makes some obvious, but important points. Yes, some academics become divorced from reality with their models, but do you actually want people to study the economy without quantitative data or theory? These complaints also seem to ignore that economics actually does use experiments and much strives toward policy relevance:
Let me just start by pointing out that it is not the case that “almost nothing in economics is actually derived from controlled experiments”. Look at the CV’s of economists like John List and Esther Duflo and you can see there are plenty of experiments being done. In 2013, the study selected as the best paper from American Economic Journal: Applied Economics was for a randomized trial on how teenagers respond to HIV risk information. If you want a concrete example of where this has made a difference, randomized treatment has been a central part of the research on the effects of charters schools. Unlike the field of astronomy, which Gobry must also think is not a science, economists do sometimes have more than observational data to go on.
And while it is true that a lot of research doesn’t use actual randomized trials, it’s also true that other kinds of research are very useful and informative. If his point was simply to argue that experiments and replication are important, and whether or not a body of research includes this should be one input among others in weighing the evidence, I’d have to agree. But of course you’d have to include external validity in there, which often counts against randomized trials. Instead of a relatively common claim about how it would be nice to have more experiments in economics, as is his style, PEG boldly overstates his case and makes incorrect absolutist claims about the importance of randomized trials.
Yes. Here’s the implication of this argument. Nearly every other social science, except history (which is a weird social science and humanities border case), has the same properties. We have ideas, we have data. Sometimes we do experiments. We collect other data. Sometimes we can replicate results. Sometimes we make progress and accumulate evidence, but other times not. This is, essentially, how science is done. The next time you hear someone trash sociology, economics, or another social science as unscientific, you have my permission to write angry tweets about them.
In Open Borders theory, a key hole solution is a policy proposal that is designed to promote the liberalization of immigration while addressing a very specific policy concern. For example, let’s say that I was afraid that Canadians can’t drive. Instead of banning Canadians, we would simply require Canadians to take extra driving lessons before they get a license.
People may think key hole solutions are wonky, or they wouldn’t address the concerns of restrictionists, or just simply wouldn’t work. Here is an example of an actual key hole solution that (a) is widely popular, (b) works pretty well, and (c) is a solution to an issue raised by open borders. It’s called out of state tuition.
The idea is simple. Public universities offer discounts to residents who have lived in the state for a few years. The idea is that once you’ve paid years of sales taxes, property taxes, and other taxes, you get to use a public service at a discount. Why is this a problem? Open borders. America doesn’t restrict what state you can live in. You can move anywhere. But if you haven’t lived in a specific state for a while, you haven’t paid your share of state taxes that go to education. The solution is very easy. Become a resident, file some tax returns, and you get the discount.
What I like about this example is that it is a genuine policy issue (people claiming residency just for the discount) created by free migration. It is also a policy that is simple, humane, and fairly popular. The next time you hear a complaint about open borders ask yourself if there is something easy and simple we can do rather than condemning millions of people to poverty.
Hector Cordero-Guzman is a sociologist at CUNY who writes extensively on immigration, ethnicity, and related topics. In relation to our post on race agnosticism, Hector reminded me that he wrote a post on measuring race for the blog Latino Rebels. In the post, he describes his reaction and analysis to the claim that Latinos were increasingly self-identifying as white. From the post:
A draft presentation at the Population Association of America (PAA) chronicled by a Pew Research senior writer was then picked up by Nate Cohn, writing for The New York Times’ “Upshot” blog. In the eyes of Cohn, his editor David Leonhardt and the Times, and based on a report that the scientific community has not seen or evaluated, Latinos were becoming “whiter.”
Surrounding all the controversy and discussion about reporting on research that was not available for inspection or review by other academics, two explanations to the tentative result from the unavailable census study have emerged: that the people changed (Cohn, Leonhardt and The Times) or that the census questions changed (Manuel Pastor in the HuffPost).
He follows with an analysis that can be summarized as:
A second possibility is that the context where the question is asked matters and that asking about race in Puerto Rico is different than asking the same population about their race in New York City. The question is not changing and the people are not changing—what is changing is the context, the reference point, the broader racial classification schema and categories that are used, how they are interpreted, their subjective meaning, and their social and sociological role.
Cohn further argues that the reported change in the answers given to the race question suggest Hispanic assimilation into the U.S. and into its racial classification schema. If anything, comparing data from Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans in New York City suggests that mainland Puerto Ricans develop a sense of “otherness” as they come into closer contact with the U.S. racial classification regime. In fact, it would be interesting to compare the data from Puerto Rico with data from Puerto Ricans throughout the U.S. (not just New York City), those residing in various regions, as well as looking at the more recent arrivals to see if the categories they pick are different from Puerto Ricans that have been living on the mainland for a longer period of time.
In other words, study context acts as important cue for creating interpretations of race on surveys. The whole post is highly recommended.
Orgheads, I will be travelling a bit in late October and early November. If you want to hang and talk sociology, organizations, or whatever, just drop by! We’ll make some time:
- October 17: Mississippi State University – “More Tweets, More Votes.” New results + a Grad Skool Rulz bonus round.
- October 24: The University of Southern California – “The Four Histories of Black Power: A Sociological Challenge to Black Power Historical Scholarship.” ’nuff said.
- November 10-13: SocInfo 2014!! The conference that bridges computer science and social science. This conference will be held at Yahoo Headquarters in Barcelona.
See you then!