Do the social sciences need a shake-up?

Amanda Goodall, Andrew Oswald, Times Higher Education, Oct 10, 2014
Commentary by Stephen Downes

This reminds me of the call not so long ago to reform the teaching of economics. Students in that discipline issued a manifesto calling for the teaching of less orthodox (and hopefully more accurate) theories. In this case, though, the call comes from an editorial in the New York Times from Nicholas Christakis, head of the Human Nature Lab at Yale University. "The social sciences have stagnated," he writes. "They offer essentially the same set of academic departments and disciplines that they have for nearly 100 years... social scientists too often miss the chance to declare victory and move on to new frontiers." He wants them to move on from studying "classic topics like monopoly power, racial profiling and health inequality" and instead learn from Yale and Harvard and teach things like "biosocial science, network science, neuroeconomics, behavioral genetics and computational social science." But iws nomenclature really the problem? Goodall and Oswald respond, "What principally matters is whether social scientists are doing their job of helping humans to understand the world and improve life." And it's worth noting that institutions like Yale and Harvard have the effect of preserving monopoly power and inequality, precisely by closing discussion of these topics.

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