Posts Tagged ‘Social Sciences’

In discussing what it means for sociology to be a social science with students, I frequently compare it to the physical sciences and the increased difficulty of predicting human behavior compared with, say, the molecules that make up water. I also like to remind them, though, that the supposedly more “objective” physical sciences are not outside of social influence. The other day, two posts that appeared next to each other in Feedly, my RSS reader, demonstrated this.

The first was a Sociological Images post discussing the social construction of fruits and vegetables. In short, though things ranging from tomatoes to bell peppers are scientifically classified as fruits, we socially categorize them as vegetables. Furthermore, in 1893 the Supreme Court sided with public perception over scientific classification in determining that imported tomatoes should be taxed as vegetables.

The second post was from Small Pond Science about paradigm shifts and the need to overcome some accepted scientific assumptions in order to make new discoveries. As Terry McGlynn notes, “Doubt correct dogma, you’re an ignoramus. Doubt incorrect dogma and show that you’re right, you’re a visionary.”

As a bonus, the post next to the Small Pond Science post was about another group of people questioning their assumptions. This time it was ethnographers in sociology. Social scientists and physical scientists aren’t that different after all.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links that will make you question your assumptions via your news feed.

Read Full Post »

At some schools, the biggest transition for new faculty is probably related to learning the ins and outs of departmental politics.  Luckily, my own department does not have much in the way of politics.  I have, however, noted some interesting campus politics.  During a recent conversation about student evaluations I found myself with several faculty members from the humanities who appear to have an inherent distrust of the process.

Obviously, lots of people dislike evaluations, but I’ve never talked to anybody who distrusts them like these professors from the humanities.  The fact is, I’ve always approached student evaluations from the stand point of the social sciences.  As such, evaluations are one way of collecting data about the ever-elusive student satisfaction.  As a sociologist, I’ve never questioned whether surveys were a valid method of data collection.  While survey methods are not perfect, they do reflect something about students’ reactions to what we do in the classroom, even if that something is not what we intended to measure.  This allows us to compare the reactions of our most recent students to those in the past using a standardized set of questions.

In contrast to the attitudes toward surveys that I developed in years of sociology courses, my colleagues in the humanities likely spent their graduate school days wrestling with debates about what constitutes a text.  For them, bubble sheets and numeric printouts are a mysterious entity that others (such as the members of the administration who have backgrounds in the social sciences) can manipulate to suit their needs.  While I strongly believe that this distrust is misplaced, this glimpse into campus politics was eye opening.

Read Full Post »