The spirit of the social sciences: Speaking truth to power

The social sciences offer insights into social, cultural, political, economic phenomena through empirically-driven work.

The quest for empiricism essentially means that the social scientist has to pay close attention to data in drawing her conclusions. Good social science is not simply about running an equation or generating a simulation on the basis of assumptions, but actually putting these observations and assumptions to test.

For instance, mathematically drawing out how two players may make specific choices in a game based on a rational actor model is perhaps irrelevant unless tested through empirical observations.

The observation of social phenomena thus is grounded in a commitment to generating truth claims, however contingent and incomplete.

It is possible that some or many of these truth claims that emerge from honest social science scholarship disagree with the broader assumptions or foregone conclusions of the dominant power structures in a given social-political-economic system.

For instance, when a social scientist observes the poor health effects of large-scale inequalities in systems, the conclusions drawn may not really be palatable to the political-economic plutocrats that govern many universities today.

Yet, the commitment of good social science lies in speaking these very truths, drawn from close study of data.

Speaking truth to power in this sense is quintessential to the integrity of social science.


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