Feynman On Social Sciences

This is one of the most searched catch phrases on Google, of which I am still a big fan. Social science, which is supposed to be singular to start with, which is based on statistics alone today, is indeed quite dangerous if we are to derive consequences or take actions based on those easy and fast conclusions. In fact, Feynman was actually talking about pseudoscience in general and gave an example in biology to prove his point. However, social science at large is still considered one of the prime examples of pseudoscience in Feynman’s mind. He hates it, which is obvious from his facial expressions so overly analyzed by those so-called social scientists. It’s sad, because they are bringing it up now, only after Feynman has been dead for such a long time. A dead man can’t talk back. How convenient! Well, I am not a big fan of Feynman, but ethical issues matter.

There you go. Here is another example of how to abuse statistics in social science. Say, we are studying rape crimes in criminology, which we prefer to prevent due to their high social costs and irrecoverable negative impacts on victims. Then, someone comes with a brilliant idea: why not relate this particular behavior to a gene? Well, the assumption is that if we can identify a particular behavior, then there must be a set of genes working together to promote it or even enforce it. This is what happened with homosexuality. Social scientists are trying too hard to work with biologists to provide excuses for abnormal behaviors. Let’s keep it simple. If a behavior is harmless to our society, we don’t have to punish it. On the other hand, if the social scientists working on these issues believe that the general public needs some white lies, especially those stemming from biology, in order to adjust their reactions to these minority behaviors, a technique also known as brainwash, then there are at least two mistakes being made: (1) the general public is assumed to be stupid and irrational and (2) white lies can be very powerful tools in mass manipulation. That being said, if rape genes can be identified statistically, the discovery can help with the identification of suspects at an early stage of investigation when locality matters. After all, most criminal investigations begin without a clue.

The question remains, is dependence or even correlation alone sufficient in justifying the function of a set of genes? What makes us believe that the set of genes involved in affecting a particular behavior cannot be scattered everywhere? Given the size of a gene pool, what is the probability of making an incorrect guess if we don’t maintain the requirement of a very high confidence level? Again, statistics is merely a tool at the very first stage of scientific study when we have no clues yet. Once a pattern is identified, the exact understanding of the underlying mechanism must be sought to further the study. Whenever we want to stay at Level-1 forever, we know something is wrong! Now, the existence of certain genes is no excuse for harmful behaviors. Tendency can be controlled, and if not, the problem must be contained. In the world of criminal justice, once is often enough.

So, Feynman is right about social science being a good example of pseudoscience, where statistics is sufficient and satisfactory for all explanations. Of all fundamental physical forces, the electromagnetic force is the easiest one to engineer and manipulate, which we have yet to unify with the gravitational force to enable cheap flight or perhaps fast flight. This is such an important milestone in human science and engineering. What are we waiting for? Perhaps, the extra-terrestrials watching us are waiting for this crucial step in technological advancement before taking an initiative to communicate with us. After all, they don’t want to waste their time with some cavemen on this planet.


About Run Song

Run Song (宋闰) is my pen name for the Moments of Poetry, a collection of poems about the greatest moments of life. If photography captures the greatest moments of life, poetry is the life behind them.
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