2 jun. 2011

Bullshit Fields (5)

To summarize a bit. Here are some warning signs that your field may be suspect.

(1) Confirmation bias. If your field has no consistent way of dealing with the problem of "finding what you want to find." If people in the field don't even worry about this problem, you may have a problem.

(2) Falsifiability and replicability. If there is no way of falsifying conclusions, if there is no way of correcting mistakes. If there is no history of forward movement. If there is no way of replicating the evidence. If multiple specialists in the field, when presented with the same data, might arrive at multiple, conflicting conclusions. For example, 10 economists or 10 literary critics might give you 10 different versions of what is going on.

(3) Appeal to the authority of the founder. If disputes in the field are settled by appeals to the authority of a a founder-figure, like Marx or Derrida. If we understood what Marx really meant, we will arrive at true Marxism (that kind of thinking).

(4) Factionalism. If the field is one that tends to split into many sects or factions based, not on evidence, but on ideology or temperament. If these factions tend to coalesce around other charismatic figures vying for succession after the founder is out of the picture.

(5) Special pleading and circular arguments, question begging, etc... . If you have to first accept principles on faith to accept the validity of the field. If the arguments for the validity are based on special pleading or the cherry picking of evidence. Appeals to anecdote or personal experience also are suspect.

(6) Low standards. Are even the best people in the field intellectual light-weights? Are the dissertations produced in the field of generally low quality? Is plagiarism widely tolerated?

(7) Agenda. Having an agenda does not make a field suspect in and of itself. In other words, sociology is generally aimed toward the improvement of society rather than its destruction. It is biased in that sense. Environmental science wants to preserve, not destroy the environment. Medicine wants to cure disease. SLA wants people to learn languages better. Those kind of agendas are inherent to the fields themselves and unobjectionable. If your field is so driven by an agenda that it ignores all inconvenient evidence, however, then it just might be a bullshit field.

Thanks for all your comments on my previous posts. You have been very civil even when you have disagreed with me. This summary includes ideas suggested to me in comments by Andrew and a few others. It should be obvious that I am stating the objections to the field in strong terms, sometimes a bit overstated. Obviously I don't believe my own field is totally bogus, for example; I just want to state the case that it should care a little more about validity

We are not done yet, though. I still have many fields to cover.

2 comentarios:

Shedding Khawatir dijo...

To me, this basically reads like a checklist of "things you need to consider and be careful about not doing in your research" from my qualitative methods in SLA class, which was definitely one of the best classes I ever took. I guess I think you could have all of these problems in any field, and produce research in any field that is aware of and avoids these problems. The bullshit fields idea is definitely more fun though!

Andrew Shields dijo...

(What a pleasure to have been helpful to you!)