June 03, 2015

Source: Shutterstock

The scandal has led to many thumbsucker articles about the replication crisis in science and other weighty topics. But almost all of them are missing the point that even if this analysis had been honest, it still wouldn”€™t have been Science-with-a-capital-S as most people think of the word. Rather, it would have been lowly marketing research. This was never claimed to be a study of whether or not gay marriage was a good idea. Instead, it just purported to be research into how best to spin gay marriage to voters.

And that’s emblematic of a trend in which the social sciences, having repeatedly failed to demonstrate the truth of the political dogmas espoused by most leftist social scientists, are slowly repositioning themselves as an arm of the marketing industry.

It’s widely assumed by people on the left that the reason most social scientists vote like they do is because their findings support their leftist views, such as that race is only skin deep, that sex is just a social construct, and that social engineering works. Many people on the right, in contrast, suspect that social scientists come up with this data because they are leftist.

But the truth is far more ironic: leftist social scientists seldom produce numbers supporting their leftist prejudices. Consider Hillary advisor Raj Chetty’s massive ongoing study of your confidential tax data to determine the causes of income inequality by county. Chetty concocted various acceptable rationalizations, such as segregation and sprawl. But if you actually look at his numbers, it turns out the most important long-term reasons for what really keeps children poor is the race of their ancestors (black and Native American counties regress toward lower mean incomes) and social liberalism, such as having a single mother.

There’s nothing anomalous about liberal social scientists grudgingly data validating old conservative insights deep in their papers. That’s been going on for a half century since the federal Coleman Report of 1966. The 1964 Civil Rights Act allocated one million dollars to prove that the reason blacks did badly in school on average was because they didn”€™t get their fair share of funding. But sociologist James S. Coleman discovered, to his shock, that school performance had far more to do with the human capital the students brought from home.

Due to this endless history of empirical failures, leftist social scientists have pretty much given up using the tools of their trade to come up with evidence in support of Social Justice Warrior shibboleths. That’s almost inevitable: real science is replicable and thus has to be about enduring truths. But the anti-science conventional wisdom demonizes actual knowledge as “€œstereotypes.”€

Hence, social scientists have been increasingly focused not on truth finding but on how better to manipulate the masses.

For instance, one of the most famous experiments of the 1990s claimed to demonstrate that showing college students words related to being old (e.g. “€œbingo”€) “€œprimed“€ them to walk down the hallway afterwards slightly slower.

It’s proven hard to replicate this study, which is another social science scandal. Yet perhaps the bigger question is … why did anybody care in the first place? Why is it important whether or not you can cajole college students to walk slower once?

In fact, everybody knows you can prime college students to do a lot of dumb things: it’s called “€œfashion.”€ In 1978, for instance, Elvis Costello primed me into wearing a skinny necktie.

But experimenting with current fashions isn”€™t discovering enduring truths, it’s just marketing research.

There’s nothing wrong with marketing research. It’s an honorable trade, one that I pursued for most of the 1980s and 1990s before becoming a full-time writer.

It’s not, however, a terribly prestigious one. If you call yourself a scientist, you are claiming the mantle of Galileo, Darwin, and Einstein. If you call yourself a marketing researcher, however, you”€™re just one of the nerds running the focus group of Itchy & Scratchy fans.

Academics can rationalize their selling out to the marketing biz by quoting Marx on changing the world.

But, hey, it pays the bills.


Sign Up to Receive Our Latest Updates!