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Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Generation of 'Scientific' Information.

Does anyone else have an issue with the social sciences hold over the world of information? I mean if you think about it, why is it that the realm of high level interpretation given the social interaction of our world rests on the shoulders of a few individuals 'trained' to see things 'scientifically'? After all what is this “scientific” inquiry and how does it translate to the real social world? We have a group of people that sit around reading the same old eight white dead European mens' ideas and re/interpreting our social existence through these same eyes, based on the same foundations of knowledge, and keep coming to the same explanations and understandings. .

Take one case in point from social science methodology. When you discuss ethics and methodology, it is generally accepted that if you wish to study someone, observe them, that you should (or really have to if you want to do things 'properly' / 'respectably'), gain their permission to observe them. I certainly understand the implications of rights and freedoms of individuals and am sympathetic to this concept. But how can you tell me that this is a 'scientific' way of observing the actual world as it exists? I mean just think about it. When you are sitting at home alone and you know full well that no one is watching you, what do you do? You do whatever you want to do and however you want to do it. Now imagine if you know that someone is watching you, studying you, trying to decipher exactly how you and your human life exist and function. Would you act differently? If you knew your fiends and family would be watching? (see my previous post about acting as if everyone is watching you as a motivator for you to be 'better')

The bottom line is being observed changes a person's behavior. If no one is there do you close the door when you pee? Do you walk around naked? Do you sing along with the radio? Think about it in family settings. Does an abusive father beat or verbally accost his children in public? Does he do this in his own home if there is a visitor? Probably not. I mean its illegal, and unaccepted. But it happens daily. Women are abused all over the world and it goes 'unnoticed', yet how often is it 'seen'? The bottom line is that people live their lives differently in public and in private. This is absolutely no surprise to anyone. So how is it that we somehow believe that 'scientifically' we are actually doing something admissible when people have been given notification before being watched. It is a false and manufactured act and in no way mirrors a controlled laboratory 'scientific' experiment. The problem is that observation or filming without peoples' consent is considered unethical, even though it would actually be the most true study. Yet it still doesn't stop social scientists from claiming these tests bring about 'facts' and/or truths – 'scientifically'.

Ultimately, social sciences have a monopoly on the generation of actionable 'information' in our society. Sociologist and anthropologists work on studying how it is that he live, political scientists focus on our governing and 'compromising', economists on how we allocate scarce resources, etc. Yet every one of these 'scientists' is caught up too implicitly in the world that we/they live in to be socially objective. They are trained to be 'scientists'. In this training they are taught 'scientific' methods and given specific lens to see things through. But, if you look at society through the same 'lens' that someone else has in the past, are you not destined to see society in pretty similar, if not the same ways? If you spend your entire higher education life learning ways of looking at things and begin to identify with one or a few of these lens, and even perhaps feel like one resonates best with you. You then start thinking in these manors and seeing the world through those already used eyes. If you believe society is based on class relations or power relations then you will start looking at your studies through these same eyes. Your experiments will begin to be colored by these same concepts, and your conclusions tainted by the structure of your studies and the 'things' you were searching to prove. A hypothesis can be nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy in the social sciences.

The problem with all this is that it is exactly these 'scientists' that society relies upon to generate the wealth of the information that we use to govern our society. Sociological data is used from everything from polling, to conclusions about how we interact daily and they easily create opportunities psychological profiling within us all. Political policies are put into place based on studies of regions and cultures which are specifically designed through unimaginably and unknowingly influenced eyes. Yet it is specifically these eyes that we trust to create policy based on observed 'facts' (this is not even to mention the 'interpretation' and selection of this information given political and business implications/influences).

What percentage of the population are these social scientists? In the US it is just under 1%, and in the world it is far less than that. Yet it is exactly these people that are determining the lives of the remainder of the people in the world – all highly salaried, highly 'educated' (of course in the ways of the system and it presumptions), and highly funded. Yes, this may see like a bit of a stretch, but trace the dots. Politicians and people with money, i.e. power (especially businesses and business persons) are the ones that set the tone and agendas for laws and practices. Those with 'ownership of the means of production' – including intellectual production – control the world. That process of control really hinges on direct lines of communication. Politicians make the laws, they base these laws on what society 'needs'/'wants', this is largely influenced and even controlled by business interests and people in positions to promote their interests (wealthy individuals, etc.), the politicians and then turn to the 'technocrats' or experts – generally the scientists – for justification and methodology as to how best to go about things. The 'proper' way of implementing things, the ramifications of various options, etc. So in-fact, while social scientists are capable of creating and illuminating a 'need' for polices or practices, even more over they are the ones that are turned to once a 'need' has been determined to exist, and a 'solution' is sought. Upon this, the sciences are of profound influence on our daily lives, the laws we live by, and our socio-political/economic interaction. This gross minority of the population comes up with all our 'solutions'.

Where is the other 99% of the population's say in this? Many would say that is what democracy is for, so that these people can have a 'say'. But this is utopian under current scenarios. In these representative democracies do we really have a say? Many democracies are lucky to get half the voting age population to actually vote. And even once someone is elected, then our only recourse is to 'contact our congress person'. This of course really means to contact that congress person's intern or assistant and doesn't even feel much like having a 'voice'. It is done by such a small percentage of the population (not to mention excludes people with less means or confidence in contacting, writing, or speaking on that level) that it is thoroughly under representative of the population as a whole. And even the information expressed, where does this go and how is it used? Once something I say or write something 'to' my congress person it then gets lumped into various categories or put on a desk in some aid's office. It is compiled and interpreted, categorized and transformed into specific issue related files that may mean you never even really get heard by the congress person you intended to or that the concept is picked from and lost in its entirety (think, if I write three pages on my thoughts on healthcare, and part of the whole concept includes a public option – but only under the other circumstances, in its entirety – yet this likely gets lumped into “58% of constituents support a public option.” Yet I only support it under certain circumstances).

How is this having a voice? And how is this having a voice on policy and legislation? We in fact have virtually no voice. The illusion of this exists, and for the few that try to express themselves, even less are actually 'heard' in legislative debate, and our political and social culture does not promote it. The fact is the a gross majority of the population of the US is never even heard from. And an unimaginably larger proportion of the world population (especially given the US's power position) is never ever heard from. A single women living in Africa has absolutely no say in the world she lives in. Even if she had a voice in the local African government's political process, that country has little to no voice abroad – and of course the world and its mechanisms are global. What she will need in her life to 'survive' is lead by others and determined on largely macro levels she has no control over. The things she must do in life, and how they are defined, to find 'success' are determined in no way at all by her.

So what do we all do? What do the other 99% do? Those with computers may blog if they can find the time and effort. But then what happens with that? Where does that go? This blog here has virtually no readers as it is not yet wired into the grid. A direct search of a copy and pasted sentence from this blog on Google does not show this blog in any of the immediate results. Only other sites that have some of the words. So who will read it? How will it ever get anywhere? In-fact, we have no say. We have no voice. We need a place where the average person can take all the 'information' that we have available to us today and write our own interpretations and ideas in one place. A place where we can cooperatively build upon ideas without the dilution and filtering of our existing decision making apparatus.

Imagine if the social sciences had a competitor – the average person. There are countless intelligent people out there: from laborers, to office workers, to unemployed, to entertainers, to postal workers, to whoever. Everyone of these people have ideas about life, about how they would like things to be. Where do they get to put their voice? Just because they are not 'trained' to examine society and/or present possible solutions doesn't mean they don't have both good ideas and possibly even good solutions. We are an information society, it is available to anyone with the internet, yet we are not doing much of anything with all this information. Where does the average person put their ideas, and why can't we find a way to be listened to?  

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