Just a few years ago, a sociologist I know got really depressed – even more so than the average sociologist. His depression stemmed from the fact that the most famous sociologist in the world had just passed away and hardly anyone noticed. Indeed, one of America’s foremost liberal publications had dedicated no more than a few sentences to the man’s life, despite his many accomplishments in the field of sociology.
Naturally, the depressed sociologist was disheartened by the lack of attention paid to his idol’s passing. It even prompted him to ask me a serious question: “What do sociologists have to do to get a little respect in this world?” Today, I’m finally getting around to answering his question.
If one wants to identify steps that can be taken to increase the standing of sociologists -relative to academics that are taken more seriously – one first has to identify what they are doing wrong. A comment by a recently retired sociologist at UNC-Wilmington is illustrative of what ails the pseudoscience of sociology. The comment came in response to an attack on the work of my friend David Horowitz.
As many readers know, Horowitz has been spending a lot of time speaking on the issue of academic freedom and indoctrination in higher education. In many of his speeches, David quotes studies from major universities showing that at some schools Democrats outnumber Republicans by ratios as high as nine-to-one (sometimes even higher) in various “social science” and humanities departments.
But, recently, a respected political science journal published a study asserting that there really is no liberal hegemony in American higher education. The study says there is also a recent trend towards greater political moderation among professors at American universities. Why does the study contradict what Horowitz has been saying? The answer is simple: It relies on a survey of the professors’ subjective evaluations of their political leanings relative to others, rather than objective data regarding their partisan political affiliations. (“I’m not really an extremist. In fact, I feel that I’m middle of the road. Just ask me and I’ll tell you!”).
When the study of the subjective feelings of American professors was published a Democrat in the Political Science Department forwarded it to a Democrat in the Sociology Department. The Democrat/Sociologist then forwarded it to another Democrat/Sociologist. (But he wasn’t engaging in political discrimination because there are no Republicans in the Department of Sociology to whom he could forward it in order to ensure a more balanced critique of the study).
Next, one of the Democrat/Sociologists forwarded the study to a Marxist/Sociologist who sent it around to the whole Department. Then, a Democrat/Sociologist hit “reply all” in order to tell the whole department that he agreed with the results of the study, which claimed that there is no liberal hegemony in American higher education. That’s when the soon-to-be-retired Democrat/Sociologist Gary Faulkner responded.
Faulkner’s response was very simple. He said that there was nothing like “the cool hand of the empiricist” to quiet the “ravings” of the “ranters.” It is not surprising that Faulkner dismisses people like David Horowitz and Mike Adams as “ranters” for asserting that there is a leftist bias in higher education. This is because, a) Sociologists are a well below the professorial average in IQ – that is, if you buy into the use of objective indicators - and, b) those below the average in workplace IQ are prone to resort to name-calling when their culturally acquired beliefs are challenged.
The significance of Dr. Gary Faulkner’s remark can be best understood by restating his main thesis without resorting to name-calling. That thesis follows: “Emotion can best be removed from a debate by employing subjective, rather than objective, measurements.”
Sociologist Gary Faulkner feigns an interest in rationality. But critics of the discipline know that sociologists are not objective scientists committed to rationality. They are simply contrarians committed to the obfuscation of fairly simple problems.
If the average person believes that homosexuality is chosen, the sociologist rails against the ex-gay movement. If the average person believes that transgendered people are mentally ill, the sociologist shows a film in class of the transgendered doing everyday things. If the average person believes that objective data help to make debate more civilized, the sociologist argues that this occurs better through the use of subjective data.
Faulkner’s remarks remind me of a time when I interviewed for a job in Florida. Everything was going well until I presented the results of a longitudinal study on the causes of juvenile delinquency. I argued that longitudinal studies - measuring independent variables at one point in time and dependent variables later - were necessary to make cause and effect statements when studying juvenile delinquency. But one sociologist thought otherwise.
With a straight face the sociologist actually argued that by using longitudinal data I was “forcing” a cause and effect relationship that might not exist. Unsurprisingly, when I went home and reviewed some of his published research, I discovered that in the past he had only done cross-sectional research (i.e., research conducted at a single point in time).
The sociologist’s best known cross-sectional study claimed to measure the effects of “blocked opportunities” on juvenile delinquency. In other words, juveniles don’t engage in delinquency because they choose delinquency. They engage in delinquency because they perceive that they cannot get good jobs and a good education.
In order to measure the independent variable, or cause (blocked opportunities), the sociologist naturally asked youths about their feelings. “Do you feel you will be able to get a good job?” “Do you feel you will be able to get a good education?” The sociologist also asked the youths how much delinquency they had engaged in during the previous year.
Having found a strong correlation between blocked opportunities and delinquency, the sociologist reported that the former is the cause of the latter. But many of my readers noticed the sociologist’s slight of hand; namely, that he measured the effects of present perceptions of blocked opportunities on past delinquency. In other words, he put the purported cause after the purported effect, which, again, shows why we need longitudinal, not cross-sectional data.
So, there is a lesson to be learned in all this. When a sociologist tells you that blocked opportunities lead to crime, you know that he really means that the choice to commit crime will lead to fewer opportunities. When he says that labeling people as delinquent causes the youth to be delinquent (the so-called “self-fulfilling prophesy”), you know he really means that youths who choose to be delinquent will later be labeled as delinquent. And when the sociologist says that associating with delinquents causes delinquency, he really means that if you chose to engage in delinquency, conformists will no longer seek your company.
And, needless to say, when the sociologist says that subjective data show that the American academy is not a liberal stronghold, he is really saying that objective scientific data has show time and time again that it is.
Although most sociologists will die in obscurity it shouldn’t be that way. We should all have our children sign up for their classes, take copious notes, and believe precisely the opposite of what these ideologues tell them.
If we do, we’ll all live long and happy lives. And, best of all, we’ll all be remembered long after we’re gone.