Get yer science out of my classroom

Posted by mouthyb | Posted in , , | Posted on 9:45 AM


This semester, I took the first in a two year series of statistics courses for the sociology PhD at my institution. The professor and I did not get along, but her comment to me about what should not be in my paper was, as they say, the straw which broke the camel's back.

She has not been alone in asking me to tone down the science and math in my papers, but this marks the first time that a professor in sociology has outright told me, personally, to stop writing papers which are so 'sciency and mathy'. She did so in front of the entire class, calling my name to remind me to tone it down.

My partner, a physicist, has told me several times to remember that sociology is not really a science, though it could be. I've been chalking it up to snobbery on his part; there is a great deal of snobbery in the hard sciences about any discipline which studies humans. Some of it is a general discomfort with studying anything as variable as humans. Some of it is methodological, since social scientists do not always operate within the same lab strictures, performing observational studies in nature, as it were. Social scientists also make certain assumptions in the process of using common statistical methods, like OLS or GLS modeling, which assume things which have to be proved in the hard sciences: to use OLS, you must assume consistency in error, that there is no significant covariance, and that for all intents and purposes, replication can be assumed to be infinite.

If you're a hard scientist and reading this, no doubt you just shuddered. Me, too, while studying it this semester.

My partner keeps repeating to me that while I may believe I'm learning a science, no one else in my department does. I'm forced to start agreeing. A year into the PhD program at my university, and I've consistently heard conspiracy theories (Western medicine is a racket to hook people on drugs), been told to tone down the science, had to defend the use of the scientific method and had people sneer at me and tell me that I'd be happier working for the defense industry, since I'm so interested in technology. No one knows why I'm bothering to take so many math courses, or why I've been taking programming courses with the CS department.

As I finish up the last paper for that statistics course, due tomorrow, I am forced to reluctantly agree with my partner. I know I'm a scientist, and I'm happy to learn all the maths, perform all the rigor, learn all the technology, etc.

But I'm not sure my department agrees with me.

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