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The Ivory Tower of Babel

From David Demers

The Ivory Tower of Babel

Book Informations

  • Released: 2011
  • Pages: 296
  • Language: en
  • ISBN-10:0875868797
  • ISBN-13:9780875868790


Mainstream social science has come under fierce criticism in recent decades for failing to have more impact on public policy. Critics say the social sciences are incapable of generating knowledge that can solve social problems. Others contend that partisan politics and university administrations are the problem. Politicians are more concerned about special interests than scientific research, and administrators care more about scholarly publications than solving social problems. Are the social sciences failing to live up to their promises? Have they outlived their usefulness? Have they become an Ivory Tower of Babel? Like the Babylonians, who built the infamous Tower of Babel, social scientists for the past two centuries have been building a tower of sorts, only this time it's composed of knowledge rather than bricks. The primary goal of these scholars — anthropologists, communication scholars, economists, political scientists, sociologists and social psychologists — has been to solve problems of social integration. The Babylonian tower was designed in part to unite people to one geographical area. Similarly, social scientists see their tower of knowledge as a means for solving social problems — such as poverty, crime, drug abuse, inequality, unemployment, abuse of power — that alienate people and groups from modern society. The Babylonians failed because of divine intervention, according to the Bible. The social scientists aren't finished building their tower. But, according to critics, the results so far look less like a tower of knowledge for solving social problems than an "Ivory Tower of Babel" — one in which social scientists routinely dispute each other's theories and data, and even uncontested or well-supported findings rarely influence public policy. Disputes over the nature of truth and knowledge are so commonplace in the social sciences that many scholars believe a social science which uses methods from the natural sciences is incapable of generating knowledge that can solve social problems. This book examines the history and philosophy of the social sciences and theoretical and empirical research on the impact of social science. Suggestions are offered at the end for enhancing the impact of the social sciences. A number of scientific articles and books have been written about the impact (or lack thereof) of the social sciences on public policy, but none has been written specifically to appeal to both academics and a broader market composed of the general public and students in both undergraduate- and graduate-level courses. The author takes the reader on a journey inside one of the best kept secrets in higher education — that much, if not most, of the research conducted in the social sciences has very little impact on public policy or on solving social problems. Are taxpayers getting their money's worth?




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