I have been busy the last few days dealing with some very unpleasant-yet-necessary things, but I decided to take a few moments to write this article, because frankly, I am sick of hearing the [explitive] whining. I also thought this would be a perfect time to write said article due to the heinous nature of what is going on in the world right now- which you science elitists may have missed because it is happening outside your lab.
The original blog post from earlier this week, written by an inexcusably ignorant person, GMP (Grossly Moronic Person?) asking "where the STEM or 'hard' science bloggers were" started this whole crapstorm about what the difference was between "hard" and "soft" science. While the original post was aggravating enough, reading some of the comments both to that one and to the response posts by DrugMonkey and Isis were even more so.
Now, I always knew there was this elitism in science, but I thought that with modern technology and being in the information age, where there is pretty much no excuse for such ignorance, that it would be somewhat less than in years past. I mean, you couldn't fault people too much pre-Galileo for believing the world was flat because they just didn't have the tools to see this for themselves, but nowadays they are just idiots.
This brings me to ask the question- do those of you members of the sciency elite even know what social scientists do? Or do you not even bother to investigate these things because you see their practice as so far below what you do in your labs that it doesn't warrant the effort?
Because social scientists study populations and societies, is their work less important to science or less scientific in nature? If their "lab equipment" doesn't come with pipettes or a set of explosive chemicals in cool little vials, is it not really a lab? True, social scientists generally don't wear labcoats, and don't fiddle with chemicals. Their equipment is in the form of software, technology and their brains. They are out in the field, actually gathering data on people- sometimes very dangerous people. So their safety hazards are not in the form of acids or chemicals- they are in the form of bullets or bombs, or threats against them or their families, which requires them to be prepared to move at a moment's notice if those threats become all too real.
And yet, they still plug along, doing their scientific work, because it serves society and because it is necessary work to be done. They often do their work behind the public eye, getting very little recognition for the value of the work they do- in fact, they often get crapped on by ignorant scientists who work in the "real" sciences. I mean, that's the crux of this whole "hard" and "soft" debate, isn't it? What a "real" science is?
Take a look at what is going on in Latin America right now. Mexico is basically being run by the cartels, yet many people who don't live in Mexico (and some who do) are sticking their fingers in their ears, singing, pretending everything is hunky-dory, meanwhile, hundreds of people are dying practically every week (this may seem off-topic, but I have a point, I promise). Here are some facts from AP:
Source: Mark Walsh, Associated Press, September 3, 2010
MONTERREY, Mexico — Mexican soldiers killed at least 30 suspected cartel members in two shootouts near the U.S. border in a region that has become one of biggest battlegrounds in the country's drug war, authorities said Friday.
Twenty-five of the suspects were killed Thursday during a raid on a building in Ciudad Mier in Tamaulipas state. The other five were killed Friday in neighboring Nuevo Leon state, during a shootout on a highway leading to the border, the Mexican Defense Department said in a statement.
All 30 gunmen were believed to belong to the Zetas gang — the group suspected of killing 72 migrants nearly two weeks ago in what could be Mexico's biggest cartel massacre to date.
Violence along Mexico's northeastern border with Texas has reached warlike proportions amid fighting between security forces and two feuding drug gangs — the Zetas and the Gulf cartel, former allies who split this year and started a vicious battle for trafficking routes in the area.
One of two survivors of the massacre last month — an Ecuadorean — said the killers identified themselves as Zetas and gunned down the migrants because they refused to work for the gang.
A military aircraft flying over Ciudad Mier on Thursday spotted several gunmen in front of a building, the Defense Department statement said. When ground troops moved in, gunmen opened fire, starting a gunbattle in which 25 suspected cartel members died and two soldiers were wounded.
Authorities rescued three people believed to be kidnapping victims in the raid, according to the statement. The military said troops seized 25 rifles, four grenades, 4,200 rounds of ammunition and 23 vehicles.
Earlier, a military spokesman said the gunmen were believed to be on a property controlled by the Zetas.
The second shootout erupted Friday morning outside the town of Juarez in Nuevo Leon, on a highway leading to McAllen, Texas.
Soldiers went to the area after receiving an anonymous tip that armed men were circulating in a black SUV, according to a military spokesman. He provided the information on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to reveal his name. The spokesman said the armed men opened fire, provoking the shootout that killed five gunmen, all of whom were believed to be Zetas.
(added 9/4/2010, 2:24 AM) Another source now confirms the death toll on Thursday is up 2 from 25 to 27, which brings the total number of cartel members killed Thursday and Friday to 32.
This is horrible, you may say. And you may be asking, how can we stop such violence? Or how can we get the kind of information necessary to remedy some of these horrific acts and find solutions to prevent further incidents like this?
And what does this have to do with science?
Well, data is collected and analyzed regarding these illegal agents and their criminal activities- predictions are made about patterns of future activity and targets, and networks of relationships between various illegal agents are modeled with statistical software. Who collects this kind of data? Social scientists. WHOA!!! Social scientists collect data? For real? You mean... they actually generate and test hypotheses, analyze data, and publish results? NO F-ING WAY!!!
Yes, you sciency elitists, this is the kind of work some social scientists do. They investigate corruption, crime, and state capture, track and outline social networks of corruption, analyze and interpret that criminal activity, analyze the science behind the personalities of the sociopaths who orchestrate these networks, and provide governments with this information, so that we can design public policy to try and put an end to the corruption and murder that seems to have become the baseline for Latin America over the last few decades. Now that it is spilling over into Arizona and Nevada, perhaps more people will start to appreciate the importance of this type of work.
So social scientists aren't in their little labs, designing new drugs or investigating DNA, so maybe it doesn't sound very sciency. However, social scientists are held up to the same strict standards of scientific rigor that other disciplines are, only in a different way- which makes it just as relevant as a science. That's probably why it's called Social SCIENCE. Wow. Mind-blowing.
About a month ago, during the PepsiGate scandal, Virginia Heffernan, journalist for the NY Times, wrote an article criticizing the sciblings (writers at ScienceBlogs) for their elitism, snobbery, and lack of scientific content (ironically) in their blogs. This morphed into heated debates about who is and isn't relevant in the world of science journalism and blogging.
One particular comment that arose from these discussions made me laugh (and I have tried to track down exactly where I read it and I can't, so this isn't an exact quote), something about how bloggers at ScienceBlogs think they are somehow "special snowflakes" because they happen to have a blog there. Even thinking about that comment now makes me chuckle. Because in a way, whoever made that comment was right in some respects. Even after many bloggers left to go solo, or start their own science blogging networks (according to my calculations, by the time this article is up on the web, there will be approximately 2.6 more science blogging networks up and running), they still carry that same sense of elitism with them.
Now, I am not making a blanket statement about all Sciblings, present or former, or science bloggers in general. I am also not limiting my criticism to certain bloggers associated with ScienceBlogs, either. This elitism is far-reaching and widespread. Indeed there are many science bloggers worth following (which I do), and since I am a science blogger myself (among other things), I am certainly not knocking it as a genre. That point I am trying to make is there is a hell of a lot of good science that goes on outside their little world of science network cliques that never gets recognized as valuable, and often gets dismissed or criticized as "soft".
Sometimes i just sit back and watch the roundabout of back-patting and congratulatory puffery that goes on all day via Twitter, facebook, and other social media sites, remarking incredulously about the brilliance of so-and-so's latest 4-paragraph summary of a research study, yada, yada, yada, and think- do they ever take a peek outside their little science fraternity that they've so carefully built and notice ANY other types of science that is going on in the world? If they did, they might not be so quick to knock social scientists.
The fact is, many of these science blogging elitists (and you know who you are) are nothing more than officers in a virtual science writer fraternity that, quite honestly, looks rather silly to those of us who are cognizant of the rest of the world and all that is going on beyond our computers and our labs. I am not saying that the studies involving a specific scientific topic and narrow application are not important. Quite the opposite. I think these types of studies are very important and necessary. But I think ALL science is relevant and necessary, and it needs to be integrated more in a collaborative environment of research, instead of this hierarchy of whose science is more sciency, and who should or shouldn't be let into the fraternity.
Now, I've probably pissed off a bunch of people, and I can already anticipate the comments to follow- defending how much more important their aspect of science is to saving lives, or how their discipline uses more statistics, or uses more pipettes, or uses more jargon in their pubs, so therefore, it is more science-elite.
Save it. I don't want to hear it- I've been hearing it all week, and for years before that.
Am I overreacting about this topic of science elitism? Maybe. But this issue has personal importance to me, and since this is my blog, I am going to be honest about my growing angst with this scientific snobbery. Let's everyone get our horse blinders off and step out of the microcosm that many of us have gotten used to and into the light. There's a whole world out there that needs science's help, and you can start by letting go of the ignorance about what science is and what science isn't and start collaborating instead.
For information about a team of social scientists who do the type of work described in this article, go to metodoinstitute.org.
*I also want to mention that I might not be able to respond to comments for a few more days; I am still dealing with some pressing matters. Thanks for the comments, though, and I will respond to them as soon as I can!