Tuesday, January 17, 2006

bad-mouthing my discipline again

(to a sociology list)...

I wanted to call to your collective attention, to an article written by a leading zoologist and evolutionary biologist (Paul Ehrlich and Simon A. Levin), entitled, "The Evolution of Norms," published in the Public Library of Science Biology Journal (see link below). It is a fascinating article (brief in length) about the evolution of social norms with an eye toward understanding the process so that some can be changed. Both Ehrlich and Levin fear the consequences of some unchecked social norms (WMD, environmental deterioration, global collapse, etc.).

I find it very interesting that two "natural" scientists are engaged in this kind of endeavor; I suspect that they don't think it is that unusual as they see it as an extension of human evolution, in which they are well-versed. They bring their best thinking, their best simulations and their best reasoning to bear on the problem.

Applied sociology? IMO, you bet, at its best. Do they mention sociologists anywhere in their article? No. Why? IMO, because we have current connection to "evolution" nor anything having to do with the biology of humans. Our loss, IMO.

From an evolutionary perspective, what is occurring? Scientists are adapting to the changing social environment, posting new ideas for new problems. Which scientific perspective will survive? Dunno...but ultimately, it will in all likelihood be that perspective that is best suited to the environment. And, what is that environment? "Science-speak," both popular and professional, and are we "household names" in science speak? Not in the reading that I am doing.

So, are we modern-day Neandertals?

The link to the article (.pdf) is here.


Tom Conroy said...

Perhaps we need to reread our Herbert Spencer?

The other idea that comes to mind is that a number of the folks in science studies, such as people like Bruno Lateur and Steve Woolgar come out of the social sciences. There is a possibility for some interesting interdisciplanary work on a range of topics.

johneglass said...

hi, Tom

RE: Spencer...yeah, i guess so. i know that he was derided by most when i was in grad school, so i never paid much attention to his work.

i have heard of Lateur, but not Woolgar, nor have I read either of them. i think that interdisciplinary work is essential. i am currently reading Consilience by E.O. Wilson; an intersting book that is advocating for unity among sciences -- makes sense to me.