Monday, June 29, 2015

Science boffins to philosopher kings: is the rule of science a good thing?

Lack of methodologies for collecting empirical data and  the Second Danger of Unreflexive Scientific Observation (over-intellectualising) keep plaguing many branches of social sciences. When you're not required to find any evidence to back up your claim, yet feel entitled to professing opinions by the sheer virtue of your fancy education, things can go really wrong. Reading a recently published article (Maciej Pletnia 2014, Asian Identity: Regional Integration and Collective Memory of the Pacific War in Contemporary Japanese Society) on a topic very close to my heart reminded me of that part of War and Peace (Volume IV, Part Two, VII), where Andrei Bolkonsky reminisces about the haughty conviction of Austrian generals in the Battle of Austerlitz that things in reality would go exactly the way they, highly learned and esteemed generals, believe they should happen: "Die erste Kolonne marschiert... Die zweite Kolonne marschiert..." Things, of course, did not pan out according to someone's educated guess, and a humiliating defeat ensued. 

So is, sadly, the case with many branches of social sciences, where arm-chair ponitification reigns supreme, with no signs of abating. It could be simply annoying, if ignorable, should the ideas produced in that manner remain safely within the Ivory Tower. Unfortunately, the recent surge of technocrats assuming top government positions (repeatedly exalted by the Economist's editorial board) indicates that we are in for some years of painful rule by "philosopher-kings", which both Plato and empirical research warned against.


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