The Social Sciences and Scale

The following are some preliminary thoughts on scale, epistemology, the social/human sciences, and philosophy spurred by some recent reading on the web. A recent article raised the question about the purpose of the social sciences. One of the criticisms raised by the authors is the sheer scale of the social science research literature. According to the Thomson Reuters Web of Science database there are at least 3000 social science journals which are publishing tens of thousands of articles per year.

The Rhetoric of C. Wright Mills

Reading The Power Elite is a joy. Mills writes with clarity, verve, and emotion. He clearly feels that something is out of kilter in American society and that social science can help to understand the problem. Alan Wolfe wrote an afterword in 2000 to praise Mills for his ability as a social scientist, but takes issue with his ability as a social critic. The first ten chapters of the book describe mid 20c American society very well, the final five chapters shift to social criticism.

C. Wright Mills and the Past of Elite Theory

I’m digging a further into elite theory and uncovering a rich history of material that makes me feel both inadequate and intensely interested in learning more. I’m currently working my way through The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills published in 1956. The book is a great snapshot of mid 20c sociology of elites. Mills describes three levels of American mid-century society, the masses, a middle level, and the power elite.

Happy Pi Day +1

Happy Pi day + 1 everyone. I’ve been personally buried in an avalanche of reading, writing, processing, thinking, sensemaking, and job seeking, so there hasn’t been much activity here at I just finished writing the following introduction to a paper for my complex systems class. It will give you some idea of what I’ve been thinking about over recent days and weeks. Collective intelligence, group-think, organizational knowledge, distributed cognition, situated action, and the wisdom of crowds are just some of the many different phrases used to describe the similar phenomenon of people collecting, evaluating, and acting on information as a group.

Solving the Millionaire Problem, or Seeing into Networks

Two weeks ago I wrote about a presentation by Scott Page on diversity and the wisdom of crowds. One of the examples he used was the greater effectiveness of polling the studio audience versus calling a friend for an answer to a question. I suggested that a big part of this Millionaire problem is the difficulty we all have of seeing into networks, whether they belong to others or ourselves.