SOCIAL SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY
Characteristics of Social Science
One of the livelier academic debates of recent years has concerned the "scientific" status of those disciplines gathered under the rubric of the social sciences-typically including sociology, political science, social psychology, economics, anthropology, and sometimes fields such as geography, history, communications, and other composite and specialty fields, basically at issue like whether human behavior can be subjected to scientific study.
It is a firm assumption of social scientists now-a-days that social behaviour can be subjected to scientific study as legitimately as can atoms, ...view middle of the document...
Religiosity, political liberalism, conservatism, authoritarianism, taste and preferences such as brand preferences, buyer's attitude and similar variables can be measured.
However, scientific measurements must be judged on the basis of their utility for inquiry, rather than on the basis of absolute truth. For example, while measuring religiosity of people a social scientist can never hope to describe a person as religious and some one else, irreligious in absolute sense. This is more so when a social scientist tries to measure qualitative variables. When we measure socio-economic variables like intelligence, brand preference, brand loyalty, industrialization, risk evasiveness etc we use proxy variables. In this context, we ask ourselves questions such as: Is this measure the true representation of the variables under consideration? Or are we going nearer the variable with this measure? It may be mentioned that in the absence of a true measure, a proxy variable works as a representative. We use these on the basis of their utility rather than absolute truth. For example, we use IQ Test scores to represent intelligence. Similarly we may use a composite index to represent level of development.
Discovering Social Regularities
There is a tendency to regard the subjects of the physical sciences as more regular than those of the social sciences. A heavy object falls to earth every time it is released, while a man may vote for a candidate in one election and against him in the next. Similarly, ice always melts when heated, while seemingly religious people do not always attend place of worship. While these particular examples are generally true, there is a danger in going on to discount the existence of social regularities altogether- The existence of observable social norms denies this conclusion.
Some social norms are prescribed by the formal institutions of a society. For example, only person as of a certain age or older are permitted to vote in elections. In American society, men were drafted into the armed forces, but women were not. In traditional Muslim society women were not allowed to pray inside the Mosque along with men. Such formal prescriptions, then, regulate, or regularize, social behavior.
Besides formal prescriptions, other social norms can be observed. Registered Republicans are more likely to vote for Republican candidates than are registered Democrats. University professors tend to earn more money than unskilled laborers. Women tend to be more religious than men. There could be a variety of such social norms, which we observe in our day-to-day life.
Reports by social scientists of such regularities are often subject to three types of criticism. First, it may be charged that the report is trivial, that everyone was aware of the regularity. Second, contradictory cases may be cited, indicating that the observation is not wholly true. And third, it...