Sage Advice for Social and Behavioral Scientists
For we who labor in the fields of social and behavioral science and grow weary with the slow progress, some sage advice:
“[For most of this century, social, behavioral, and developmental science was governed by a Newtonian metaphor. It was a] social physics….. patterned on that of celestial mechanics and the dynamics of non–living material particles. The resultant image [was] a mechanical universe governed by absolute and unalterable laws, made of indivisible and identical units, of a finite number of specifiable types, majestically floating along predetermined pathways in a limitless void. …… [This Newtonian metaphor mentally prepared us]…..”for a bold exploration of the icy depths of interplanetary space. Instead, [we] found themselves completely unprepared for the tropical nightmare of a Darwinian jungle: A steaming green Hell, where everything is alive and keenly aware of you, . . . and nothing waits passively to be acted upon by an external force….. The Darwinian jungle manipulates and deceives the unwary wanderer into serving myriads of contrary and conflicting ends. [The] sweltering space suits . . . had to come off.”
Sechrest, L. & Figueredo, A.J. (1993). Program evaluation. Annual Review of Psychology, 44, 645-74.
“Ordinary knowing and science . . . somehow combine a capacity for focused distrust and revision with a belief in a common body of knowledge claims. One aspect of the process which makes the cumulative revision of science possible is the practice of trusting (tentatively at least) the bulk of current scientific and commonsense belief (‘knowledge’) and using it to discredit and revise one aspect of scientific belief. The ratio of the doubted to the trusted is always a very small fraction. This is expressed in the metaphor Quine (1953) borrows from Neurath; we are like sailors who must repair a rotting ship at sea. We trust the great bulk of the timbers while we replace a particularly weak plank. Each of the timbers we now trust we may in turn replace. The proportion of the planks we are replacing to those we treat as sound must always be small (p. 363).”
Campbell, D. T. (1988). Qualitative knowing in action research.
In E. S. Overman (Ed.) Methodology and epistemology for social science: Selected papers of Donald T. Campbell (pps. 360-376).
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.