- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 5, 2010


“Experiments are surely changing the way we conduct social science. The number of experiments reported in major social-science journals is growing rapidly across education, criminology, political science, economics, and other areas. In academic economics, several recent Nobel Prizes have been awarded to laboratory experimentalists, and leading indicators of future Nobelists are rife with researchers focused on [randomized field trials].

“It is tempting to argue that we are at the beginning of an experimental revolution in social science that will ultimately lead to unimaginable discoveries. But we should be skeptical of that argument. The experimental revolution is like a huge wave that has lost power as it has moved through topics of increasing complexity. …

“At the moment, it is certain that we do not have anything remotely approaching a scientific understanding of human society. And the methods of experimental social science are not close to providing one within the foreseeable future. Science may someday allow us to predict human behavior comprehensively and reliably. Until then, we need to keep stumbling forward with trial-and-error learning as best we can.”

- Jim Manzi, writing on “What Social Science Does - and Doesn’t - Know,” in the summer issue of City Journal

Out of power

“There’s something intrinsically depressing about the very premise of ‘Real Housewives of Washington D.C.’ - even beyond the standard depressing-ness of the entire Bravo franchise about table-toppling, hair-pulling female nutjobs. It’s not that the D.C. women are not sufficiently glamorous or embarrassing to gape at. In fact, if the premiere episode says anything about the capital, it’s that women can get drunk and blurt out ambiguously racist things in swanky celebrity restaurants as easily here as they do it in New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, or Orange County.

“But the striving in this version takes on a new, desperate edge we haven’t yet seen. The real currency in Washington isn’t money but ‘proximity to power,’ the first voice-over cautions us. And all the other Housewives, however crazy they may be, will at some level be at home with social status, great wealth, buckets of booze, and the possibility of being mistaken for their own 15-year-old daughters. But the D.C. Housewives crave something they will likely never even come near: power. And that makes the show painful, unless you are one of those people who actually enjoys watching Icarus get fried.”

- Dahlia Lithwick, writing on “The Power and the Pathos,” on Aug. 3 at Slate

Race and sex

” ‘Miscegenation’ laws prohibiting marriages between individuals of different races were a statutory invention. The historical (as well as literary, see, e.g., ‘Othello’) record is full of such marriages.

“Sex difference, however, has always been at the core of the definition of marriage - long before governments recognized such unions. If you don’t believe me, I suggest you study the marriage rituals of any culture; you’ll find that each treats the bride and groom differently.

“Or, look at the cultures which have recognized same-sex unions. They either called them something other than marriage or required that one spouse live in the guise of the opposite sex - at a time when sexual roles were far more stratified that they are today. In Native American cultures (called either berdache or Two-Spirit), that meant that in male-male unions, [one] partner not only had to dress like a woman, but perform [female] social roles as well.”

- B. Daniel Blatt, writing on “Judge Walker: Clueless about the ‘Historical Core’ of Marriage,” on Aug. 5 at Gay Patriot

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