T Nation

Are the Social Sciences Useless?


#1

I have been coming closer and closer to the conclusion that social sciences (anthropology, psychology, sociology, criminal justice, etc.) and in particular any class that ends with the word "Studies" is a pretty useless field of study. Now before anyone cries foul I must tell you that I myself am finishing up my BA in Criminal Justice.

Except for a few useful tidbits that I have picked up along the way, most of the stuff that I have "learned" is common sense. Alot of it just seems to be some social scientists attempt to legitimize these fields as an actual science.

I barely put any effort into this degree and am still going to graduate with above a 3.9 GPA. I don't feel that I have learned a whole lot that has do to with my career. (I am a cop).

For my next degree I think I am going to try something that is actually very challenging like math or computer engineering. I am not trying to insult any social scientists out there but these are my conclusions. Any thoughts?


#2

I wouldn't say useless. You say you have a 3.9 GPA, perhaps you are very intelligent and the classes are not a challenge for you, that does not mean they are useless, what school do you go to?

It seems to me like all those classes would be great for a cop to analyze criminals on the spot and know how to manipulate their actions.


#3

Are the studies in general useless? No.

Are the classes you have to take to learn these things useless? Probably.


#4

GOOD POINT

most college classes I have taken (undergrad) are useless, I wonder if post-grad will be the same.


#5

While some things may seem like common sense, studying them in a scientifically rigorous way is necessary to make sure they are true. For example, it may be common sense that "absence makes the heart grow fonder" and it may also be common sense that "out of sight, out of mind." Which one is it, though? Both are plausible, and upon hearing the answer, one would say "yeah, duh, that's common sense." It is not, though.

While this example does not involve pressing issues, I hope it shows why it is necessary to study everyday, run of the mill things if finding out the truth of these things is the goal.


#6

A lot of things you consider to be common sense probably aren't - you just learned them at a really young age. For instance, I just watched a history of science video on the circulation system. In the late 1500's, Western science had no clue what the heck was going on.

They thought blood didn't circulate, was made in the heart from food and was burned off by exercise, veins and arteries were filled with air and other wacky things. Nowadays every little kid knows why your heart beats - it's hard to imagine that people ever thought differently.


#7

What do you mean by useless? Useless in the job market? Useless as an intellectual pursuit? Useless, as in the subject has no affect on mankind and their perception of the world? Useless, as in it's worthless to study things like society, criminal justice, or other cultures, as they are not black and white as the hard sciences are?

Generally, undergraduate studies in these fields is extremely rudimentary. As I've read, graduate studies go far deeper and require a broader understanding. Many people bash things like sociology as mickey-mouse degrees based only on some introductory course they've taken. I doubt many of these people have what it takes to carry out research, utilize graduate-level statistics, and create a dissertation.


#8

Its too bad you feel that way. My primary degree was Mechanical Engineering, but by the time fianlly decided to graduate I had double majored in History and had a minor in Anthropology. Are either of those degrees useful to me career wise? Not at all, but I had a hell of a good time taking those classes. Then again I'm the kind of guy who can kill half a day reading Wikipedia.


#9

One of the first professor's in behavioral science went into advertising and made a killing after he was fired for screwing one of his students. Guess it all about what you make of it.


#10

I agree some classes in 'studies' seem pretty obvious. But you need to consider your standpoint. I returned to graduate school a decade after undergrad and what some professor and students considered 'common knowledge' was just beginning to be discussed during my undergraduate years. There has been a significant shift in the social sciences in the past few decades, which a significant change in the past decade. It may seem like common sense because it has remained consistent with what you have been taught before.

If your interest is in being a cop, I would suggest studying geography, specifically look at crime, urban spaces and race. It might help you move past common sense notions of why crime happens some places and not others and what the structural (political and economic) and cultural mechanisms that create, reinforce and (re)present these notions, even when they no longer exist. You can get some of this through sociology as well, but the spatial aspect I think would be particularly useful for a police officer.


#11

I don't see how the social and behavioral sciences are useless. The issues addressed in these fields affect everyone on a daily basis, whether they realize it or not.

I'm about to graduate with a degree in sociology, and I hate telling people what I study. People take one easy Intro to Soc class and think they know everything. Take a class on social theory, advanced stats, or research methods and tell me how it's easy and just common sense. (ranting, sorry)


#12

If you want to talk about useless diplomas, my sister has a bachelors in Art History.

Maybe you didn't learn much from your classes, but just having that piece of paper will help you in your career, if you plan on staying a cop for a while.


#13

She Say's a Sociologist....let us know when you're in town and you gals can talk stats...


#14

My undergraduate degree was in engineering, and now I study political theory.

My graduate courses have been at least as valuable to me in my current career as my technical classes.


#15

My undergrad degree is in human sexuality. I knocked on every door in the San Fernando valley trying to find work as a porn star. That degree didn't help one damn bit. I'm still bitter, but dammit I got that piece of paper and no one can take that away !


#16

The Social Sciences developed historically upon a philosophic concept called 'Positivism'.

"An intended consequence of this view, for most logical positivists, is that metaphysical, theological, and ethical statements fall short of this criterion, and so are not cognitively meaningful."

The social sciences are intentionally devoid of value, in the sense that one is neither right nor wrong, but merely an observer. Most humans seek truth, while the Social Sciences consider THAT as having no meaning.


#17

Having been in the business world for about 17 years now, I can honestly say that I think the social sciences are undertaught, if anything.

I don't think any academic endeavor is worthless. I like to remember my alma mater's slogan that is found on the university's logo "Suos Cultores Scientia Coronat", which roughly translates to "Knowledge crowns those who seek it."

My eyebrows are raised by any college or university where a student can get a 3.9+ gpa without putting forth much effort. To me, that program of study must be weak, unless you are in the top 0.01% of humans in terms of intelligence.

OP, keep in mind that you may not see the relevance of things you are learning for 5, 10 or even 15 years from now.

DB


#18

Social Sciences are good for chatting up girls...what ho wants to talk to some guy about math.

Hold all dumb jokes about multiplying, dividing, etc...


#19

Useless? Certainly not. I think the manner in which they are taught and promoted have made them borderline useless, but, stripped of that nonsense, at their core, they are essential to education, in my opinion.

You won't get anything much out of Sociology or anything that ends in "Studies". Waste of time and money. You won't come out any more educated than when you went into it.

At least part of the value of any subject you study is tied to the rigor it requires you think and make sense of it. Too often, the Social Sciences classes now require zero rigor or application of critical thinking, just having an opinion.

Education needs to revamp the Humanities in the worst way.

EDIT: typo


#20

I'd tend to agree with the OP. and Tedro, actually. I really have a disdain for most of the "social sciences" I've seen (except History, which is different, and respectable). Case in point--a sociology class I took (because, oddly enough, I thought the subject could be interesting!) took 20 minutes to explain mean, median, and mode. W.T.F. I stopped going entirely after that unless it was a test day, and I managed to ace everything. Not to mention the textbooks were biased as all hell, weak on rigorous science, and didn't understand experimental set-up and control at all.

Now before you all get upset at me, I've met a number of very intelligent people in social science majors. We get along well, and have interesting discussions. One of my very best friends majored in psychology. He's working on his masters. He's extremely intelligent, and very fun to discuss things with. Another friend of my roommates is getting his phd in psych. They both say the same thing--"it's stupid." They are both getting disillusioned.

I would argue that sociology and other "sciences" have NO understanding of scientific rigor. Mostly sociology. I'm prepared to accept anthropology sometimes (because of its ties to natural history), and psych, sometimes (as studying the human mind necessarily leads to all kinds of control problems).

Here's the rub--I think the study of society, cultural history, and the mind (of both criminals and regular people) are necessary things to further our understanding of ourselves and the world around us, and are very interesting to me. I enjoy reading books on society and different cultures, and especially the mind. The problem is that in 100% of the interactions I've ever had with any of these fields in any academic setting whatsoever, they suck ass. They're biased, use uncontrolled and crappy experimental design, advocate simplistic (not simple) explanations of their subjects, and are generally below what I would consider the minimum threshold for scientific rigor in anything you'd wish to publish in a respectable journal. Not to mention while I've had a number of interactions with very intelligent people in these fields, the vast (vast) majority are followers and idiots.

This has led me to believe that much like despotism or monarchy, the soft sciences are only worthwhile if there are subtle, honest, and intelligent people running the show (eg-Plato's philosopher-king ideal). If there is a majority made up of idiots, the field sucks balls. Sadly, the majority of people are idiots. Therefore, while you can find good individual books or sources, and good people to talk to, the vast majority is useless tripe. These people exist in an imaginary world where their simplistic single-factor ideals/theories make total sense and will change the world. I live in the real world where things don't work like that. This is exactly why the "ivory tower" euphemism is used. Soft science Academia is run (mostly) by idiots.

/end rant.

EDIT--Ok, so if you couldn't tell by my post, I just had another really aggravating experience with a few people who consider themselves sociologists that brought this to the forefront of my mind. Bottom line is this---I think the studies/fields are necessary, interesting, and useful, but I'm supremely disappointed in most of the people I've met who study these things. They should have just been art majors and gotten something totally useless instead of screwing up potentially very useful and profound fields of study by entering them. This is why I'm a cynical biochemist.