Showing posts with label social science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label social science. Show all posts

Feb 11, 2012

Twitter and Facebook Addictive? New Boundaries for Temperance

Those who have come across posts from my Facebook author page, my Twitter feed, or my other blog Virtue Ethics Digest, know that I have a penchant for pointing out instances where results of research publicized by putatively cutting-edge brain scientists, psychologists, or other cognitive and social scientists do little more than reintroduce -- often without adequate reference or reflection -- topics and truths developed long ago within traditions of moral philosophy, particularly those traditions we term "Virtue Ethics."

Perhaps I seem overly gleeful at the prospect of showing -  or rather showing up -the supposedly more scientific approaches to the complex phenomena of moral life that their objects of research possess a history antedating their perennial efforts to yet once again pronounce the definitive word on the matters. It's hard not to when researchers routinely say things straightfacedly like "Little is known about how people experience and regulate desires in daily life"  -- as if human beings haven't been experiencing, reflecting upon, discussing, proposing and testing models, and occasionally even experiencing some success with these matters for millennia -- and in some cases even writing some things down about them, a few ideas considered useful, insightful, or at least entertaining enough that we read them still today under the rubric of "classic literature," even moral philosophy.

Feb 16, 2011

Right Racket After All, Says the Philosopher

Last week, I fortuitously came across another piece in which a reporter tells us how a social scientist has (re)discovered some truths long well-known and taught by philosophers and theologians.  Talk Deeply, Be Happy? discusses psychologist Matthias Mehl's findings which seem to show a correlation between reported levels of happiness and the proportion of "substantive" or "deep" conversations as opposed to "small talk" people routinely engage in with others.

This summary, by Tara Parker-Pope, is fairly careful not to draw conclusions ranging beyond the research -- a frequent problem, as I wrote last week, in some reporting on social scientific (re)discoveries of insights long commonplace in other literature, which miraculously multiply a small amount of  information, loaves and fishes-like, into baskets of grandiose speculations.  (Even after the feasting, though, crumbs enough remains for later, more sober, nourishment of the mind.)

Permitting Mehl to speak in his own words about the construction of his study, his assumptions, his inferences, Talk Deeply, Be Happy? opens intriguing questions, which can be and call to be pushed, explored, examined further -- precisely what I intend to do here.  To someone fortunate enough to be involved -- at least part of the time -- in sounding depths of philosophical (and, sometimes political, social, and theological) questions, texts, viewpoints, for a person experienced in  the joys and frustrations, the requirements and obstacles, the wax and wane of desire germane to such activity -- in short in the genuine intellectal life -- there are a number of long-discovered, systematically articulated and passed down, insights on these matters which it seems almost akin to robbery not to share.

Feb 8, 2011

Is Guilt Really Good?

Harvard Business Review ran a blog piece today, Defend Your Research: Guilt-Ridden People Make Great Leaders, an interview in the course of which Francis Flynn summarizes the conclusions of experiments involving the feeling of guilt. It turns out, not surprisingly, that guilt has many implications, and one might even say, functions in the workplace.  I say not surprisingly, because the research, its findings, and the media buzz about them fall into an often-recurring pattern:  (Social) scientist designs an experiment (or two, or three) which seems to bear on some interesting and long-discussed moral issue, distinction, or maxim, and arrives at startling, now "scientifically demonstrated" conclusions.  Several further features mark this whole process.

First, the reporters -- and quite often the researcher him or herself -- will extend the mantle of scientifically demonstrated or proven much further than good reflective scientific method would warrant, claiming much wider-ranging, universal claims can be inferred as conclusions from the study.  Now, they could be inferred.  Could -- yes, it might be as they interpret the experiments and the results -- but then again, one has to make all sorts of simplifying assumptions in order to bring that off.  The only problem with that is that reality -- and particularly when we are considering human beings -- is very complex, and simplifications tend towards oversimplification, and thus distortion of reality.  One can administer and compile data from all the Test of Self-Conscious Affect assessments one likes, given to carefully selected groups, and one will certainly learn some interesting things -- not directly about emotional life, and generalizable to people other than those belonging to those groups only with many caveats.

[As an aside, I must credit Flynn for resisting the interviewer's invitation to introduce untested assumptions about "Catholic guilt" as premises for speculation.
You and I both were raised Catholic. How are we not running major corporations with large philanthropic foundations by now?

We purposely stayed away from religion in this research. We don’t have any empirical evidence of a link between guilt and certain religious denominations.]

Sep 30, 2010

Religious knowledge: does Pew get it right?

Yesterday, the results of a study by the Pew Research Center made national news.  And ever-media 2.0-conscious Pew even added a mini-version of the quiz readers can take.  Blogged, tweeted, facebooked about, the new findings cascaded through the world of social media, gathering new interpretations and speculations like a rolling snowball. 


My curiosity -- or rather suspicion -- was raised almost immediately.  A quick multiple-choice test for "religious knowledge"?  Atheists and agnostics scoring higher as an aggregate than Evangelical Protestant Christians or Catholic Christians?  That leads by lightening-quick inference to tweets [links removed] like