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Topic: Re: How Reliable Are the Social Sciences?
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Richard Hake

Posts: 1,251
From: Woodland Hills, CA 91367
Registered: 12/4/04
Re: How Reliable Are the Social Sciences?
Posted: May 21, 2012 3:45 PM
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Some subscribers to MathEdCC might be interested in a recent
discussion-list post "Re: How Reliable Are the Social Sciences?" The
abstract reads:

ABSTRACT: Rick Froman of the TIPS discussion list has pointed to a
New York Times Opinion Piece "How Reliable Are the Social Sciences?"
by Gary Gutting at <>. Gutting wrote that
Obama, in his State of the Union address <>
cited "The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and
Student Outcomes in Adulthood" (Chetty et al., 2011) at
<> to support his emphasis on evaluating teachers
by their students' test scores. That study purportedly shows that
students with teachers who raise their standardized test scores are
"more likely to attend college, earn higher salaries, live in better
neighborhoods, and save more for retirement."

After comparing the reliability of social-science research
unfavorably with that of physical-science research, Getting wrote [my
CASE FOR A NEGATIVE ANSWER lies in the [superior] predictive power of
the core natural sciences compared with even the most highly
developed social sciences."

Most education experts would probably agree with Getting's negative
answer. Even economist Eric Hanushek
<>, as reported by Lowery
<>, states: "Very few people suggest that you
should use value-added scores alone to make personnel decisions."

But then Getting goes on to write (slightly edited): "While the
physical sciences produce many detailed and precise predictions, the
social sciences do not. The reason is that such predictions almost
always require randomized controlled trials (RCT's) which are seldom
possible when people are involved. . . . . . Jim Manzi. . .
.[[according to Wikipedia <>, a senior fellow at
the conservative Manhattan Institute <>]]. . . .
in his recent book "Uncontrolled" <> offers a
careful and informed survey of the problems of research in the social
sciences and concludes that non-RCT social science is not capable of
making useful, reliable, and nonobvious predictions for the effects
of most proposed policy interventions." BUT:

(1) Randomized controlled trails may be the "gold standard" for
medical research, but they are not such for the social science of
educational research - see e.g., "Seventeen Statements by
Gold-Standard Skeptics #2" (Hake, 2010) at <>.

(2) Unknown to most of academia, and probably to Getting and Manzi,
ever since the pioneering work of Halloun & Hestenes (1985a) at
<>, physicists have been engaged in the social
science of Physics Education Research that IS "capable of making
useful, reliable, and nonobvious predictions," e.g., that
"interactive engagement" courses can achieve average normalized
pre-to-posttest gains which are about two-standard deviations above
*comparison* courses subjected to "traditional" passive-student
lecture courses. This work employs pre/post testing with Concept
Inventories <> - see
(a) "The Impact of Concept Inventories on Physics Education and It's
Relevance For Engineering Education" (Hake, 2011) at
<>, and (b) "Why Not Try a Scientific Approach to
Science Education?" (Wieman, 2007) at <>.

To access the complete 26 kB post please click on <>.

Richard Hake, Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University
Links to Articles: <>
Links to SDI Labs: <>
Blog: <>
Academia: <>
Twitter <!/rrhake>

In some quarters, particularly medical ones, the randomized
experiment is considered the causal 'gold standard.' IT IS CLEARLY
NOT THAT IN EDUCATIONAL CONTEXTS, given the difficulties with
implementing and maintaining randomly created groups, with the
sometimes incomplete implementation of treatment particulars, with
the borrowing of some treatment particulars by control group units,
and with the limitations to external validity that often follow from
how the random assignment is achieved."
- Tom Cook & Monique Payne (2002, p. 174)

". . .the important distinction. . .[between, e.g., education and
physics]. . . is really not between the hard and the soft sciences.
Rather, it is between the hard and the easy sciences."
-David Berliner (2002)

"Physics educators have led the way in developing and using objective
tests to compare student learning gains in different types of
courses, and chemists, biologists, and others are now developing
similar instruments. These tests provide convincing evidence that
students assimilate new knowledge more effectively in courses
including active, inquiry-based, and collaborative learning, assisted
by information technology, than in traditional courses."
-Wood & Gentile (2003)

REFERENCES [All URL's shortened by <> and accessed on
21 May 2012.]
Berliner, D. 2002. "Educational research: The hardest science of
all," Educational Researcher 31(8): 18-20; online as a 49 kB pdf at

Cook, T.D. & M.R. Payne. 2002. "Objecting to the Objections to Using
Random Assignment in Educational Research" in Mosteller & Boruch

Hake, R.R. 2012. "Re: How Reliable Are the Social Sciences?" online
on the OPEN! AERA-L archives at <>. Post of 20
May 2012 20:08:07-0700 to AERA-L and Net-Gold. The abstract and link
to the complete post are also being transmitted to several discussion
lists and are on my blog "Hake'sEdStuff" at <>
with a provision for comments.

Mosteller, F. & R. Boruch, eds. 2002. "Evidence Matters: Randomized
Trials in Education Research." Brookings Institution.
information at <> . A searchable expurgated
Google Book Preview is online at <>.

Wood, W.B. & J.M. Gentile. 2003. "Teaching in a research context,"
Science 302: 1510; 28 November; online to subscribers at
<>. A summary is online to all at

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