Drawing on examples spanning from poetry and mythology to physics, Professor Haider Khan spoke to the distinction between “Sense and Nonsense in Social Science” in the fourth installment of the Korbel Speaker Series on Tuesday, October 25th.
Addressing the theme of the series, the problems of ignorance in academia, Khan attempted to redeem a modified and acceptable form of realism. He defended the necessity of science relying on observation, though a healthy form of skepticism and the ability to change our theories is key.
“I am a fan of a skepticism that questions everything, including itself,” said Khan. He drew on ancient stories from China and India illustrating that the world is not as it seems, including what we think of as scientific facts. Positivism emerged as a method in order to separate science from the influence of mysticism.
“Science has never been neutral, and it’s not neutral now, and it will never be neutral,” said Khan in response to Professor Alan Gilbert’s question to how paradigms determine what is “sense” and “nonsense” in the scientific community. How paradigms support their theories work the same way for both well-founded and illogical claims.
A debate over whether hubris is in fact necessary in order to defend claims or risk total relativism brought up an interesting tangent over the scientific necessity of protest, such as movements like Occupy Wall Street (OWS). Khan had just returned from the OWS movement in New York.
The theoretical discussions throughout the Korbel Speaker Series this year have ranged from the necessity of a realist, positivist argument to the dangers of ignorance from fortified positions. As the series continues, Josef Korbel School professors and guest lecturers will continue to unpack the epistemological issues surrounding social science research.
-Sarah Crozier, MA Candidate, International Development