Are Social Scientists Really Scientific?

by Anita on March 28, 2013

Historians on the left side of the political spectrum often attack the idea that America is the land of opportunity.  If they agreed that the United States has given millions of people a chance to improve their lot and the lives of their children, these leftists would be endorsing capitalism and free markets, which they are loath to do.

At the same time, to reinforce their credentials, historians and other writers often call themselves “social scientists.”  That title sounds so impressive–they must know what they are doing, to be “social scientists!” A scientist uses scientific facts to make further discoveries.  Thus, by calling themselves “social scientists,” leftists give credence to their conclusions about American society.

My husband Burt and I have long admired the work of Thomas Sowell.  In his syndicated column, Sowell recently made these observations on the role of “social scientists” and their data:

“Those ‘social scientists,’ journalists and others who are committed to the theory that social barriers keep people down, often cite statistics showing that the top income brackets receive a disproportionate and growing share of the country’s income.

But the very opposite conclusion arises in studies that follow actual flesh-and-blood individuals over time, most of whom move up across the various income brackets with the passing years.  Most working Americans who were initially in the 20 percent of income-earners, rise out of that bottom 20 percent. More of them end up in the top 20 percent than remain in the bottom 20 percent.

People who were initially in the bottom 20 percent in income have had the highest rate of increase in their incomes, while those who were initially in the top 20 percent have had the lowest. This is the direct opposite of the pattern found when following income brackets over time, rather than following individual people.

Most of the media publicize what is happening to the statistical brackets–especially that ‘top one percent’–rater than what is happening to individual people.

We should be concerned with the economic fate of flesh-and-blood human beings, not waxing indignant over the fate of abstract statistical brackets. Unless, of course, we are hustling for an expansion of the welfare state.”

(Sowell’s column appeared on, March 6, 2013)

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: