No Money at the Horizon for Social Sciences

This sounds like bad news. The science budget of the European Union will be restructured, and there will no longer be a specific budget for the social sciences, even though the overall science budget is increased by a whopping 46% (that is, in the end, good news).

ScienceGuide (link) reports:

Director general Robert-Jan Smits: “These disciplines should get out of their silo’s and step up their efforts to tackle societal problems. This weekend I read that in The Netherlands one out of eight people over seventy years have only one social contact a month and 15% of people over 80 suffer from mental depression. Those are issues they need to work on.”

I want to make two points First, he might be right. This is community money that is being distributed, so some sort of success might be expected. And if there is one real-world measure of success and productivity that sounds reasonable, it is being able to solve actual problems. Sure, there will always be a new problem to solve, but more recognition in social scientific work on what the real problem is that a study addresses, might be a good thing.

My second point, on the other hand, is that his argument is based on the assumption that social sciences can and should solve societal problems. But solving societal problems is very hard, even if you know what causes them. It takes, to name a few, money and political commitment. Long-term political commitment even, which is getting rather scarce. And what about science driven by curiosity?

Let me make a third point. Yes, I know, I said to make just two points. But that exactly is the problem: social science as a discipline just make to much points. It is a very young discipline of science, in which way to many people are very well trained to disagree with each other. That does not help with solving societal problems. It helps with creating scientific debate, discussions, conflicting paradigms, and all sorts of controversy. There should be room for scientific debate, of course, but by itself it doesn’t bring any solution to any real-world problem any closer. So, perhaps, we should indeed try to emphasize the commonalities between different views in the social sciences, while at the same time stop tolerating all kinds of arguments that simply cannot be sustained empirically. After all, you can’t prove reality wrong.

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