Under-Appreciated Research, Inside and Outside Views

January 20, 2010

What are the currently under-appreciated research areas in sociology? I have my opinions, but I’d actually prefer to focus your attention on the meta-question: how might decide which research areas are under-appreciated?

There are two basic approaches, inside views and outside views. Inside views require understanding a phenomenon in terms of its component parts. In contrast, outside views require the often easier task of appropriately categorizing the phenomenon, a.k.a. choosing a reference class.

For examples, let’s return to the original question, where the phenomenon under investigation is “the appreciation/under-appreciation of research areas in sociology.” An inside view might look like the following chain of (questionable) reasoning: 1. the highest goal of sociology is to discover the knowledge which results in the greatest good for the greatest number. 2. Insects are numerous. 3. Little sociological research is done on insects. 4. Therefore, Insect sociology is under-appreciated.

An outside view might look like this:
1. It has been proven that, in the past, research areas more popular with women have been the most under-appreciated. 2. Therefore, its a good bet that research areas more popular with women are currently the most under-appreciated, even if I have no idea what those research areas are or why they are valuable.

My inside view and outside view arguments are pretty weak, they are just there to illustrate the concept of inside and outside views.  Can you improve on them or make a case for inside/outside approaches more generally?

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Why and How to Debate Charitably

September 29, 2009

Chris Capel has written a short essay about “why and how to debate charitably,” and I’m struggling to find anything significant to disagree with him about.*  You should really read the whole thing, but I’ll provide his list of rules with short explanations below:

1. The golden rule – “treat the person’s position as if it were your own.”

2.  You cannot read minds – when someone appears inconsistent, consider that you could simply misunderstand their argument.

3.  People are not evil – “You should be extremely suspicious about your judgment of a person’s position when you think that position has implications that you find distasteful (or worse).”

4. Debates are not for winning – “Never make a person defend words that they’ve abandoned.”

5.  You make mistakes – “many more than you realize…   Look for your mistakes, and admit to them.”

6.  Not everyone cares as much as you – “be willing to tolerate people who apparently hold distasteful positions.”

7.  Engaging is hard work.

8.  Differences can be subtle.

9.  Give up quietly – “If you don’t want to engage someone using all these rules, don’t engage them at all.”

I hope that this forum, Permutations, will host productive discussions and debates.  You need not involve yourself in them, but I hope that you do, and I hope that if you do, you debate charitably.

*Admittedly, I would water this list down a little bit.  Instead of rules, I would call these guidelines.  For example, I don’t believe people should be required to ignore every argument they can’t engage at the highest and most charitable level.  If Chris and I ever get the chance to discuss this point, I have a feeling that we’ll be able to come to agreement.  Perhaps you have stronger disagreements?  I’d love to hear about them in the comments.