Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Qualitative methods and the footsoldiers of science

A very sophomoric attitude to science is to take it as the source of ultimate truth, a modern God of sorts. It is all too often exemplified by research footsoldiers in natural sciences as well as by frequent readers of science blogs. A result of that is an egregious, irrational and deeply misguided belief that the complexity, messiness and overdetermination of reality can be reduced to and explained by two arbitrary variables. For example, for the purposes of  this particular piece on  GM crops, yield and profit - while ignoring everything else - public health, environment, food quality, larger-scale economical implications, etc. - as mere "external factors". 

Also, limiting the time scope for meta-analysis - understandably necessary to make it handy - ignores any long-term effects even within the chosen yield-profit scope. That's how we end up with grossly biased and reductionist conclusions dangled around by BSc graduates and their associates as "scientific facts". It is very unfortunate that the same "facts" are then used for policy development and administrative decision-making. All because some dimwits were not taught Qualitative Methods and can't see the forest behind the trees.

#TheBanalityOfEvil #TheRuleOfExperts #GoodForTheEconomyShitForThePeople

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Right-wing anthropologist

Is there such a thing as a right-wing anthropologist? I am yet to meet one. My guess is that when you take so much time and effort learning about people's lives, walking in their shoes, trying to  understand their world in all this complexity, you can't go right-wing on them: blame them for the life they live, compare them with what they are not, treat them not as fellow human beings but as labels, bugaboos, somehow not-quite-humans and hence non-deserving.

Right-wing sociologists, on the other hand, do crop up every now  and then. I blame Quantitative Methods. When you're trained to reduce people to figures, graphs and spreadsheets, without bearing in mind that it's but an exercise in mental abstraction, that's essentially dehumanisation. And dehumanisation of other humans is a surefire precursor to right-wing thought and right-wing action.

*All that being said, the old-fashioned right-wing vs. left-wing dichotomy has been largely hollowed out in the political world. The majority of Tories and Labour, Republicans and Democrats are but mildly differing flavours of Neo-Liberal (right-wing, in the old sense, par excellence).

Monday, April 25, 2016

In the name of Science, Data and Quantitative Methods

Before God('s word) was the language of power.  This day and age, it is science. Or rather the religion of Scientism. Hard data. Statistics. Figures. Graphs. Flashy PowerPoint presentations. The tool of mass persuasion. The tool of policy justification.

It's the only language power speaks. It's the only language power understands.

That is why Quantitative methods are so in vogue. Heavily Quant-laden MSc courses command the three-letters-behind-your-name market: the fees are higher and so are the expected salaries. Tens of thousands of science graduates churned out into the labour market.

This is how Bloomberg calculates that Thailand is world's happiest economy. This is how development consultants' number-jugglery  for ever leaves the Third World struggling, while keeping the HQ in New York, London or Geneva pleased. This is how the rule of technocrats indoctrinated in Quantitative Methods runs entire countries into the ground. This is how nuclear energy is (falsely) made out to be the cheapest. This is how technocrats from Goldman Sachs get to assume top-echelon positions in European governments and bleed everyone white with their misguided austerity policies. Never mind that even natural scientists demonstrate that uncritically quantitative research produces false results.

Wars used to be fought over one word in the Scripture. Now countries are turned into "competition states" to climb up a few places in rankings, never mind the social, environmental and psychological  cost (ala, the externals, generally excluded from most business model, 'coz who cares!). Blind belief in holy words may have given way to a blind belief in  holy numbers, but the latter is even more dangerous because of how efficiently it commands far vaster resources and more advanced technologies.

Social science koan: inspired by Baudrillard

All human systems produce difference and waste.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Flash ethnography

I know this goes again the very grain of participant observation, but sometimes there's just no time and flash ethnography is the answer. Switch off your ego, open your doors of perception, swoosh in, and assume a vantage position absorbing all the visible and invisible vibes, until they come after you and kick your pfrecious butt out.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Tuesday, December 15, 2015