April, 1998

A few days ago, I received a post on internet commenting on the 
postmodern philosophy of science out of which I have been working 
for some 25 or 30 years...the question was:
 	...Could you explain what is meant by the statement "sociology
	research is political in nature by virtue of the fact that the
 	findings can potentially benefit some populations, while working
 	against the interests of others?" 
	Can you elaborate with some examples on this?	Thanks,  A.J.
The answer is that I am pleased to do so.  The answer is far more complex
than the question as posed but, below, are some reasons why the normal,
'objective' science taught in grad programs around the country are inadequate
to the knowledge process and, not incidently, to democratic policy making.
A.  Quantification: The first place to begin to think about the 
	political nature of all social science is in the very process
	of quantification.
	Quantification is, in postmodern terms, a process by which
	the incredible complexity of nature and society is reduced to
	informationally deficient numbering systems.
	As you may know there are four such systems in use in quantification;
	the most informationally rich of which is 'rational' numbering
	As rich as it is when compared to the other three, it is a very
	weak informational flow system in which to encode even the most
	basic social event.  One could count the information bits and bytes
	of an equation; compare them to the informational content of a 
	set of words which describe the same event; compare the information
	content of the words to the information content of a dynamical
	graphic which [say a moving picture] and begin to get some idea of
	the vast amount of information lost in the process of transforming
	events to words, words to numbers; numbers to statistics and
	statistics to equations.
	And, in terms of information theory [after Shannon], a moving
	picture contains but a small fraction of the totality of information
	contained in a film of a given social event.
	Then too, beyond the filming, there is a vast field of assumptions
	impossible to record, brought to every social event...including 
	this essay on politically correct sociology. They too, contribute
	to the incredible complexity of social realities.
	The political nature of quantification is found in the kind and
	amount of information discarded in the process.  In general,
	complexity, variation, difference and non-linearity are lost as
	numbers replace words and words replace deeds.
B. The Research Design.  The research design is, in modernist science,
	set up to control variables...and thus the interactions of a larger
	field are lost to the knowledge process.
	The results from such excluding research processes, while valid
	on their own terms, greatly distort the larger complexities of
	change and variations of a way to do family, church, work, game
	or science itself.
C.  The Language Game.  There have been some 3 or 4000 languages on
	the face of the human genome over the thousands of centuries of
	human existence.  There are still many hundred languages; dozens
	in China; dozens in India; dozens in S. America; dozens in N.
	American; dozens and dozens in Africa.
	Each language system is a special way of encoding...and creating
	social reality.  The use of one language system as a human
	reporting system thereby excludes all other encodings of the same
	kind of event.
D.	Non-linearity.  Most research events are set up to privilege
	linearity; a tight-fisted causality which then can be used to
	control the regimes of the systems studied.
	The new sciences of chaos and complexity inform us that most
	complex systems can exhibit a wide variety of dynamics; some of
	which are indeed linear but most of which are non-linear.
	Any research process oriented to linearity thereby excludes
	most of the results of actually existing dynamical systems.
	The political value of control is a human value...not an objective
	impersonal, pre-existing attribute of science itself.  Indeed, 
	non-linearity may be greatly preferable for a number of human
	reasons...control is valuable to bosses, wardens, bankers,
	dictators, engineers, pilots, doctors, and to parents of truculent
	There is nothing wrong in the quest for control per se...just that
	it is a special human quest and should not be taken as a attribute
	of all natural, normal, healthy, human systems.
E. Finally, all humans work out of a socio-cultural complex which 
	itself while encompassing language, is far more complex and far
	more political than is language alone.
	Every culture is, in the final analysis, a human process in which
	some events and relationships are sanctified and other human events
	and human relationships are demonized.
	Every scientist takes into the research process; into the knowledge
	process; into the human project, a great heritage of cultural
	encodings.  One cannot be human without some set of cultural values.
	Every research event is 'contaminated' by such culture; no one can
	raise above being a Catholic/Protestant/Muslim/Buddhist; no one can
	raise about the sexism, the racism, the economic strata and or the
	gender strata into which one is born, raised and in which one
	continues to live and function.
	There is nothing particularly wrong with being 'contaminated.'
	Jonas Salk was 'contaminated' with a great desire to end polio.
	Louis Pasteur wanted to help vintners make better wine.
	The early statisticians wanted to help brewers make better beer.
	Newton wanted to find God in his equations.
	Comte wanted to squash pre-modern knowledge processes [big
	Prince Henry gave prizes to scientists for better navigational
	aides...he wanted the treasures of the new world brought safely
	to him.
	The English Crown wanted clocks, compasses and astrolabes for the
	same purpose...
	Marx had a vision of social science enlarging human agency in the 
	collective creative of democratic social opposed
	to those ancient structures of oppression which alienated human beings
	even as they used their own genius to create wealth.  Racism, sexism,
	nationalism and class inequality continue to combine to reduce human
	beings to less than they could be; to more violence than need be.
	Nobel wanted explosives to help build things...or destroy things.
	Einstein wanted nuclear bombs to blast away Nazism.
Conclusion: Science is still possible; knowledge is still possible;
	prediction is still possible; control is still possible.
	Having said all the things above, still I insist that every
	research act is a political act.
	Again, there is nothing wrong with political acts per
	only wants to know who benefits and who suffers from such acts.
	The best thing to do in the face of all this is to make more
	modest claims for science per se and for one's own findings in
	particular.  Truths are fractal; theses are time/space dependent;
	causality fades and fails; control is a sometime thing.
	And there is much which is desirable in surprise, change, twists,
	skips, jumps, leaps as well as resistance to change and control.
	The only respectable, responsible solution to the political
	nature of knowledge is to accept and admit one's political agenda.
	Then one can't blame God or Nature for what one finds, teaches,
	urges and claims.  That is the affirmative postmodern positions
	on the 'contamination' of scientific endeavor.