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Bettina Hoser wrote:
> But about the general laws: physicists have a very long tradition of
> finding laws in nature that did not look as though they have anything
> in common. Later research found they had thouhg! So maybe it would be
> a very good idea to let the physisicst look for general laws, while
> the sociologists use the methods to gain mor insight into the
> sociological questions.
Hmm. But, indeed, there is no reason that sociologists (or anyone else)
cannot find general laws, assuming such laws are there to be found. I
think that the real question here is not one of physicists vs.
sociologists, or lawfulness vs. unpredictability. The question is one
of good science vs. bad science: does the particular theory being
proposed in this case actually predict the phenomena for which the
theory allegedly holds? Not having read the original piece, I cannot
speak to that -- the short description of the result posted earlier
_sounds_ inconsistent with known observations, but this might be due to
miscommunication. (It would seem productive to get a better handle on
what is being claimed, prior to having a debate over the truth or
falsity of those claims.)
Abstract debates over the applicability of the theories/methods of
physics (or biology, computer science, etc.) to social science are
amusing, but I'm not aware that anything useful has ever come of them.
Talk is cheap: if a genuine advance can result from cross-application of
ideas, then the way to prove it is to actually make the advance. This
has happened before (e.g., the work of Rashevsky's group circa 1950, or
the influence of Besag's biostatistical work on modern ERG models), and
it will doubtless happen again. Nevertheless, I think the field is
better served by a consideration of specific proposals than by sweeping
arguments for/against the importation of physical or other ideas.
(I'm surprised, in this regard, that no one here has pointed out that
ERG/p* models are essentially thermodynamic in character. Recognizing
this connection greatly facilitates the interpretation of some of the
more unusual behaviors of these models, e.g., phase transitions and
degeneracy. These issues are being explored by a number of people on
this list, at least some of whom are explicitly incorporating
statistical mechanical arguments/results into their work.
Cross-fertilization works well in this case, because there is a strong
substantive motivation for the modeling framework.)
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