Heard on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson

Social Sciences Are Getting Better Despite Criticism, says MSU Researcher

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Image credit: Michigan State University

More attention to data, collaborative approaches and diversity in perspective are leading to claims that are more specific, says Matt Grossmann, author of “How the Social Sciences Got Better.”

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These days, universities are often hotbeds of controversy. Much of that criticism has come from those on the political right, claiming that they are spaces for safety and shelter rather than intellectual exploration and dynamic scholarship. But that’s not the view of many academics. A new book argues that knowledge produced by those in higher education has improved, not degraded.

Even in the most bizarre corners of social sciences, you still need to bring data to the table and you are still going to be judged mainly on how well you are describing and interpreting that information.” —Matt Grossmann, Michigan State University 

Data is more accessible, cross-disciplinary approaches more common, diversity of belief and background more robust and causal inferences — or suggestions of truth — have gotten sharper, says Michigan State University political scientist Matt Grossmann. In other words, he says the social sciences are improving and the academic information we digest is more nuanced, accurate and humble in its claims.


Listen: How social science research is improving, not degrading.


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Matt Grossmann is a political science professor at Michigan State University and the director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. His new book is “How the Social Sciences Got Better.”

Grossmann says more attention to data, collaborative approaches and diversity in perspective are leading to claims that are more specific, and knowledge creation that is humbler in its approach. “We’re making progress even in these corners of academia where you might think that we’re subject to political correctness, or having trouble conducting our studies without outside interference,” he says. 

There is a debate, says Grossmann, about whether information coming from both academia and journalism can be objective even when the people participating in both spaces are more likely to be liberal and well-educated. “Even in the most bizarre corners of social sciences, you still need to bring data to the table and you are still going to be judged mainly on how well you are describing and interpreting that information,” he says. 

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