Who Needs the Social Sciences?

Why are the social sciences so much more at risk of having their budgets cut than the other two great bodies of academic knowledge, the humanities and the natural sciences? Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher notoriously proposed that the field simply does not exist: there is no such thing as society, she claimed. Others point to the restructuring of university social science departments. But the expansion of business schools arguably testifies to the continued vitality of the social sciences.

Nor is it true that the social sciences belabor the obvious, as is sometimes said. On the contrary, today's commonplaces were yesterday's innovations. If you compare the concepts used to frame newspaper editorials today and ten or more years ago, you will find the deep - but unacknowledged - impact of the social sciences. The influence may be regretted, but at least it is registered.

Still, where are the social sciences in the vast conversation over "human nature" that has been prompted by recent advances in cognitive neuroscience, behavioral genetics, and evolutionary psychology? Check out the elaborate and informative website ( www.edge.org ) devoted to the promotion of a "third culture" that bridges the humanities and the natural sciences. Social scientists are conspicuous by their absence.

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