Please, please Mr. Postman (THREAD ONE)

Mon, 25 Jul 1994 15:25:00 PDT

Mizrach quotes Postman:

"Science itself is, of course, a form of storytelling too, but its
assumptions and procedures are so different from that of social research
that it is extremely misleading to give the same name to each."

Either the statement is (a) circular ('social research is not scientific
therefore it is not science') or (b) asserts that those persons who believe
that they are doing science in the form of social research are deluding
themselves. Postman is erroneously trying to characterize not only what
people are doing, but what can be done, on the basis of how some people do
social science research.

" These events are a function of human intelligence interacting with the
environment, and although there is surely a measure of regularity in human
affairs, such affairs are not determined by natural laws, immutable or

i.e., laws of behavior equivalent to, e.g., a law such as force = mass x
acceleration are unlikely if not erroneous as a goal (there was a discussion
of exactly this point on anthro-L several months ago.). Postman seems to
accept the characterization of scientific argument as predicated upon
universal laws, which is an (erroneous) description of what a
science such as physics looks like, not what constitutes legitimate
scientific argumentation about a range of phenomena.

"In other words, there is an irrevocable difference between a blink - a
physiological act - and a wink - which must be classified as a practice
filled with personal and to some extent unknowable meanings and, in any case,
quite impossible to explain or predict in terms of causal relations."

Postman's use of "unknowable" is vague; e.g. does it mean: Can never be
known as it is beyond understanding by human intellect, or It is unknowable
in terms of current understanding of how the brain operates. In part the
comment uses the particular to refute the general; but we might
understand the process yet lack sufficient specific data to apply it to a
particular situation. Is the weather man inaccurate becuase the processes
involved in producing weather or poorly understood, or is it because a
fineness of data are needed that currently are unavailable? We might be able
to understand the wink versus the blink as an instance of a class of
phenamena without necessarily understanding the particular wink of a
particular person at a partical instance.

In short, it sounds like Postman rehashes old arguments without shedding much
light in the process.

D. Read