The Future of Social Science Research

This essay started as a comment to a Facebook post by Joe Brewer. I have included some personal historical information, cite many resources, and end with the beginning of a listing of query topics for future social science research.

In my fading memory, the call for advanced social science research goes back to 28Nov,1969, with the publication in SCIENCE  (pp 1115-1121), by John Rider Platt: “What We Must Do“. I am sure there are earlier calls.  Platt was my mentor as MS grad student in physics at UofChicago 1957-8, known then as a systems thinker for systems thinkers. He went on to head an interdisciplinary research group at UofMichigan. I had some contact with him when he came to Minneapolis in 1970, after the student takeover of the campus [in response to the Kent State experiment – would an American soldier shoot an American student, and the bombing of Cambodia].  I had just read his paper, and had composed a long essay in response: “The Technology of Non-Violent Revolution, which was used as one of the texts in the Peace College that replaced the normal curriculum at the UofMinnesota during the occupation. The Peace College was suspended after the authorities cleared the occupiers from the student union.  I include urls to John’s and my papers, and two others that might be relevant.

I was delayed (in responding to Joe’s post) as the articles had been stored in my old website in COMCAST, who recently abandoned hosting websites, without notice to me.  They did give me a download, but many of the interior links are no longer working.  I just put the two in Google Docs.

Platt’s SCIENCE article:   in PDF format
Victor’s essay:     in WORD format
An essay on Platt and Hardin
Excerpts from Platt’s SCIENCE article

Looking back 45 years I feel we haven’t progressed much. Our intelligent tools are powerful, but our humans systems haven’t improved. In a way, they haven’t improved in millennia. The technology of systems where humans are not significant components has progressed spectacularly. When humans are critical components of the systems, we have not progressed. Old human systems are now much more powerful with the new physical technology. I believe there are some aspects of humans that are blocking relevant progress in human social science. Human social technology, for control, has unfortunately, progressed greatly in the past few decades.

In My Analysis, science and technology are siblings; tech is not applied science – but it does use science. However, technology has its own dynamics, distinct from science.  I recently was reminded of Eric Dressler’s distinction between normal and EXPLORATORY engineering. I don’t believe a well financed project involving currently “established” scientists, historians, etc. will be able to transcend their siloing and necessary conservative behavior in their “disciplines” (re Foucault in Discipline and Punish).  I also think back on Gregory Bateson’s fiasco, in his attempt to gather the best minds to consider the ecological impact of human consciousness. The antics of experts at Bateson’s conference, in Europe, was satired by Arthur Koestler in his The Call Girls. The Bateson’s conference is described and analyzed in detail by Gregory’s daughter, Mary Catherine – who attended and recorded the conference in her book, Our Own Metaphor: A Personal Account of a Conference on the Effects of Conscious Purpose on Human Adaptation. Gregory and Mary Catherine visited Arthur after the conference, which Koestler had declined to attend because he was hosting his own Alpbach Symposium on Beyond Reductionism, which he wanted Gregory to attend.

My “crusade” was catalyzed by Platt’s paper (and the seeds he planted in me decades earlier) A second catalyst was my discovering the biological processes of insect metamorphosis and relating it to societal change. In 1974. at my new employment at a community college, I had been assigned the task of designing a Faculty Development Program. I asked myself why develop a program to make persons competent for working in a poorly designed and dysfunctional social system.  My proposal to metamorphose the college was politely rejected by the college president and my campus dean. So, I took a semester off, without pay, and composed my unpublished manuscript MISSION_2000,  where I outlined how humankind could complete societal metamorphosis in 25 years. 40 years later my model has improved considerably, but for reasons I haven’t yet uncovered, can’t even attract curiosity (even among those who know and respect my ideas).

In My Analysis, the current distribution of human competencies and the current social means by which they can be actualized makes it scientifically impossible for us to resolve our Crisis-of-Crises in time. Humankind is currently incompetent to save itself. BUT, we do have the competencies to UPLIFT ourselves and acquire the requisite competencies. BUT, to do this we must accept our current lack and accept our awesome potentials and radical change. The very best models for educating are grossly inadequate to accomplish UPLIFT, as is the current configuration of social media and cyberspace interactivity (constrained by the ideology of economic-centrism).


If our attempt to improve social science research is directed at transforming the monster we call civilization, we are doomed.  Transformation at the needed level and pace could be proven impossible. Today’s world can’t morph into the world we need and desire.  Yet, most of the concerned can’t even conceptualize that there is an alternative to social/societal transformation: societal metamorphosis. It is here where a nu trans-disciplinary science and exploratory engineering must focus. Image billions of humans quickly acquiring competencies of science and engineering, in addition all their other improved competencies required for creating and living in an emergent humanity, the societal butterfly birthing from the decaying societal caterpillar of civilization.


In a very powerful sense, a version of UPLIFT got started in the early 1970s (at the same time I was starting), but in Chile.  This tragic tale has now been told in beautiful detail in a new book by Eden Medina, CYBERNETIC REVOLUTIONARIES: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile. British cyberneticist Stafford Beer  (and teams) “collaborated” with Fernando Flores (and teams) to create a true miracle: a cybernetic political economy for all the citizens of Chile. It is truly astounding what they did accomplish with limited technology – until it was brutally squashed by USA’s intervention. I have long wondered whether some persons of influence in the USA were really aware of the power of this radical project. I am still reading the book at this point, and have yet to come to when it ended. Our world would be radically different has this social science experiment been permitted to run.

I had the pleasure of conversing with Stafford at a conference on Second Order Cybernetics in celebration of Heinz von Foerster.  I keep forgetting about, and then returning to cybernetics – and grok that it may be the insight ignored in developing truly relevant social science/technology.

At different moments in history, insights occurred that could have triggered a cascade, but didn’t – for reasons we must discover. Doug Englebart is widely acknowledged for his inventions, but his primary insight re AUGMENTATION has all but been ignored. Not exactly, look at Wikipedia for  “augmented reality” and you will find a long, long list of things and processes augmented – but no mention of Englebart! Doug’s interest for the past decade is BOOTSTRAPPING.  Another power concept, related to  the previous two is SCAFFOLDING. All three are key components to my UPLIFT model.

An old adage: Facts are Theory Laden and Theories are Culture Laden, is very relevant to social science research. That The Invisible Hand of the MARKET, and the claim that economics is a science, is even tolerated in scientific circles demonstrates the power of cultural ideologies on scientific establishments.  Almost everything we have scientifically accepted about the “nature” of HUMAN NATURE must be seriously questioned. New social science experiments interpreted by current theories and cultures won’t help us. Entrenched myths about human nature have been impervious to the many challenging studies in social sciences.

The 2016 elections in this USA is a most intriguing phenomenon to assist us in posing queries and questions about the nature of human nature. Indeed, almost everything reported in the news point to very relevant phenomena, if you can momentarily transcend emotional involvement.

Is it important to examine the mathematical fallacy employed by social science in taking averages when the data are not on a ratio scale? The math used in education to assign grades on tests and homework is mathematically invalid. For each question in a test to be given the same numerical score implies that the quantity learned by each question is the same. How do we quantify relative knowledge?

Does our highly confused knowledge and opinions about “consciousness”, its “nature” and “agency”, play a significant role in the failure of “good people” to learn/organize to liberate themselves from being controlled by “bad people”, throughout human history. How much of our cult of individualism depend on the acceptance of “naive realism” by so many – in practice, if not in theory.

I could go on and on citing queries and their contexts for an expanded social science research program. But that would make this far to long and should be done in a different format.  I will try to return and add some links to resources.



Author: nuet

01/24/1935. BS-physics RPI 1956; MS-physics UofChicago 1958; PhD-physics Yale 1965; PhD-Edu Psy Uof MInnesota 1970. Auroral Research Byrd Station, Antarctica 11/1960-02/1962. MINNEMAST curriculum dev 1964-68. Woodstock. faculty Pima Community College, Tucson 1974-1997. Transdisciplinary scientist, philosopher, educator, futurist, activist. PC user since 1982. "Wife". daughter, 2 grandsons. 5 dogs & 7 cats. Lacks mental imagery in all sensory domains.