For a Kinder, Gentler Society
The Ivory Tower of Babel: Why the Social Sciences Are Failing to Live Up to Their Promises
  • David Demers
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The Ivory Tower of Babel: Why the Social Sciences Are Failing to Live Up to Their Promises.
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Mainstream social science has come under fierce criticism in recent decades for failing to have more impact on public policy. Critics say the social sciences are incapable of generating knowledge that can solve social problems. Others contend that partisan politics and university administrations are the problem. Politicians are more concerned about special interests than scientific research, and administrators care more about scholarly publications than solving social problems. Are the social sciences failing to live up to their promises? Have they outlived their usefulness? Have they become an Ivory Tower of Babel?


About the Author

Journalist-turned-professor David Demers is author of more than ten academic books. The Society of Collegiate Journalists honored him in March 2010 with a national award for defending free speech rights at “great personal and professional cost.” He is an ardent advocate for the First Amendment, having initiated or helping to initiate six lawsuits in an attempt to force government agencies and universities to comply with open records and free speech laws.

Demers is associate professor of communication at Washington State University, where he has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in media theory, media and society, news reporting, media history, media law and editing since 1996. A mass media sociologist, he is author or editor of more than 125 journal and professional articles and 10 academic books. His research papers about corporate media structure have won five national awards.

In the 1970s, Demers worked as newspaper reporter in Michigan, where he won two statewide first-place awards for investigative reporting. During the 1980s, he earned a master’s degree in journalism through the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Reporting and a master’s in sociology and criminology from The Ohio State University. He earned his Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Minnesota in 1992.

Demers is founding editor of Mass Communication & Society, a scholarly journal published by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. He also founded the nonprofit Center for Global Media Studies, which sponsored two international conferences over its six-year history and published two books, and he founded six open-access journals, which are available at www.MarquetteJournals.org.

About the Book

Like the Babylonians, who built the infamous Tower of Babel, social scientists for the past two centuries have been building a tower of sorts, only this time it’s composed of knowledge rather than bricks. The primary goal of these scholars —...

Like the Babylonians, who built the infamous Tower of Babel, social scientists for the past two centuries have been building a tower of sorts, only this time it’s composed of knowledge rather than bricks. The primary goal of these scholars — anthropologists, communication scholars, economists, political scientists, sociologists and social psychologists — has been to solve problems of social integration. The Babylonian tower was designed in part to unite people to one geographical area. Similarly, social scientists see their tower of knowledge as a means for solving social problems — such as poverty, crime, drug abuse, inequality, unemployment, abuse of power — that alienate people and groups from modern society.

The Babylonians failed because of divine intervention, according to the Bible. The social scientists aren’t finished building their tower. But, according to critics, the results so far look less like a tower of knowledge for solving social problems than an “Ivory Tower of Babel” — one in which social scientists routinely dispute each other’s theories and data, and even uncontested or well-supported findings rarely influence public policy. Disputes over the nature of truth and knowledge are so commonplace in the social sciences that many scholars believe a social science which uses methods from the natural sciences is incapable of generating knowledge that can solve social problems.

This book examines the history and philosophy of the social sciences and theoretical and empirical research on the impact of social science. Suggestions are offered at the end for enhancing the impact of the social sciences.

A number of scientific articles and books have been written about the impact (or lack thereof) of the social sciences on public policy, but none has been written specifically to appeal to both academics and a broader market composed of the general public and students in both undergraduate- and graduate-level courses. The author takes the reader on a journey inside one of the best kept secrets in higher education — that much, if not most, of the research conducted in the social sciences has very little impact on public policy or on solving social problems. Are taxpayers getting their money’s worth?



Pages 294
Year: 2011
LC Classification: H61.D3379 2011
Dewey code: 300.1--dc22
BISAC: SOC000000 SOCIAL SCIENCE / General
Soft Cover
ISBN: 978-0-87586-879-0
Price: USD 23.95
Hard Cover
ISBN: 978-0-87586-880-6
Price: USD 33.95
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ISBN: 978-0-87586-881-3
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