Objectivity and Evidence

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					Objectivity and Evidence.

   Is value-free social science
            possible?
       I. What is value-free social
                science?
A.   Background

    I shall presuppose that there are positive facts: facts
     that do not imply that something is good or bad,
     better or worse, valuable or not. (Note: this is
     controversial.)

    I shall allow that there may or may not be facts
     about values. (Assuming there are such facts is one
     very simple way of securing moral objectivity.)
Examples of positive facts: (candidate facts)

1)   The force exerted by the magnet is 2 dynes.
2)   The grass in my garden now is greener than in
     my friend’s garden in Northern Alberta.
3)   The charge of an electron is…
4)   “The import elasticity of demand for
     automobiles in Britain in 1979 is 1.3.” [Blaug.
     P.121.]
5)   Nancy is 5’5” tall.
B. Positive (value-free) social science

   Establishes (true or false) claims reporting positive facts.
   Without presupposing the truth of any value claims (i.e.
    “objectively”). An „objective claim‟ is a claim about
    positive facts that is established objectively.

C. Why can‟t we have value-free social science?

   Central social science claims inevitably fail to report
    positive facts.
   It is hard to eliminate value assumptions from social
    science methods.
          II. Some distinctions
A. Amartya Sen-
“Accounts, Actions and Values: Objectivity of Social Science”
    Sen: Nobel-prize winning social welfare theorist,
    economist/philosopher famous for his work on famine.

B. Sen distinguishes
    The objectivity of claims
   The goodness of accounts
   The goodness of actions
Economic claims and judgements about the goodness of
    accounts can be objective. Judgement about the
    goodness of actions are moral judgements.
C. Sen‟s example

BBC Panorama programme on brain death and
  kidney donations, October 1980. The
  programme cast doubt on the certainty of death
  of allegedly dead patients when their kidneys
  were removed.
             Three questions:
1) Were the claims true/ well supported?

2) Was it a good account of brain death and kidney
    removal?

3) Was the action of broadcasting the report right?
   “‟Should the BBC have given such an account?‟ is a
    question about action judgement, not about account
    judgement.”
   This question requires a “moral judgement”. Neither
    questions 1) nor 2) do.
   “The same applies to choosing…; selecting
    questions…, and picking the ways of
    presentation.” (p.107)
D. Sen on ACTIONS

“The problem here isn‟t fearing that scientific action might
  be value-loaded, but fearing that it might not. Value-
  loading here is not so much a right as a duty. An action
  by a person that is contrary to his or her values…
  remains pernicious in terms of his or her own values,
  even if it happens to be related to science.

… Actions related to science are like all other actions,
  calling for evaluation, assessment, and scrutiny.”

See also P. Kitcher on Truth, Democracy,…
     III. Is value-free social science
                 possible?
Why might many central social science claims fail
   to describe positive facts?

A.  Because-
the social facts we want to study (e.g. human
    development, unemployment) can in many
    cases only be identified with (or measured by)
    a set of positive facts given a value
    judgement.
Some examples

    The United Nations‟ „Human Development Index‟: The HDI
     is an equal weighting of – life expectancy, literacy, level of
     education with a specific choice of how to measure each
     of these in turn. There is a sense in which a country‟s
     having a certain value for the HDI is a positive fact. BUT,
     there is a sense in which it is not. Why? The choice of
     measurement procedure reflects a view about what
     constitutes human development. E.g. no indicators of
     political freedom are included (and historically, we know
     this is for political reasons).
    Unemployment
1.   What lies behind the rules for how to measure it? E.g. Are
     women who look after the family unemployed? Maybe;
     maybe not. But not children.
2.   We have a view about who should be working, e.g. single
     mothers
B. Because-
Models and methods may presuppose/imply value
  assumptions without note.

Some examples
 In standard „search and matching‟ models of
  unemployment individual welfare is measured
  only by income. They do not add in the values of
  self-esteem or social inclusion, which would lead
  to different results.
   Often we assume that social welfare is some
    aggregation… a representative agent. But consider: in a
    discussion of employment models, A. Atkinson shows
    that the not uncommon “efficiency” criterion used in
    those models does not allow for distribution values:
    the social value of income is indifferent in those models
    to distributional effects. This is clearly opposite to the
    criterion of John Rawls: social value has to do with
    improving the position of the least well off without
    harming anyone else. So… the identification of social
    welfare with aggregated individual welfare
    presupposes a value commitment…(and this value
    commitment is seldom noted in macro texts.)
C. Solution?

   Use Sen‟s distinction: Various measure are objective- the
    methods establishing the values they take do not require
    value judgements. But using the measures in particular
    ways is an action and hence subject to moral scrutiny.
    Perhaps even just calling concepts by certain names is
    subject to moral scrutiny.
   Logically: if you show something is true of a concept
    defined in a certain way, you mustn‟t illicitly carry the
    results over to a different concept with the same name.
          IV. Detailed Example
A. A.B. Atkinson-
“The Welfare Basis of Macroeconomics” (lecture, BAAS,
  2000)
„Golden Rule‟: invest till the (steady state) rate of
  return (r)= rate of growth (n)

 Policy advice. How established? Via a theoretical model.
The standard models begin with an individual welfare
  function:

∑(1+β)-t U(ct)
Where β is discount rate for utility of future times and U is
  utility. (This is a simple version of a standardl formula,
  used by ‘Chicago School’ economists like R. Lucas.)
2. Justification for using a positive β (by
  Armartya Sen): We may reasonably think
  the existence of future generations is
  uncertain… nuclear war for example.

3. BUT (points out Atkinson) if you think that
  it is 40% probable we don‟t survive into the
  next century this gives β= .5%: “an order
  of magnitude smaller” than Lucas‟s (1+β)=
  1/0. 95.
4. Consider other models.
 Overlapping generations: (1+r) =
  (1+n)(1+β) – Modified Golden Rule
4. Consider other models.
 Overlapping generations: (1+r) = (1+n)(1+β) –
   Modified Golden Rule

 Our model adds a “representative” utility for each time.
  A classic utilitarian will be concerned with total utility:
∑(1+β)-t(1+n)tU(ct). This implies (1+r)=(1+β).

Bottom line: We can go from r=n to r=n+β to r=β
  depending on discounting and how we deal with agents.
B. Conclucion
Often told: someone else picks the ends. Positive social
  science shows the means to those ends. Our example
  shows how hard this is: We pick a general end, say, a
  savings rate that leads to steady state equilibrium. We
  look to the models of economics to tell us what rate
  achieves this end. BUT (as we have seen) there are
  generally a lot more value choices to be made in the
  internal structure of the model.

It is only when ALL these value choices „appear out
   front‟ – e.g. if you want steady state equilibrium where
   future generations are treated differently from current at
   exactly a discount rate β and where you maximise not
   total utility but the sum of representative utilities, etc.,
   then set r=… -- that you get value-free accounts of
   the means. And it is not at all clear that can be
   done.
            STUDY QUESTIONS
-     Provide an example of a standard social science concept
      that you think is value free and an example of one you
      think is not.

-     Provide an example where the use of a concept may be
      open to praise or blame though the concept itself is
      relatively value free.

-     Explain and illustrate Sen‟s distinction between the
      objectivity of claims and
i.    The goodness of accounts
ii.   The goodness of actions