Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lisa Schweitzer on Shouting People Down

It starts:

One problem with planning, particularly for planning in the academy, concerns its normative basis: the good city, the just city, etc. Recently, a commenter here said:
That describes what a university SHOULD be, but not what I have found most universities to actually be. Anyone that disagrees with the mainstream academic viewpoint is not engaged in discussion, but shouted down. Students aren’t encouraged to explore and come up with new ideas, but to validate the ideas of their professors. Seems like the “debate” (or lack thereof) is not longer intellectual, but political and ideological.

That comment meshes with my experience in the planning academy, but not my experience with social scientists. Social scientists have their own sets of problems and limitations, but planning’s normative basis means that once consensus forms on what is good, deviations from that will be condemned not as misguided or inaccurate, but as evil. I’m not naive enough to believe the social sciences aren’t subjective and subject to ideological influences. But a common theoretical basis, such as that held in economics (however flawed), allows even for deep divisions to run alongside a rigorous body of empirical work. That is, unless you’re in macro, where ideologies rule and big names bellow at each other like mammoths across the primordial swamp about how to interpret theoretical models that have a weak empirical basis.
Read the whole thing.