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“Proving” or “Disproving” Theories (3/24) Theory as methodology Theory as systemics.

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Presentation on theme: "“Proving” or “Disproving” Theories (3/24) Theory as methodology Theory as systemics."— Presentation transcript:

1 “Proving” or “Disproving” Theories (3/24) Theory as methodology Theory as systemics

2 Theory as methodology  What is the relation of theory to research?  The simple view:  We test theories  by seeing whether they predict correctly.  If they predict correctly, they are proved.  It is not that simple.  Building bridges is hard.

3 Relation of theory to data:  A theory can neither be “proved” nor “disproved” by data alone.  It is one of the commonest errors of undergraduate research to suppose they can.  Yet the relation of theories to data is central to any empirical science.  The facts do not speak for themselves, but the verdict of the facts is decisive.

4 Lieberson on Einstein, again  When there is a case, like that of the “proof” of general relativity and the “disproof” of Euclidian space, that implies:  The auxiliary assumptions by which one gets from basic principles to observed measures are widely accepted.  Lieberson was arguing that me need to spend more time and attention on middle range theories and measurements.

5 Theories cannot be proved true  The fact that a theory predicts correctly does not show that the theory is true  because there are always indefinitely many alternate theories for any particular empirical finding or body of facts.  This is true both of very general theories and of very specific hypotheses.  It is a well-known empirical fallacy to argue: “A implies B; B is true; therefore A is true.” “If all humans are female, then Mary Queen of Scots was female; she was; therefore, all humans are female.”  A theory course must make one better able to think of alternate theories for any finding.

6 Falsificationism: Karl Popper  Popper stressed the fact that if a theory predicts falsely, this does imply that the theory, as formulated, is false.  Finding a single black swan shows that it is not true that “All swans are white.”  Popper argued that good theories are those that make many predictions which could have been false but which turned out not to be.  This position is called falsificationism, and is accepted, with modifications, by many sociologists, such as A. Stinchcombe.

7 The point of falsificationism  Popper’s real targets were Marx and Freud.  He thought that conceptions such as the “unconscious” or “latent class struggle” were dishonest ways of avoiding real tests of the theories,  Which were overly flexible, and could be made consistent with any observations, whatever.  He argued for simpler theories that generated hypotheses that could be directly tested.

8 Why theories cannot be disproved, either  The central problem of falsificationism was pointed out by one of Popper’s students, Lakatos:  The fact that a theory has predicted incorrectly shows that there is some kind of problem with the theory or with the assumptions used to apply it,  But it does not show what the problem is.  Only with indefinitely many auxiliary assumptions is any particular data consistent or inconsistent with any particular theory.

9 An example: the discoveries of Uranus and Pluto  For Popper, the discoveries of the outer planets, not visible to the naked eye, were among the great triumphs of Newtonian mechanics.  The theory was specific enough, so that when the know planets orbits were not as predicted, it was possible to calculate where additional planets would have to be to disturb the orbits in the ways, observed.  But note that Newtonian theory was not rejected, but fixed.

10 Dealing with an “Anomaly”  When a theory predicts incorrectly, in a way we do not understand, that is called an anomaly.  One solution to the anomaly of Neptune’s orbit was an additional planet, which was found,  But many other solutions were possible: a dust cloud, a magnetic field, a dark body, an optical problem, and scientists would never have rejected Newtonian mechanics without a superior theory, nor should they.  Theories only make predictions with “auxiliary assumptions” and if one can make these arbitrarily, then any theory can be made consistent with any data.

11 Dealing with anomalies  Whenever you apply a theory to data you make auxiliary assumptions,  and the auxiliary assumptions may be nonproblematical in any particular case.  Anomalies have been part of many scientific revolutions, such as Einstein’s.  Deciding how to respond to an anomaly is a theoretical judgment.  Usually one makes the simplest, most modest and most economical corrections available (e.g. measurement assumptions.)

12 Lieberson 2002 and Darwin  Sociological theory is more like Darwinian evolutionary theory than it is like physics.  There is an overall framework  but there are different kinds of causes  operating at different levels  With a lot of historicity.

13 Levels of Theory  The core theory involve fundamental principles: e.g. the nature of time and space in Einstein, or the nature of dynamics in Newton and Uranus  Stinchcombe includes basic ideas about causality, in the core.  Auxiliary assumptions involve other forces (“All other things equal”) and measurements.

14 Stinchcombe and the Theory-construction Movement  One World uses Stinchcombe as the founder of the theory construction movement.  Active and important today.  Use of systems representations of the basic configurations of theory.  Addressed the implications of data for theory.

15 Stinchcombe’s Levels Re Marx Kind of AssumptionExample Re Marx General ideas about causality“materialism:” there is a material world and observable phenomena have material causes Causal ImageryRelations of production create interests that influence people in other areas. Classification of causesDistinctions between authority relations, rights of appropriation and historical stages. Kinds of causes affecting other kinds View that most political phenomena are affected by class interests. Thesis that a variable explains variation in another variable View that Bonapartism (populist dictatorships like Saddam Hussein) is caused by petty bourgeois MOP Empirical consequences in particular conditions Louis Bonapart was most strongly supported by peasants and small property holders View that some particular data are examples of a concept Marx’ concrete analysis of events and politics in France.

16 Levels Re Culture of Poverty Kind of AssumptionExample Re Culture of poverty General ideas about causalityIn analyzing data on culture of poverty, are there general issues about causality creating disagreement? Causal ImageryDo different theorists have different ideas about what kinds of things are affecting what other kinds of things? Classification of causesWhat are the main structures and dynamics relevant to the analysis of the culture of poverty? Kinds of causes affecting other kinds What are the main theories about the negative effects on opportunity of poverty and of culture of poverty? Thesis that a variable explains variation in another variable What do the main theories about the effects of poverty and culture of poverty imply, empirically? Empirical consequences in particular conditions Empirically, what are the effects of controlling and vice versa? View that some particular data are examples of a concept What does this particular data suggest of show about the effects and dynamics of culture of poverty? We have discussed the relation of poverty and culture of poverty several times. It is useful to think how these “levels” might relate to the data that we analyzed last Monday. (See Below)

17 Theories as Systemics  Often there are a lot of specific causal influences that have been demonstrated.  But it is not clear how they fit together; what is their dynamic; under what conditions the effects obtain, etc.  Whenever there are feedbacks, the problems become intricate.  E.g. Myrdal.

18 Feedbacks are inconvenient but dynamically important  Feedbacks enormously complicate empirical estimation of causal relations.  Therefore 20 th c. sociology has tended to ignore them  But they are dynamically important.  Positive and negative feedbacks are explanatory primitives.  Mid-20 th c. systems theory tended to privilege the analysis of negative feedback systems, and Parsons did even more so.  Contemporary chaotic and complex systems dynamics tends to look at positive feedbacks.

19 Systems and Sociological Theory  Many research models have no feedbacks, but most theoretical models are systemic.  Functional theory stresses norms and values which function as negative feedback thermostats.  Conflict theory stresses vicious cycles of power and privilege, which operate as positive feedbacks.  Organization, theory, symbolic interaction, and other theoretical approaches can also be most simply represented as feedback models.

20 Systems and feedbacks about the culture of poverty  Virtually all sociologists would agree the poverty and the culture of poverty are mutually reinforcing.  Most would also agree that is a reasonable measure of the effect of poverty and that broken families (e.g. are a reasonable measure of culture of poverty. Poverty Culture of Poverty + +

21 Knowing How v. Knowing That  These issues are relevant to the kinds of disagreement that people have analyzing the data on the effects of poverty (e.g. and culture of poverty (e.g. on opportunity (e.g. $ RANK).  That is, there are issues of conceptualization and measurement.  And, there are issues of interpretation of the coefficients and partial coefficients.

22 The effect of  by $ RANK  BELOW AVG AVERAGEABOVE AVGTOTAL  BELOW AVER  39.3% 46.4%14.3% 100.0%  AVERAGE  23.8% 59.0%17.1% 100.0%  ABOVE AVER  20.0% 40.6%39.4% 100.0%  Missing  TOTAL  8.1% 52.1%19.8% Gamma =.305 What is the size of the effect of growing up poor on opportunities? What does this prove, what does it imply, and what does it suggest about the complex of cumulative poverty?

23 The effect of Gamma = What is the size of the effect of growing up in a non-intact family on opportunities? What does this prove, what does it imply, and what does it suggest about the complex of cumulative poverty?  by $ RANK  BELOW AVGAVERAGEABOVE AVGTOTAL  YES  26.2%51.7%22.2% 100.0%  NO  34.5%49.5%16.0% 100.0%   TOTAL  28.4%51.1%20.5%

24 Controls  Some people believe that giving poor children’s parents money (e.g. AFDC) will largely or entirely fix the problems of those poor children who also have broken homes (which is many of them.)  Partly they believe that this will cause fewer homes to break up.  Some people believe that fixing children’s broken homes (e.g. faith based programs) will largely or entirely fix the problems of poor children.  Partly they believe that this will pull most of the homes out of poverty.  The size and the relative size of effects and effects can be suggestive.  The effect of one, controlling the other is even more sugestive.

25 The effect of controlling Partial Gamma =.301 (conditional gamma.260) What is the size of the effect of growing up poor on opportunities controlling culture of poverty? What does this prove, what does it imply, and what does it suggest about the complex of cumulative poverty?  by $ RANK  NO  BELOW AVGAVERAGEABOVE AVGTOTAL  BELOW AVER  42.6%44.8%12.6% 100.0%  AVERAGE  8.9%57.4%13.7% 100.0%  ABOVE AVER  23.7%44.7%31.6% 100.0%  TOTAL  34.6%50.1%15.3%

26 Effect of controlling ( showing only 1 st conditional table.)  by $ RANK  BELOW AVER  BELOW AVGAVERAGEABOVE AVGTOTAL  YES  37.5%47.3%15.2% 100.0%  NO  42.6%44.8%12.6% 100.0%  TOTAL  39.3%46.4%14.3% Partial Gamma = (conditional gamma -.098) What is the size of the effect of culture of poverty on opportunities controlling growing up poor? What does this prove, what does it imply, and what does it suggest about the complex of cumulative poverty?

27 Functional theory  Functional theorists mainly treat society as a stable solidary system.  Durkheim is the classical example.  Parsons’ view of social structure as a self- maintaining normatively integrated system is the main contemporary example.  There are functional approaches and theories in every section and sub field of sociology  We have suggested that negative feedbacks require or imply functional analysis

28 Conflict theory  Other theorists mainly treat society as a competitive system.  Marx’ view of modes of production and exploitation as replacing each other by a process of class conflict is the classic example  Mills, Feagin, Massey, and Reskin are contemporary examples.  We have suggested that positive feedbacks require or imply conflict theory.

29 Functions and Thermostats: Negative Feedbacks  A function is something that is needed  e.g. social order, socialization into family, economic production, health,  Such that a failure to have that need met will generate changes to restore it.  This self-maintaining structure can be represented as a kind of thermostat: Failure to meet need Anomie; search reforms to try to meet functional needs + -

30 Stinchcombe’s representation of functional theory Functional structure (e.g. sweating, ship magic, inheritance Homeostatic variable (functional need ) (e.g. constant body temp. low anxiety, low conflict) Tensions and shocks The only difference between this and the representation we have been using is that it uses fancier names and explicitly represents the notion that you would not “need” a structure if it were not for tensions.

31 Conflict theory and Vicious Cycles: Positive Feedbacks  Conflict theory treats society as a kind of game of monopoly characterized by vicious cycles of advantage/disadvantage.  Money, power and prestige leads to access to further money, power and prestige  More generally Resources Access to further resources + +

32 Stinchcombe’s representation of Marxian theory as functional Feudal structure (e.g. peasants tied to the land) Functions for aristocracy Functions for urban employers Functions for urban workers i.e. the feudal structure maintains the interests of the aristocracy, and so they support it (oppose any erosion of those functions.) But the feudal structure blocks the urban groups, who oppose it.

33 Discussion of Stinchcombe’s representation  In Stinchcombe’s representation says that if what benefits one group holds back others, then there is a negative feedback supporting it; and positive feedbacks opposing it.  If the system causes urban groups to grow, then it dooms itself, and the groups opposing it grow.  I believe that this representation recognizes positive feedbacks but does not use them as effectively as it might.


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