Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Social scientists have all the fun!

In his text Organizational Behaviour, Stephen Robbins says, "God gave all the easy problems to the physicists". I don't know if the non-existent god gave the social scientists all the hard problems, but they have certainly got some absolutely great, fun problems! We have already seen some of them; let us look at some more.

Have you heard of Chet, a sub-species of Homo sapiens:

Chet is a hail-fellow-well-met sort, cracking jokes all the time (some of most of which may be 'politically incorrect', because he doesn't care about things like that). Chet is tall, probably tan, and has big white teeth like a mouthful of chiclets.... Chet is a member of country clubs, and has a thin wife, and two adorable kids, etc. etc.

The query posed to Brad DeLong is this: why do so many, if not all, investment bankers have this character type called 'Chet'?

This gives a chance to some of the more interesting bloggers, including Brad DeLong, Tyler Cowen and Matt Yglesias, to give their view of Chets. I mean, how often do you get a chance to say bad (and perhaps some good) things, without worrying about political correctness, about a stereotyped strawman called Chet? Can you imagine doing such a thing to a strawman called, um, Indian? Check out, in particular, Tyler Cowen; he does say something about Indian Chets.

In another post, Brad DeLong poses an interesting question about nanotechnology: what are going to be its ocial, economic, and ethical implications? And, he gets answers from his commenters! Isn't that lovely? You can also read Brad's early speculations on the economic impact of nanotechnology.

Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist, has a nice op-ed in today's NYTimes on the nature vs. nurture issue, in the context of homosexuality. Among other things, he makes this valid point: "what is evolutionarily adaptive and what is morally justifiable have little to do with each other". The illustrations Pinker gives are very interesting, and have an in-your-face quality to them:

Many laudable activities - being faithful to one's spouse, turning the other cheek, treating every child as precious, loving thy neighbor as thyself - are "biological errors" and are rare or unknown in the natural world.

Pinker also participated in a recent debate with a fellow Harvard psychologist Elizabeth Spelke about "the science of gender and science". This debate was held in the aftermath of Harvard President Larry Summers' ill-conceived remarks about lack of women scientists in top positions in elite universities. As Sean Carrol notes, both Pinker and Spelke make good points that are based on science, and defend their views admirably.

Finally, have you ever wondered what the evolutionary purpose of female orgasm might be? Dinitia Smith has a nice article in the science section of NYTimes about it; it is a conundrum because, "women can have sexual intercourse and even become pregnant - doing their part for the perpetuation of the species - without experiencing orgasm". Apparently, there are more than twenty theories for it. Given the number of people who are interested in this subject, I am surprised that there are only twenty theories, but I am digressing. A recent book by Elisabeth Lloyd, a philosopher of science and professor of biology at Indiana University, checks the theories against the available evidence, and finds them all wanting. Prof. Lloyd has her own explanation for the female orgasm: it has no evolutionary function at all! "The female orgasm, she said, 'is for fun'."

We all sort of suspected it, didn't we? ;-)


  1. Anonymous said...

    Saar. One kutti request. Please enable FULL feeds for your posts.


  2. Anonymous said...

    Hi Neha,

    Done! At nanopolitan, we aim to please -- no, make it delight! -- our readers ;-)

    One kutti request from me too: can you just call me Abi. I would greatly appreciate it ...


  3. Anonymous said...


    (My feed reader is delighted!)