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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful popular book about the value of social science, 23 Dec. 2011
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This review is from: Everything is Obvious: Why Common Sense is Nonsense (Hardcover)
Guess it reflects the zeitgeist that (a) it's even necessary to write a defence of doing social science, and that the term 'science' can be properly applied to the study of social phenomena and (b) that this gets written by someone from Yahoo! research. Who even knew that Yahoo! had a social science research department. Every so often Watts lets the cat out of the bag by referring to 'social and marketing' scientists, but this is a decent book nonetheless.

It explains well why social science is worth doing, and why it's not the same as physics. It presents some useful insights into what we can actually learn from sociology - the book is worth reading for the discussion of the 'obvious' conclusions of the American Soldier study. It's mainly liberal in both senses of the word - a wide ranging survey from a human-centred perspective that is concerned with fairness in the egalitarian sense. Some hopeful insights into homophily (why we hang out with people like ourselves). Some good stuff about how intuition and 'automatic thinking' can be misleading.

If I have a big disagreement it's with his faith in the web, and social networking, as a research tool. His closing words are: "Merton was right: Social Science still has not found its Kepler. But three hundred years after Alexander Pope argued that the proper study of mankind should lie not in the heavens but in ourselves, we have finally found our telescope." This is kind of moving, but I don't think it's right. Research on the web is interesting and can point to lots of interesting phenomena, but it's not the same as studying humanity. It's not just a matter of sample bias (not everyone uses the web, or uses it in the same way) but also ignores the very real possibility that the way we interact on the web is not at all like we act in other aspects of life.

A good book and well worth reading all the same. Made me think a lot about my own work as an industry analyst, and about the way in which the company where I work manages its people.
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