Posts Tagged ‘Sen. Hutchinson’

Everything is Obvious* How Common Sense Fails Us

July 20, 2014

The asterisk in the title points to “once you know the answer.” This is the title of an interesting and important book by Duncan J. Watts. Duncan majored in physics as an undergraduate and finished with a Ph.D, in engineering. His dissertation was on the mathematics of small-world networks. However, after finishing his formal education he came to the conclusion that most of the important problems that needed to be addressed were in the social sciences.

I certainly agree with Dr. Watts. In the past I’ve written how it was a mistake to exclude psychology from the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) disciplines. Unfortunately when the sciences are mentioned people tend to think of the hard sciences and engineers wearing lab coats. Indeed in 2006 Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson proposed to cut the entire social science budget of the National Science Foundation. So she was, in effect, recommending that the NSF budget be cut where it is most needed.

Everything is Obvious is divided into two parts: Part One is titled “Common Sense,” Part Two is titled “Uncommon Sense.” One of the problems is that too many people think of the social sciences as dealing with problems that can be solved with common sense. Moreover, common sense has favorable connotations. Dr. Watts disabuses us of this notion, showing how common sense is often wrong, and that many problems remain unsolved because of mistaken notions regarding common sense. Dr. Watts elaborates on the difficulties of most important problems and the difficulties involved in making accurate predictions. Finally, he discusses approaches for dealing with these apparently intractable problems.

Everything is Obvious should be a must read not only for the sciences, but for anyone interested in any activity, be it politics, business, marketing, philanthropy, that involves understanding, predicting, changing, or responding to the behavior of people.

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