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The Verdict Is in: Sociology and Political Science Deserve the Hatchet

Last week, I asked readers “Which Social Science Should Die?” The results are in. Thank you for your clear-eyed, sober judgment. Recall that some of you answered in the comments (see previous link) and others visited the on-line poll (which is still open). As of this writing, more than 1,200 votes have been registered.

And the winner — er, “LOSER”(!) is:

Let’s Kill Off Sociology and Political Science!

As you can see from the chart below, nearly 50 percent believed that college/university presidents should eliminate sociology. Nearly 30 percent thought poli sci should be shuttered. [Editor’s note: it is perhaps not surprising that Freakonomics readers wouldn’t vote to eliminate economics.]

The rationales varied. Many felt that sociology had become too insular and out of touch. Some argued that political science had become a sub-field of economics, and a good old-fashioned “M&A” could occur. Others said “market” discipline should be enforced: that is, save the departments that bring in the most cash to the university.  And many of you argued that the tradition of the disciplines was being ignored — e.g., sociology used to promote reform, but is no longer organized around such pragmatic tasks—and so it makes sense to close them for good.

I would welcome any comments by university administrators. If only for budgetary reasons, in the coming years, they will need to assess the composition of their academic departments and the performance of their faculty. Congress is one step ahead of them: In May, the house voted to prohibit the National Science Foundation from funding political science research.

We may not agree with the amendment, nor the rationale, but we should certainly wake up to the fact that our academic institutions are not scoring high marks for accountability to the American public. Since they operate in tax-free mode, they will soon need to figure out how to answer to citizen concerns over waste and irrelevance. If they remain blind, they deserve the ire and rebuke of all who care to look inside the machine.

I encourage you to view the comments that were submitted. Here are just a few thoughtful appraisals:

Caleb B: “Poli Sci should die. It’s only a major for lawyers, lobbyists, and politicians. We need fewer of each.” (I totally agree!)

Pat: “As fussy as sociology can be, it’s an ethically charged discipline. That’s rare and likely biased. Still, it’s beautiful that something like that can exist. Economics is twisted and ignored.” (I’m not sure I agree that econ is twisted, but sociology’s roots were in the reform of urban civilization… though on the whole, the ethical compulsion is lost today).

Rob: “What? I only get to eliminate one?” (Is this really Mitt Romney?)

JS: “I thought we were talking about science. I see no sciences in that list.” (Touche, mon frère, touche…)

Brad: “I’d eliminate the major discipline that attracts most scholarship athletes due to ease of course work. Since communications isn’t an option, sociology will do.” (FWIW, athletes receive the highest grades in my class, next to veterans)

Chaz: “How about African-American studies and women’s studies? Just try to read a list of theses coming out of those departments without shaking your head in disbelief.” (Hmmm, have you checked out the economics dissertations lately? Incomprehensible, my friend).

Austin: “Tell every professor that if they migrate to another department at any point in the next 3 years, they’ll get a raise for every year they stay until the third is over. The departments that are superfluous will vanish overnight. Best yet, this will vary between schools. The poli-sci departments that are valuable will stay behind, those that suck will be blown away, and we’ll maintain the academic diversity that forwards society.” (This is awesome. Let’s do it. I’m heading to the b-school).

Scott from Ohio: “Of all students who major in each of these disciplines, what is the percentage who end up with academic careers in that discipline? The discipline with the highest percentage can be considered the most inbred and likely contributes the least to the rest of society. That one, whichever it is, should be eliminated.”