Sociological Research and the Exceptional Man

Luther Lee Bernard
Washington University


The present dominant interest among sociologists is research, but there is lacking an adequate agreement as to what constitutes research and as to the methods to be employed in the prosecution of research; also the methods of selecting research projects in sociology and investigators are still faulty and possibly not sufficiently impersonal. Generalization and application is as important for our society as is research and as are the functions of sociologists, but not of researchers as such. To improve the quality of research it is necessary to give more attention to the personalities of investigators, since research is fundamentally a highly personal matter and no mechanical or formal method of research can replace high quality of intellect and character in the researcher.

Sociologists everywhere in this country are filled with a righteous and burning zeal for research. For some years this interest has been growing, both among the experienced and the inexperienced, among the competent and the incompetent. For there are fads and fashions, and even crazes, among the sciences as well as in the less dignified affairs of life. I mean to say that some of this enthusiasm is genuine and sincere and some of it is superficial and highly ephemeral. Some of it is in the nature of an earnest appeal for more knowledge and for better conditions for laboring in the production of scientific knowledge, while some of it is the voice of the hanger-on and of the camp follower who attaches himself to the research army for what he can get out of it.

I am fully aware that in attempting to say something tonight that may have fundamental bearing upon the matter of sociological research and of sociological science I shall fail to please many enthusiasts and many who value names more than realities. There is also great likelihood that I shall he misunderstood by both sides, so I shall say at the outset that I am thoroughly in sympathy with all forms of sociological research and the more of it the better. But at the same time I am a strong believer that research should have a close and intimate relation to life and I have little sympathy with

( 4) research projects that grow out of an institution's or a person's desire to get money from a foundation rather than out of some profoundly felt need for knowledge on certain points and issues. In recent years I think I have seen altogether too much money wasted on research projects made to order and carried through by individuals and groups of persons of mediocre ability who were seeking to build for themselves and their political cronies reputations as sociologists which should have been laid more securely in the mastering of knowledge already gained. I have little sympathy with research which is either mercenary or pharisaical and which aims primarily at political profit and invidious distinction. Yet research is the very blood stream which feeds the sociological body, and perfections cannot be expected in the early stages of an enthusiasm. The real danger is that those most competent to do research may not be enlisted on research undertakings.

In the field of sociology in particular we still suffer greatly from superstition and prejudice, from bigoted ignorance which masquerades under the name of profound learning, as Roger Bacon said of the critics of experimental science of the thirteenth century. And here also we are perhaps more frequently victimized by the propagandist and the partisan than in any other discipline, scarcely excluding religion and ethics. What we need is objectively-tested fact to replace our venerable traditions; and in order that we may secure tested facts we are especially in need of research carried on by sincere and well-trained men and women who have learned to dispossess themselves of prejudices and partisanship and who seek knowledge, not for the purpose of making a showing to justify their research grants, but for the sake of the truth alone. Again, permit me to suggest that there is altogether too much so-called research undertaken today by partisans to prove their predatory creeds and "isms"; by exploiters to secure legislation or to convince public opinion of the rightness of their nefarious exploitive programs; by promoters who wish to establish research units and gain reputation for themselves; and by the merely ignorant who believe that one research project is as good as another and that all methods are equally simple and mechanical and that anyone who can turn the crank of a calculating machine and fill in a schedule is as capable of doing re-

( 5) -search as any other person. Therefore, without in any way disparaging research, in fact, while I am seeking earnestly to add my effort to the purification of its motives and methods, I wish to remind my hearers of a few things that are sometimes forgotten or ignored.

My first observation is relative to the lack of any common understanding of the nature of research. In this respect we are in a position similar to that of the religionists, the orthodox among whom have not yet learned to think of religion in a general and inclusive sense, but limit the whole scope of religion to the content and scope of their own particular creed, regarding all those who do not "belong" as "lost." Or we might compare ourselves sociologically to the ardent nationalists who consider themselves "the people," or the "chosen people," and contemptuously regard all outsiders as barbarians, gentiles, pagans, or "hicks," who merit only mistrust and exploitation. I have myself heard one man who is remarkably successful in securing research money from foundations say to another who finances his own research, "You know, you aren't interested in research." There is perhaps some danger among us that only the `'orthodox," that only those who have been blest with the laying-on of the hands of a foundation and have been admitted to membership in some Royal Order of Knights and Ladies of Research, or at least who have been invited to membership on national research committees, will be regarded as true researchers by their more fortunate, or, perhaps, more politically adept, brethren of the cloth. If such a caste system should arise among researchers and should become an object of political manipulation, it would be a sad day for the future of dependable research output. At best, there is among us a strong tendency for the researchers in one field to look upon those in another with suspicion and mistrust, and even to doubt if their output is really research. In even poorer taste is the growing sense of superiority of the researcher over the mere teacher and the consequent dangerous tendencies to divorce research from citizenship, on the one hand, and from all questions of social utility by making it financially independent of application, on the other hand.

This research provincialism is as true of the methods used in research as it is of the content. All too frequently the sociologist is but an intellectual minion of the older sciences. He has until recently

( 6) been dominated by the viewpoints and crude sociological generalizations of the biologists, to mention the most glaring example of his lack of intellectual independence. In spite of the fact that John Locke more than two centuries ago provided in his theory of the association of ideas an excellent device for the study of the integration of personality traits on an acquired or conditioned basis, it was not until within the memory of everyone present here tonight that the sociologists led in the rejection of the theory of the biological inheritance of those same traits. Most, if not all, of those who fostered this movement of freeing sociology from its position as a little-respected and ridiculed branch of biology are also here tonight; and perhaps it may be said that some of our number would still prefer the old tutelage to the new freedom, if they knew how to maintain it in the face of the new facts which they cannot avoid. If I may be pardoned one further example of this bondage of sociology to some antecedent discipline, I would refer to the present storm against behaviorism raging in the sociological teapot, or, more properly speaking, in four sociological teapots; for I believe that there are only four sociologists of position left among us who do not yet understand what is meant by behaviorism as a phase of sociological thinking. The opposition appears to come from those absolutists, either theological or metaphysical, who cannot yet reconcile themselves to the idea that truth and fact are not eternally fixed quantities and qualities in the universe, but are always relative to the situation under which they appear and to the adjustment functions which they serve. Having failed to grasp the significance of the social system in which they live, they still cry "Apostate," "Libertine," and "Bolshevik" to those who do understand.

In the matter of methodology there has been also all too frequently a blind following of the older sciences without a due recognition of the fact that every science, indeed every problem in arc science whatever, must develop in considerable measure a method or a methodology of its own. The habit of working by analogy in our thinking is not confined to any one science any more than it is confined to science in general. Nearly thirty years ago E. A. Ross made a summary of some of the most approved social laws that had appeared as sociological generalizations during the previous fifty years.[1]

(7) It is illuminating to observe how many of these were mere analogies to laws in physics and chemistry. Then came a period of the making of sociological laws based on biological analogies. Ten or fifteen years ago one of the larger departments of sociology had just abandoned the metaphysical and psychological analogies of its founder for a partial return to older forms of analogical thinking in its system of sociological concepts based on biological and chemical analogies. In this department and elsewhere there seems now to be a trend away from a conception of sociology as a logic of concepts over toward a sociology conceived as a logic of social adjustment patterns and techniques, although it is difficult to say how unconsciously this transition is everywhere being made.

Altogether too frequently the sociologist has believed that in order to be scientific in his investigations he must use the same investigational technique as the physicist, the chemist, the biologist, and the psychologist, or at least as nearly the same as is possible. The prestige and the "chosen people" attitude of the older sciences gave the sociological investigator an inferiority complex and made him prone to worship the chosen hill gods of other brands of science as the universal divinity instead of manufacturing a supernatural umpire of his own. Accordingly many sociologists have thought and still think that any fact produced outside of a laboratory could not be depended upon. This attitude has its analogue in an incident that occurred when I visited a well known teacher of history of the old documentary tradition at the University of Michigan some twenty years ago and admired his splendid collection of documentary materials. "Yes," he said; "you know one thing has always troubled me about the research work of the sociologists. Perhaps you can tell me; where do they get their documents on which to do their research?" Other sociologists profess to believe that any fact found in a library is not the product of research and that only the things found in schedules (no matter how or by whom they are written in) are wholly dependable. Otheis still would call nothing true that is not stated in quantitative terms and that is not the result of long and serious juggling with interchangeable mathematical formulas. These geniuses of research can take a handful of figures of very shady character and by the divine magic of statistics evolve from them the most remarkable and veridic conclusions which for numbers

( 8) exceed the very data upon which they are based, and the proof of the correctness of these conclusions apparently lies in the mathematical exactness with which they are stated rather than in the dependability of the data upon which they are based.

But now I perceive I am being misunderstood, just as I anticipated. I must hasten to say that I am a partisan of statistics, especially of good statistics. When I compare the mistakes of the statistical method with the legerdemain and spirit rappings of the case methodists in their most mellow moods, by means of which one can discover and prove beyond the shadow of a doubt just those things which in his heart of hearts he has always known and thereby give forceful illustration to his prejudices and preconceptions, I am capable of becoming very enthusiastic about statistics.

At such a time, also, I can become highly tolerant of the method of general observation, of the man who honestly mistrusts laboratory and controlled experimentation with individuals as a source of sociological data, because of the limited scope and the highly preconditioned character of the results that are so frequently obtained there. In fact, what we produce in the laboratory under the name of sociological research is too often only biological and individual psychological data and not at all adequate for generalization in wider social situations without weighting and allowancing. The real laboratory for the sociologist is not the laboratory of the chemist, the biologist, and the psychologist but that of human affairs as they occur in the realistic and actual processes of social adjustment in the open world. Every sector of the social adjustment process may be regarded as a sociological experiment and may be studied as such. What method the sociological investigator uses will or should depend on what results he can get from either or all methods. It should be a pragmatic test, not an a priori one. Statistical methods, formal or informal, and of course preferably formal, are unquestionably best where they can be applied intelligently. But frequently case analyses and the informal statistical method are the most applicable; and in other instances general observation with informal statistical inductions is of the greatest value, especially for a preliminary survey and orientation. To my untutored mind (if a behaviorist is justified in assuming that he has a mind) the intolerance with which

( 9) many self-styled rigorous investigators greet the. conclusions of the well-trained general observer has not been justified generally by the comparatively superior value of the results gained by the former group in the same field of phenomena. It is entirely possible for the general observer to train himself in accuracy and efficiency of technique, as E. A. Ross has elsewhere indicated, [2] in a way that is comparable if not directly similar to the manner in which those who work with smaller samples train themselves. After all, all research is observation, and there are more systems of observation than just one— the one you yourself happen to be familiar with.

Now I suppose I shall again be misunderstood, this time as arguing for a sociology entirely speculatively based. Such is not my meaning. I believe there can be no dependable sociology that is not factually based, and that the facts should be carefully tested and verified. But you will surely pardon me if I say that I believe that even a good statistician— I mean one who has respect for both the use and the abuse of his data as well as for his formulas— would be justified in preferring the general observations of a thoughtful nonmathematical sociologist on the effects of the use of alcoholic beverages upon society to the so-called statistical results of Raymond Pearl. After all, back of every piece of worth-while research there must be a competent mind with a sufficiently broad and well-informed outlook that it can set its research problem in terms of actual social realities instead of in terms of fanciful hypotheses and traditional prejudices. There can be no great research without great and capacious, well-filled minds to direct and interpret it. The important thing about research is not adding columns, working calculating machines, and plotting curves, but interpreting the results. It requires an able and honest mind to make research valid by drawing the right conclusions from the data. And after all, all data must be interpreted. And no piece of research is worth more than the mind that organizes and interprets it. That is why some men's random observations are better than the most pretentious quantitative researches of other men. In too many cases incompetent prejudice and dumb lack of insight both set the problem and interpret the results.

(10) It is entirely as possible to have moronic research as any other form of moronic thinking.

There is too much of a tendency among us to believe that sociological research is an automatic process and that we can set to work a second- or third-rate mind and a third- or fourth-rate character at some research task and that while the researcher smokes and smirks and drinks and dawdles away his working hours the research will, if properly organized on a mechanical basis, take care of itself and produce dependable results. Research is a jealous mistress and it can be satisfied only by men and women of sincere and well-informed outlook, of good and honest judgment, zealous only for the truth and alike impatient with and mistrustful of the flippant dilettante, no matter how many voices there may be to the contrary. One of the reasons for this flippant misconception of the relation of personality to dependable research is that we have in far too many cases come to mistake some of the more objective tools of research for the research procedure itself. Let me repeat that research is primarily a highly personal operation or employment of the individual human mind and that is why it can be successfully undertaken and carried through only by the exceptional man. The most important phase of any research procedure is the objective statement of the problem in such a manner that the way is open for the collection of definite and comparable or generalizable data bearing upon the question at issue. The next most important phase of the research procedure is the construction of a logical frame of reference for the generalization of the data collected which will exclude irrelevant combinations of data and synthesize those data that are relevant. Both of these basic procedures are wholly dependent upon the availability of a superior brain or mind and no mechanical substitutes for such brains have ever been invented. At every point in these procedures the judgment and sincerity of the investigator are all important, for in hundreds of cases he has the choice of this technique or that, must make this decision or that regarding the validity of his data, and weight this item or that. If the investigator is not both absolutely impartial and exceptionally wise, his conclusions may be worth but little.

Far too often we confuse these fundamentally original intellectual procedures in research with the processes of conceptual, mathe-

( 11) -matical, and mechanical logic which they employ. The behaviorist at least recognizes the fact that no highly abstract and original processes of thinking, such as are involved in the defining of a research problem and in the generalization of research data, can be carried on without the use of language concepts, and perhaps mathematical formulas. Without such an equipment, mental processes have but little efficiency for research procedures. The same is equally as true of mechanical logic as it is of symbolic logic. A social science laboratory costing millions of dollars and equipped with the costliest calculating and generalizing machines may continue indefinitely to turn out only mediocre or indifferent research results, unless it is also equipped with as able, as honest, and as unprejudiced minds as it is with machines. If the data you feed into a machine are worthless or if the logical system according to which they arc distributed to the machines is faulty because the minds that made it are incompetent, the results also will be worthless.

After all, statistics is but a refined method of logic invented to make more precise the ordinary methods of thinking. Statistics can do nothing the human mind cannot do without statistics, but the human mind can often perform many of its operations much better with the aid of statistics and calculating machines. I think it could easily be proved that every one of the general principles of method the statisticians are triumphantly announcing today were earlier stated non-statistically by men who were not statisticians but who had a keen perception of the general logic of behavior and of events. Some of the statisticians, who are microscopists rather than macroscopists in logic, do not realize that this is true. I will go even a step further and say that some of the ablest investigators and generalizers in our Society are not statisticians and are generally regarded by the statisticians as poor in research, generalization, and prediction. Here again we have the "chosen people" complex, this time among the statisticians. I call attention to these facts not to belittle the importance of statistics, which I think is very great, but in order that we may be reminded that there are many tools to research, that some are better adapted to one purpose and others to other purposes, and that none are useful except as they are manipulated by a competent and well-trained workman.

( 12)

One of the unexplained mysteries of American academic life is that universities and research institutions get so little for the money they spend on the social sciences. I scarcely know whether to blame this situation on the trustees, the presidents, or the heads of departments. No doubt the anxiety of trustees to protect their institutions from dangerous radicals does frequently result in the selection of men for social science posts who neither would nor could produce any ideas or data to upset the existing order. But I think the conventional-mindedness of the ordinary president who is acceptable to a board of trustees is a much more certain encouragement to mediocrity in the research work of social science men. I have known social science teachers to be appointed primarily on the basis of their interest in golf, the way they wore their clothes, their interest in social life, their mixing qualities down town, the volume of their literary output, or even the facility their wives had for entertaining. The same president of my acquaintance who appointed a sociologist after a fifteen minutes' conversation with him limited wholly to the subject of golf also added $1,000 to the salary of a very incompetent law dean, in a very lean legislative year when only two other increases of salary were made, on the ground that his wife was worth it. Presidents usually wish to retain their jobs, and one of the conditions of doing so seems to be to choose wisely the heads of their departments. In one case within my memory the man selected did not even belong to the subject over which he was chosen to preside. In another instance, the president is reported to have stated flatly that he had selected a certain man because he would take orders. Is it to be wondered at that men chosen to head departments on such grounds as I have mentioned here do not always surround themselves with strong and fearless men who can make contributions as investigators?

Even human vanity may corrupt the working staff of a department of social science. It is said that the thief reason for the conspicuous weakness of one of our largest departments of sociology for years was that its head could brook no colleague who was not also a disciple. I have for some years watched with interest the solicitude with which one large department year after year has found a new berth for one of its weakest men, apparently for no

( 13) other reason than that he is also the most loyal progeny of that department, making up for what he lacks in brains with constant and loud praise of his benefactors and of the peculiar doctrine they teach at that institution. Sometimes the self-protective alliance of mediocrity and of soft-pedaling between university administration and departmental organization has its own retributive reward. Twice I have seen departments of sociology which were shining lights of mediocrity suffer political explosions because finally someone in the department experienced the birth of a new idea and it proved so shocking to the powers that ruled that it was declared to be illegitimate and its mother was expelled. A sadder case to record is that of a western man who toiled at his own research for years so patiently and so without self-advertisement that his colleagues did not regard him as a research man at all. In time they formed for their mutual advancement, and as a means of sharing in any funds that might be available, a local research society to which this man was not invited to belong. In due course, however, his research matured and the first volume of his work made him famous. His colleagues of the research society then went to him and invited him to membership. He thanked them for the honor, but gave no other answer. He never joined. He was too busy with his research and, like Dr. Johnson, he no longer needed the honor from his colleagues. I wish we might believe this was the only case of this sort in the politics of research in the social sciences today.

But enough of the human ephemera of research and the exceptional man. Let us return to fundamental principles. The work of the generalizer is too often undervalued, as, it is frequently too superficially done. Almost every great advance in social science and in human welfare that was dependent upon social science has been made by men who were generalizers as well as research technicians and not by men who were research technicians alone. This fact is significant. Whether generalization is performed on the basis of original or of borrowed data, it has a peculiar value for science and for social control in our very complex age. Never before have we had such urgent need of sound sociological generalization and for the establishment of scientific principles of adjustment behavior. Since we are compelled to make adjustments to the wider and more ab-

( 14) -stract and derivative relationships of our social order, whether we wish it or not, we find ourselves caught unprepared as far as an adequate guidance from social science is concerned. The result is that our political and social behavior is dominated by propaganda— lying and intentionally misleading propaganda— to a degree never dreamed of before. The only remedy for this situation is for the social sciences, and for sociology in particular— since unlike economics and government it is not chained to the Scylla of business and the Charybdis of professional politics— to reassert the intellectual right to generalization and the moral right to offer guidance to the members of society.

Once more I must guard against misunderstanding, for that last expression will be seized upon by the sociological prigs and purists as a plea to make of social science a religion. In recent years we have been so intimidated by dismissals and the evil eye cast at us from the throne that when the taskmaster becomes aware that we have produced an idea instead of having merely published a book— for the publishing of books, even without ideas always delights the souls of our presidents— when the powers that rule become aware that we have delivered ourselves of an idea, and thunders at us the question, "What is this going to lead to?" we have learned to answer, "Oh, to nothing at all; the idea is perfectly useless and meaningless as far as social effects are concerned; it is not meant to apply to present human society, or to society at large, or to real human beings, but only to bears and giraffes; it is just research." In such away— everyone knows the psychology of shame as a result of official or social disapproval— we have come almost to believe that our work should have no relation to practical human affairs. Some of us, acting on the basis of such a psychology of intimidation, have removed all courses dealing with social problems and social reform from our curricula and have substituted courses on social work therefor, on the apparent assumption that it is entirely proper to teach methods of relieving the maladjusted in our society, but entirely improper to inquire into the situations which are responsible for this maladjustment or to seek to work out a theory of social organization that would remove the causes of disorganization. Even in social work itself there has recently developed a strongly supporting tendency

(15) among the psychoanalytic cult to throw the burden of individual maladjustment, not upon environmental economic and political disorganization, but upon the supposed incessant and persistent instinctive longing of the maladjusted to "return to the womb," from which apparently they never should have ventured forth.

This tendency of sociology to escape from social realities by changing the emphasis from social reform to social work, and of psychoanalytic social work to escape into "the return to the womb" philosophy of maladjustment, threatens sociology with a similar sort of limitation upon its productive work as that experienced by political economy when it became subordinate to schools of business administration. In many institutions economics is no longer a social science in the original sense of a study of political economy, but is an examination of the methods by which one entrepreneur can secure an advantage over other entrepreneurs and of how all entrepreneurs together can sell high to consumers and buy cheaply from producers. In somewhat the same spirit many sociologists have developed a set of taboos for their own science which might be stated somewhat as follows: Don't generalize, it is dangerous; doubt everything you say before someone else doubts it; if you can't confine your investigations to the past or to primitive peoples, then be sure that they refer only to the curious and esoteric in the present;[3] make your studies cover such minute areas or sectors of problems that they will be inapplicable to larger social policy; discourage the imputation of any connection between theory and practice; support the dogma that science, like art, is its own reward, and an end in itself; cast doubt upon the social value of science, and speak with disapproval of "that religion called science" ; inculcate the notion that research, like everything else, is just another graft, and that research grants are meant only for the support of smart young men and women with blasé and cynical attitudes whose real business in life is to smoke and drink artistically and to create the atmosphere of all intellectual caste which So well becomes our highly endowed and luxurious modern universities; make sure that your findings dis-

(16) prove all previous results, for otherwise they must be invalid; cite only the research of your clique or clan, and no other; and, finally, keep out of the fraternity everyone else who doesn't have the same appreciation of the exquisite and innocuous function of research and especially those who might be so mad as to suppose that the findings of research could or should be made of some use in the constructive control of society.

Fortunately, this somewhat cynical characterization of the modern researcher's creed is still more of a caricature than a true picture, and I wish, perhaps more than I hope, that it may always remain such. At least, it will serve as a background for my intended emphasis upon the social necessity that both sociology and social research should aim to be functional in the reconstruction of the social order. If they are not, they become mere esthetic disciplines, like both the old and the new scholasticisms which still so largely dominate our modern universities wherever trade and professional schools have not pre-empted the territory. With one principle of the purists, the contention that one's predilections, dogmas, beliefs, and confraternities should never be allowed to prejudice his finding, I am wholly and irrevocably in sympathy. But I do not believe that the proper way to prevent prejudiced findings is to have no findings at all on controversial questions. Surely mankind would never have made any progress if it had left severely alone all matters regarding which there was controversy. It is precisely by attacking controversial questions and by substituting scientific measurement for traditional or partisan opinion as a determiner of values that almost all progress is made. The same principle applies to sociological investigation; it must attack the controversial issues and develop scientific methods of measurement for them, and then restate them in the form of scientific principles for the guidance of men in their social adjustments, for legislators and administrators in the work of social control. I wholly disbelieve in the assertion of one school of sociologists that ethical and welfare questions cannot he studied scientifically. If this school means to say that the investigator must not replace his scientific analytical attitude with a moral or social prejudice in studying any question, I believe even the man on the street would agree with him. But I see no difference whatever be-

( 17) -tween the methods of attacking a so-called ethical or welfare problem and one that is not supposed to be such. I can, however, see greater difficulties in applying scientific methods to the analysis of problems regarding which the investigator is prejudiced than to those concerning which he has no prejudices. I doubt, indeed, if one can draw any meaningful distinctions between moral and non-moral problems, for all social problems are anthropocentric. Likewise, in the last analysis, all science is anthropocentric and is normally directed toward the analysis and solution of human adjustment problems. Perhaps the purists need to give more attention to their terminology, and also to the analysis of their own prejudices.

 The prejudice against sociological generalizations in the form of principles and laws is, in my opinion, very unfortunate. Perhaps it arises in part from a misapprehension of the nature and function of such generalizations. In some degree, no doubt, it arises from a strong antipathy on the part of some people toward the extension of science to human affairs for the sake of social and individual control. But this anarchistic revolt against discipline cannot account in full for the objection. I fear that many among us still think of scientific law or generalization as a fixed and absolutistic order of things inherent in the very pattern of nature itself, in operation from the foundation of the universe, and from whose prescriptions human behavior could not vary one jot or tittle in practice. With such a definition of scientific law in their minds, they do not see how there could be any social laws in fact or any possibility of sociological prediction in practice. Comte should have taught us long ago— and the idea has been repeated more than once since his day[4] – that scientific laws do not exist in the structure of the universe,'but are products of human thinking, ways by which men have learned to look the facts of nature into shape as a means to controlling them. Social laws and principles are, therefore, simply human creations invented for the purpose of classifying and interpreting our environments and of finding techniques of adjustment to those environments. When one

(18) law or principle proves inadequate as a method of looking our social world into shape, we replace it with other sociological generalizations and laws. There is and can be nothing sacred or final about generalization in any science. Even in physics and chemistry there must be constant revision of generalizations. In the social sciences, where the data of generalization are more complex, changeable, and abstract, this revision must occur more frequently, and continue for a longer period, before sociological principles become relatively standardized.

All generalization is tentative, because all adjustment of man, either individually or collectively made, to his environment is tentative and temporary. All generalization is a function of this adjustment. The necessity for readjustment is constant and continuous, quite apart from any volition of the individual. It is therefore no disparagement of the usefulness of generalization that it has to be done over again when adjustment problems and needs have changed. As a matter of fact, in sociological as well as in physical generalization, two types of laws are possible. Where the phenomena are homogenous and regular, as in the distribution of molecules in a gas or the character of the arts of production and the practices of consumption, it is possible to generalize laws that are accurately descriptive of the phenomena and which remain true as long as the phenomena generalized retain their relative distribution. Thus we get a definite law of gases or of population saturation from such constant conditions. In such cases the sample is identical in composition with the universe from which it is drawn.

But in most social and in many physical phenomena conditions change so rapidly and so completely that the sample is never truly representative of the universe. In such cases, unless some arbitrary zero base, such as the vacuum in the law of falling bodies, is available for the computation of the law, the best that can be done is to make a hypothetical statistical generalization. Every new sample will make necessary some modification of the generalized law or principle with reference to this body of social data. But this fact does not invalidate the statistical generalization as a hypothetical basis for the making of adjustments in society. In fact, such statistical generalizations are of the greatest utility, for they are probably more dependable than the informal statistical generalizations and the gen-

( 19) - eralizations by analogy preserved in custom and tradition, in revelation, creed, and dogma, which they replace. They simply must serve until better generalizations are made, just as the poorer ones embodied in tradition and dogma were depended upon before the statistical generalizations appeared. It is entirely a mistake to suppose that man will do without generalizations to help him with his adjustments in a complex, derivative social world. If he cannot get fairly accurate statistical ones he will fall back upon those embodied in tradition and creeds; in fact, he is altogether too likely to prefer the latter to the former, and the scruples of the purist who would have the world of science perfect before he would take one step forward in it is perhaps one of the chief aids to the preservation of the old systems of thought.

In conclusion, may I say that in my opinion the greatest obstacles to effective research in our day are the stereotypes and prejudices and preconceptions of the investigators. Fortunately these evils do not characterize either the majority of investigators or the greater part of their output. The growth of research in sociology has recently been very marked and its quality has been much improved. But there are still many things we need to look out for and to guard against as well as to master. In the minds of some there is a danger of the monopolization of the control of research. The apparently disproportionate predilection of research appointments to fall upon certain sectors of the sociological universe to the virtual exclusion of others, however just and equitable this action of the finger of fate may be in fact, has not escaped criticism from doubting Thomases. Surely nothing could possibly be worse for the future of research than to make its administration a political matter. Here as in conventional politics it may well prove that the man who is best able to secure an appointment to a position of administrative power is least able to administer his charge to social advantage. The prejudices of men are very strong, and the tendencies to stereotype and ritualize a procedure are almost inevitable. It may be, as some think, that commercialized research will fail to discover the ablest researchers just because such persons do not speak up and ask for their portion, or because the conventionalized and stereotyped critic and administrator may not be able to grasp the possibilities of the most brilliant research plans.


  1. E. A. Ross, The Foundations of Sociology, chap. v.
  2. "Getting at Significant Social Situations in Foreign Countries," Publications of the American Sociological Society, XVII (1922), 161-67.
  3. For two years the Guggenheim Foundation maintained a fellow who was studying the origins of The Tale of a Tub, while it turned down several applications for funds for the study of important current questions.
  4. See, e.g., L. L. Bernard, "The Objective Viewpoint in Sociology," American Journal of Sociology, XXV (1919), 298-325; "Scientific Method and Social Progress," ibid., XXXI (1925), 1-18; "The Development of Methods in Sociology," The Monist, XXXVIII (1928), 320; and "Some General Problems of Sociological Measurement," Southwestern Social Science Quarterly, XII (1932), 310-20.

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