SOCIAL SCIENCE AND COMMON SENSE
When we do not know where our ideas come from, or what they are based on, we sometimes call them “common sense.” If we call them common sense, we do not have to prove they are true, for then others will join us in the collective self-deception of assuming they have already been proved. If one presses for proof, one is told that the idea has been proved by experience. The term “common sense” puts a respectable front on all sorts of ideas for which there is no systematic body of evidence that can be cited. What often passes for common sense consists of a group’s accumulation of collective guesses, hunches, and haphazard trial and error learning Many common-sense propositions are sound, earthy, useful bits of knowledge. “A soft answer turner away wrath,” and “birds of a feather flock together are practical observations on sacra life. But many common-sense conclusions are based on ignorance, prejudice, and mistaken interpretation. When medieval Europeans noticed that feverish patients were free of lice while most healthy people were lousy, they made’ the common-sense conclusion that lice would cure fever and therefore sprinkled lice over feverish patients, Common sense thus preserves both folk wisdom folk nonsense, and to sort out one from the other is a task for science. Only within the past two or three hundred years has the scientific method become a common way of seeking answers about the natural world. Science has become a source of knowledge about our social world even more recently; yet in the brief period since we began to use the scientific method, we have learned more about our world than had been learned in the preceding ten thousand years. The spectacular explosion of knowledge in the modem world parallels our use of the scientific method. How does this scientific method operate?