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Arien Mack Editor’s Introduction WHEN I FIRST BEGAN TO DISCUSS THE THEME OF “ERRORS” WITH MY coeditor for this special issue, Gerald Holton, the question arose as to whether the kinds of “fruitful” mistakes that occur in the natural sciences also occur in the social sciences. While the degree of resem­ blance between the natural and social sciences has long been the subject of discussion within the social sciences themselves, I do not think the question has been much discussed in these particular terms. Since this issue ofSocialResearch attests to the presence of fruitful errors in the natural sciences, we invited several distinguished social scien­ tists to address the question of whether such errors occur in the social sciences. Many of the social scientists from whom I initially requested advice pointed out that, unlike physical laws in the natural sciences, “laws” in the social sciences—if there are any—are often contin­ gent and change as the social and cultural contexts change. In addi­ tion, two of the respondents pointed out, I think correctly, that the prim ary problem in the social sciences is not so much the validity of the claims of social scientists, which may or not be correct, but rather the consequences of those claims for social policies. An obvi­ ous instance of this was Cyril Burt’s claim about genetic differences in intelligence, which led to discriminatory immigration rules and other bad social policy. Fortunately for us at Sodal Research despite the general consen­ sus that “fruitful” errors were not characteristic of the social sciences, several distinguished social scientists agreed to explore the question of social research Vol 72 : No 1: Spring 2005 xl errors in the social sciences and have written interestingly about it for this issue. These articles stand as illuminating complements to the arti­ cles by historians of the natural sciences that also appear, and clarify one more dimension on which the social and natural sciences differ. Arien Mack xii social research ...


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