Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Social science technologies

Here's an interesting paper I found via Physics Today:
A recent poll showed that most people think of science as technology and engineering—life-saving drugs, computers, space exploration, and so on. This was, in fact, the promise of the founders of modern science in the 17th century. It is less commonly understood that social and behavioral sciences have also produced technologies and engineering that dominate our everyday lives. These include polling, marketing, management, insurance, and public health programs.
The paper details each of those technologies and gives some specific improvements brought by research in those areas.  For example, it was social science research that developed the surgical safety checklist, which measurably reduces the risk of complications in surgery.  One of the "management" examples was the realization that workers at a Fiat auto plant had to bend and stretch to work, and that new machinery could eliminate this problem and increase productivity per worker.

Probably a few of these technologies get a really bad rap, especially marketing and management.  The paper says:
It is commonly recognized that the same knowledge about atomic structures that brings us nuclear medicine can also bring us nuclear winter. The same knowledge about operant
conditioning can bring relief from terrifying phobias or, as with advertisements for tobacco, it can kill.
So it's not the technology itself that's bad, it's how you use it.  Do you buy this?