What social science does -and doesn’t- know that 'the social sciences have not demonstrated the capacity to produce a substantial body of useful, nonobvious, and reliable predictive rules about what they study—that is, human social behavior, including the impact of proposed government programs'.
In the article he says that social sciences have been relatively late in embracing controlled experimentation which is an essential method to settle debates about what works and what not. According to Manzi, even now that the experimental method is becoming more and more popular we cannot expect fast breakthroughs in our scientific knowledge about 'the human condition because of the high 'causal density', the number and complexity of potential causes outcomes of interest, in this domain. He concludes: "At the moment, it is certain that we do not have anything remotely approaching a scientific understanding of human society. And the methods of experimental social science are not close to providing one within the foreseeable future. Science may someday allow us to predict human behavior comprehensively and reliably. Until then, we need to keep stumbling forward with trial-and-error learning as best we can."
Is this a fair judgment of social science's accomplishments? Surely, social scientists have done many experiments and acquired much knowledge. On this blog I have frequently mentioned examples of social scientific knowledge on topics like self-determination theory, growth versus fixed mindsets, development of expert performance and outstanding achievements, stereotype threat, priming, and so forth. But I have to admit, these topics, although very useful, are examples of relatively fragmentary knowledge about human functioning. A 'scientific understanding of human society', of course, lies on a much higher aggregation level. But I would say that social science can be quite useful even if it can not yet 'predict human behavior comprehensively and reliably'. I agree, we are very far from understanding the whole of human function and human society. But I wonder if this is a fair criterion for determining the usefulness of social science. Often, you don't have to understand the whole in order to be effective. To name just one example, we know a lot about the do's and don'ts of effective teaching.
Still, I agree with Jim Manzi that in many of the complexer tasks and domains of life we need to stumble forward with trial and error learning.
What are your thoughts?