Family Inequality in Search of Better Science

One very perceptive critic of those social scientists who still dare to defend what has come to be called “traditional marriage” is Professor Philip N. Cohen, sociologist of the University of Maryland, College Park.

Prof. Cohen’s blog,, is entertaining, current, and thought-provoking. He does a good job of pointing out the scientific lapses of those with whom he disagrees. Having a nemesis like Prof. Cohen challenges the level of performance of those with a differing point of view. Unfortunately, a number of thinkers who disagree with Prof. Cohen do not possess the level of mastery necessary to do so effectively.

Then again, Prof. Cohen appears to be a better critic than he is himself a scientific master–not that that will matter in terms of his academic success or current reputation, since today’s academic success gravitates toward the politically correct.

Prof. Cohen has chosen a very safe niche within academia, serving as a critic of the traditional, and does not yet appear ready to challenge the fundamental assumptions of both the traditional and the progressive. Were he to do so, he might become a great scientist whose works would be read for centuries. He certainly appears to have the fundamental talent.

But Prof. Cohen also appears to currently have a number of deficiencies as a rigorous thinker. I’ve chanced upon what appear to be recurrent fallacies in this analysis, including the genetic, misplaced concreteness, petitio principii, just to name a few. These subtle parlor tricks are academic stock in trade, and may dazzle the students, and unfortunately, some peers, but they don’t get us closer to truth. Prof. Cohen’s knowledge of the philosophic pitfalls of the social sciences does not appear magisterial by any means. His arguments are sometimes one-sided, not taking both sides of the ledger of costs and benefits into account, but flipping from one to another depending on the argument. He also does not appear to have mastered systemic, supply chain, or input-output analysis. Prof. Cohen informs, but does not yet enlighten.

I’ve just read about a recently-deceased judge who made it a practice to have her clerks draft findings both for and against plaintiffs. It was only after reflection upon such a rigorous inquiry that the judge rendered the final decision (easier for the judge to delegate than the judge to do!). This approach is similar, of course, to that of St. Thomas Aquinas, who regularly made better arguments for the opposition than the opposition did in his own pursuit of the truth.

Were a scientist like Prof. Cohen to equally divide his or her time for say, a year, between rigorously (and publicly) criticizing scientific papers on the family that were funded by both traditional and progressive foundations, not only would I admire him for his bravery and integrity, but he might help raise the bar across the social sciences, which, no matter who is funding, is still set pretty low.

It is one thing to publicly criticize research funded by family-focused foundations, it is another to publicly–not simply in anonymous peer review–criticize research funded by the very foundations that might fund you yourself. A great scientist eventually achieves the independence to do both.

For a clever critic like Prof. Cohen, finding social scientific lapses is like shooting fish in a barrel, since scientific lapses abound. But he still appears to lack the philosophic mastery to advance the science of the family as science. And I’m not sure which social scientist would dare bite the hand that feeds him or her just for the sake of mere science or mere truth.

Our civilization, such as it is, does desperately need to have an independent scientific community disengaged from political factions. But it is easier these days to be an advocate. These academic cheering sections get funded all the time by different camps of the culture wars. I hope Prof. Cohen, and those of equal or greater talent, become great scientists instead.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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