At several recent conferences, I suggested to the organizers that I talk about social institution innovation, but they preferred I talk about my tech related work (or not talk at all). At those events they did have
"It's the reputation that "social scientists" have earned, which is a poor one. Look at how many people believe "economics is bunk" - yet economics is far less bunk than most of the rest of social science (IMHO)."
I don't think dissociating economists from (other) social scientists would help much. My impression is that a lot of people tend to easily disbelieve economists if they make claims or proposals that would be uncomfortable for them or people they associate with or sympathize.
As an example, a lot of people strongly oppose removing mortgage interest deduction (if such deduction exists), especially if they themselves would stand to lose as a result and often don't appreciate the economists' arguments in favor of it. Even more so if an economist argues that the imputed rent on one's own house should be taxed like any other capital income, it easily gets opposed by pretty weak arguments (like imputed rent really isn't income because money doesn't change hands).
When it comes to things like cosmology, what ever the scientific facts are or what people or experts believe they are doesn't much affect the material welfare of most people. When it comes to economic policy, people don't want to believe (and don't want others to believe) that policies that benefit them have in fact effects that are typically considered inefficient for the economy as a whole.
(I would personally count economics as a social science because it mostly deals with human behavior. But the words "economics" or "economist" doesn't even contain the word "social".)
How would a hard scientist be an expert in a field that studies social reforms?
If the polls were better, then we could know that is what people want. You assume that the social scientists are experts in the relevant field and the hard scientists are not, but nothing in the polls suggest that.
"I mean, economics in particular is concerned with topics that are inherently political"
But any comments on economics from experts on natural science are just as political even if the natural science they do weren't. Therefore it's at least as untrustworthy as those from economists and probably even more so because in addition to any "political bias" the natural scientists also often lack the skill and knowledge to make informed comments on economics.
"Also it's completely reasonable that we would want to hear about problems from one set of experts and about solutions from a different set and that would have nothing to do with prestige."
What sounds unreasonable in this case is that people want to hear about solutions from a set of people who are not experts in the relevant field.
So I'd like to see a reform proposal from you exactly because I tend to view economics as a hard science. Yes, it studies social behavior but it ultimately relies on a quantitative approach.
I suspect a lot of the responses reflect a general bias suggesting that hard scientists are somehow more capable or likely to be able to talk in a precise way about proposals that deviate substantially from the current status quo in a way that social scientists might not be able to do.
Indeed, my concern is exactly that social scientists have greater social status in the way which makes them reluctant to offer views which are too out there.
This analysis seems amateurish. First two polls is hardly sufficient evidence of anything and there is no control over the two polls (they have a different number of respondents). Also it's completely reasonable that we would want to hear about problems from one set of experts and about solutions from a different set and that would have nothing to do with prestige.
Fully agree that "hard" scientists ought to avoid leveraging their prestige into areas they know nothing about. (Same goes for actors or anyone else who doesn't know what they're talking about.)
But that's human nature - when you're any degree of celebrity, and people look up to you and hang on your every word, it's difficult not to think that it must be because you're so wise and insightful that you can give advice on topics outside your area of expertise.
Maybe for physical scientists we could encourage a professional ethical obligation to shut up in public on topics outside one's field. A little shame here might do a lot of good.
And I also agree that it's not just the term "social science" that turns people off from social reform proposals.
It's the reputation that "social scientists" have earned, which is a poor one. Look at how many people believe "economics is bunk" - yet economics is far less bunk than most of the rest of social science (IMHO).
[Kind of off topic, but I'd argue that economics is not a "social" science at all, but the study of efficient use of scarce resources, and equally applicable to humans, space aliens, and AI robots.]
All the more reason for another term that doesn't carry the baggage of "social science" (and I agree with Robin that almost nobody would understand what "instituionist" means).
How about "institutional engineer"?
Just because a choice has a negative feature, that doesn't mean it isn't still the best choice available.
Almost no one would know what that means.
"Maybe people who do real intellectual work shouldn't be calling themselves "scientists" unless their ideas can practically be falsified by experiment or observation (nullius in verba)."
A lot of social sciences deals with empirical data. Of course, it's more often just observation, not controlled experiments, but some fields of natural sciences, like astronomy or climate science, have even less controlled experiments.
"I know people love to borrow the prestige of the hard sciences, but there's a negative reaction when there's is a perception that they're doing just that - borrowing unearned prestige."
I'd say for a "hard" scientist talking about social reforms is applying their prestige outside the areas where it matters.
You can debate on how broadly the word "science" should be defined but I don't think such semantic matters much affect whether people like to hear about social reform from social scientists or natural scientists.
How about "institutionist"?
Perhaps, in an ideal world, I should. I'm a flawed and imperfect person. (And so far I haven't come up with a good replacement term).
But is it a bad thing to point out a problem that others may not have noticed, yet someone might be able to solve, merely because *I* don't have a solution?
He is surely not low status in that group..
Speaking as someone who has ranted against more than one of your posts, I hope you don't let the miscalibrated prestige-o-meter get to you. My take (based only on your blog postings) is that you produce 100-ish ideas a year with a quality-depth-originality product which most people never attain, and which the vast majority of the rest attain at most a few times a year.
I'm worried about the wording - do you think it was clear to all readers that "social reform or innovation" means "social reform or social innovation"?