Last week in this space I discussed a few portions of Charles Murray’s January 8th retirement lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, including Murray’s thoughts on the relationship between culture and economics, and his views on the U.S. regulatory state. Today I’d like to highlight one final part of his remarks: Murray’s prediction — during the post-lecture Q&A session — that there will be “a revolution in the social sciences over the next 10, 15, 20 years.”
Pointing to the “enormous advances” being made by neuroscientists and geneticists, Murray told the AEI crowd that “social scientists are going to have all sorts of leverage in understanding how the world works.”
He was quick to stress that this revolution in understanding will not lead to “genetic determinism.” Instead, Murray said, it will force the social sciences to become “grounded in the same kinds of standards of rigor and causation and the rest of it that the harder sciences have enjoyed for the last couple centuries.”
Assuming that happens, it will have major consequences for professors all across America. As Murray put it: “An awful lot of the people that make their living in the social science faculties of the nation’s universities are either going to have to retool or they’re just going to be irrelevant to a lot of the most important work that’s going on.”
At the same time, he added, young social scientists have good reason to feel optimistic about the future of their discipline and the opportunity to do truly groundbreaking research.
“If I were a young social scientist at this point, I would be really excited,” Murray said. “This century is going to give the chance for social scientists to produce their Amperes and Faradays just like the hard sciences could produce them back in the beginning of the 19th century. It’s a fascinating time to be alive, but most of the social sciences faculties in today’s universities are scared stiff of what’s coming down the pike.”
Murray will tackle these subjects in his next book — a sign that, even as he shifts into an emeritus role at AEI, he will continue making timely and valuable contributions to American intellectual life.