The best books about reforming the social sciences and humanities

Why am I passionate about this?

I am proud to be a human (social) scientist but think that we could collectively achieve a much more successful human science enterprise. And I believe that a better human science would translate into better public policy. Most human scientists focus on their own research, paying little attention to how the broader enterprise functions. I have written many works of a methodological nature over the years. I am pleased to point here to a handful of works with sound advice for enhancing the human science enterprise.


I wrote...

Integrating the Human Sciences: Enhancing Progress and Coherence across the Social Sciences and Humanities

By Rick Szostak,

Book cover of Integrating the Human Sciences: Enhancing Progress and Coherence across the Social Sciences and Humanities

What is my book about?

What if we recognized that the human sciences collectively investigate a few dozen key phenomena that interact with each other? Can we imagine a human science (social sciences and humanities) that would seek to stitch its understandings of this system of phenomena into a coherent whole? If so, what would that look like?

This book argues that we are unlikely to develop one unified "theory of everything." Our collective understanding must then be a "map" of the myriad relationships within this large – but finite and manageable – system, coupled with detailed understandings of each causal link and of important subsystems. This volume is aimed at any scholar or student who seeks to comprehend how what they study fits within a broader understanding.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Production of Knowledge: Enhancing Progress in Social Science

Rick Szostak Why did I love this book?

The excellent contributions to this volume tackle three critical problems in social science.

The first is the crisis of replication: research results are rarely replicated and often cannot be. The second is that theories rise and fall without adding to our understanding. The third is that the little bits of understanding that we do possess are not tied into a larger whole. I found the analysis persuasive and the writing very clear.

The recommendations, especially for greater attempts at integration, complement those that I make in my own book. 

By Colin Elman (editor), John Gerring (editor), James Mahoney (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Production of Knowledge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Whilst a great deal of progress has been made in recent decades, concerns persist about the course of the social sciences. Progress in these disciplines is hard to assess and core scientific goals such as discovery, transparency, reproducibility, and cumulation remain frustratingly out of reach. Despite having technical acumen and an array tools at their disposal, today's social scientists may be only slightly better equipped to vanquish error and construct an edifice of truth than their forbears - who conducted analyses with slide rules and wrote up results with typewriters. This volume considers the challenges facing the social sciences, as…


Book cover of Realism and Complexity in Social Science

Rick Szostak Why did I love this book?

I really liked Williams’ writing style. He is very clear, provides good examples, and is very careful in his argumentation.

I very much liked – and indeed borrowed – his strategy of summarizing the main arguments of each chapter. This is especially important since his book addresses a wide range of challenges in social science. I especially liked his discussion of how the variables we measure are never perfect proxies for the phenomena that we hope to understand.

I also liked his careful discussion of how social scientists need to be more reflective in their work. And I found his discussion of the nature of causation in social science deeply insightful.

By Malcolm Williams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Realism and Complexity in Social Science as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Realism and Complexity in Social Science is an argument for a new approach to investigating the social world, that of complex realism. Complex realism brings together a number of strands of thought, in scientific realism, complexity science, probability theory and social research methodology.

It proposes that the reality of the social world is that it is probabilistic, yet there exists enough invariance to make the discovery and explanation of social objects and causal mechanisms possible. This forms the basis for the development of a complex realist foundation for social research, that utilises a number of new and novel approaches to…


Book cover of The Seven Deadly Sins of Psychology: A Manifesto for Reforming the Culture of Scientific Practice

Rick Szostak Why did I love this book?

Though this book focuses on psychology, it has lessons for all social sciences.

Chambers, like me, is critical of certain practices and yet deeply respectful of what has been accomplished. He devotes much of his attention to the problem of confirmation bias. We as humans are more likely to accept results that conform to prior beliefs.

Journals are also more likely to publish such results. Scholars play with their findings, adding or removing data points to achieve a target level of statistical significance. The result is that we are often more confident in scholarly consensus than we should be. Chambers explains complex ideas clearly, and is passionate about the need for reform.

By Chris Chambers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Seven Deadly Sins of Psychology as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why psychology is in peril as a scientific discipline-and how to save it

Psychological science has made extraordinary discoveries about the human mind, but can we trust everything its practitioners are telling us? In recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that a lot of research in psychology is based on weak evidence, questionable practices, and sometimes even fraud. The Seven Deadly Sins of Psychology diagnoses the ills besetting the discipline today and proposes sensible, practical solutions to ensure that it remains a legitimate and reliable science in the years ahead. In this unflinchingly candid manifesto, Chris Chambers shows how…


Book cover of Arts and Humanities in Progress: A Manifesto of Numanities

Rick Szostak Why did I love this book?

There are far fewer works in the humanities than in social science that suggest a path toward a more productive scholarly enterprise.

Martinelli is by far my favorite book about reforming humanities scholarship. He and I disagree about the main purpose of the humanities – I stress the role that art plays in human societies, while he urges an appreciation of the great thinkers of the past, and also appreciating such values as beauty and human dignity.

Yet he makes recommendations that I applaud regarding integration, appreciating diverse theories and methods, being reflective, and pursuing clear and logical argumentation.

By Dario Martinelli,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Arts and Humanities in Progress as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The book aims to introduce a research concept called "Numanities", as one possible attempt to overcome the current scientific, social and institutional crisis of the humanities.

Such crisis involves their impact on, and role within, society; their popularity among students and scholars; and their identity as producers and promoters of knowledge. The modern western world and its economic policies have been identified as the strongest cause of such a crisis. Creating the conditions for, but in fact encouraging it.

However, a self-critical assessment of the situation is called for. Our primary fault as humanists was that of stubbornly thinking that…


Book cover of Cumulative Social Inquiry: Transforming Novelty into Innovation

Rick Szostak Why did I love this book?

This book is a bit older than the others I recommend. Yet it provides a very clear critique of how the emphasis on novelty in social science – every publication is supposed to say something new – actually detracts from the pursuit of increased understanding.

Smith urges cumulative research programs that alternate between theory and empirics. He notes that natural scientists define novelty differently than social scientists and are thus able to publish in a way that advances cumulative research. He makes important recommendations for theorizing about small systems of phenomena (but appreciating connections to other phenomena) and employing mixed methods in investigating such theories.

By Robert B. Smith,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cumulative Social Inquiry as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Many social researchers today put a premium on novel perspectives, original topics of study, and new approaches. The importance of incrementally advancing established lines of theorizing and research is often overlooked. Cumulative Social Inquiry offers researchers strategies for building meaningful connections among lines of research that would otherwise remain disparate, thus facilitating systematic theory building and the generation of policy-oriented empirical evidence. Robert B. Smith shows how to design theoretically informed studies that illuminate the social structures, processes, and mechanisms that produce observable outcomes. Numerous examples of classic and contemporary mixed-methods studies illustrate the ways in which qualitative and quantitative…


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American Daredevil: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason

By Brett Dakin,

Book cover of American Daredevil: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason

Brett Dakin Author Of Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Lawyer Traveler Dog lover Reader Swimmer

Brett's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Meet Lev Gleason, a real-life comics superhero! Gleason was a titan among Golden Age comics publishers who fought back against the censorship campaigns and paranoia of the Red Scare. After dropping out of Harvard to fight in World War I in France, Gleason moved to New York City and eventually made it big with groundbreaking titles like Daredevil and Crime Does Not Pay.

Brett Dakin, Gleason's great-nephew, opens up the family archives—and the files of the FBI—to take you on a journey through the publisher's life and career. In American Daredevil, you'll learn the truth about Gleason's rapid rise…

American Daredevil: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason

By Brett Dakin,

What is this book about?

MEET LEV GLEASON, A REAL-LIFE COMICS SUPERHERO!

Gleason was a titan among Golden Age comics publishers who fought back against the censorship campaigns and paranoia of the Red Scare. After dropping out of Harvard to fight in France, Gleason moved to New York City and eventually made it big with groundbreaking titles like Daredevil and Crime Does Not Pay.

Brett Dakin, Gleason's great-nephew, opens up the family archives-and the files of the FBI-to take you on a journey through the publisher's life and career. In American Daredevil, you'll learn the truth about Gleason's rapid rise to the top of comics,…


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