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27 August 2015

Disciplines and Application: The Illusion of a Divide between Research and Praxis

Suppose you're an astronomer studying the motion of objects in the asteroid belt, and in your course of study, you discover evidence, with a very high level of confidence, that a large asteroid is on a trajectory that will bring it into contact with the earth, causing widespread environmental and biological destruction.[1] Would you say, "Huh, that's interesting," and continue your study of the asteroid belt with dispassionate objectivity or would you feel moved as a human being to scream your finding from the proverbial mountaintop, rallying your fellow humans to take action to avoid the otherwise inevitable calamity? I think that virtually all reasonable people would agree that learning certain facts compels people to specific actions. Moreover, if one learned such things and failed to put them to action, most would agree that he was behaving unethically--or even criminally.

Now, imagine that instead of an astronomer, you are a sociologist, and you discover undeniable evidence that real, material suffering is happening to people of certain identities? Should you continue your dispassionate, objective research or might you be motivated to facilitate social change?

[1] I guess a more parallel analogy would be that you discover an asteroid just large enough to cause only the death and destruction of a particular group of people in an isolated geographical area.

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