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The Invisible Gorilla

I recently read an e-book on Logical Models in Social Sciences, by Rein Taagepera, and thought that since I already started with social policy issues here, and being a lawyer from Estonia, I could introduce the thought of some Estonian authors.


The referred book made me think that if there is an order in the Universe, and also the human history reveals some order and thus some predictability, then human activities (even the subconscious ones) may come under some order and be predictable.


An extract from the e-book:

„Suppose a representative assembly has one hundred seats. … [according to the voting method] even a party with 1 % votes is assured a seat. The question is: How many parties would you expect to win seats, on the average? …

Would you guess at 2 parties, 5, 10, 20, or 50 parties?

… after all – you kn[o]w the lower and upper limits, beyond which the answer cannot be on logical grounds.“


What else can and should one take into account? How exact can one be in similar situations?


Although most of my experience belongs to the sphere of qualitative research models, I support Taagepera’s conclusion that the big problem with the logical quantitative models is that one can always get some results when using those models. And those results seem logical even if they are not.


Consequently, although the use of logical models in social sciences can be extremely useful, from other side, one should be very cautious when using and interpreting the used logical models, one should, for example, control:

the scientific data;

the variables;

the relevancy of the used model;

the logic of the used data and model;

one should also ask, whether there exist alternative models.


If used correctly, logical models are useful tools, and they help to make social sciences more scientific (more reliable), as they forbid going into the depth with unreasonable speculation.


Link to the e-book:  (OOPS! Maybe it appears back?)


I consider the book very helpful when reading the students’ research papers.


But the book also made me think that people tend to see only the things that they look for. One can read from the book about a probably already well known test in the social sciences – People are shown a film clip on basketball and instructed to count the number of passes. The action is fast, and some people even give up counting. In the end, people are asked if they saw anything else in addition to basketball. The majority does usually say that they had not noticed that in the background had slowly walked a person in the gorilla suit.


Rein Taagepera has inter alia, in 2008, published: Making Social Sciences More Scientific: The Need for Predictive Models (Oxford University Press). In 2008, he received the Skytte Prize for his research.

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