Solving social science problems à la Hilbert

Posing Big Questions and Solving Big Problems in Social Science
April 2, 2010 (Steve Bradt)

The Division of Social Science in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences will convene a symposium of multidisciplinary experts on April 10th, 2010 to propose and prioritize an analogous set of the world’s hardest unsolved problems in social science. No word on overarching themes or problems but it would be fair to assume that this will be largely driven by the experts in the room.

In addition to being open to the public, the event will be recorded, Webcast, and archived at . The symposium will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT in Room B103 of Harvard’s Northwest Science Building (52 Oxford St., Cambridge, Mass.). The event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, see .


3 thoughts on “Solving social science problems à la Hilbert

  1. A note to subscribers (both of you), the experts on this panel are all from the US (Harvard mostly) with a couple of token Oxford blokes. I wonder where the ROW representation is on this panel? How will this impact discussions and the identification of problems? Can a panel structured in this manner be effective in identifying the world’s most important or key social science problems? What do you think?

  2. Americans view the world through the prism of American ideology. The four pillars of the American way are individualism, optimism, a strong dislike of government with a bias towards the market and a propensity for risk taking. With the possible exception of some Canadians and Australians the rest of the world views individualism as a disease, has a negative view of the past, present and future (think of life in Africa, Asia, Russia and Latin America), enjoy the benefits of any governemnt backed entitlement program (healthcare, water, etc.) and have suffered too many famines and war for any risk taking behaviour.So, to answer the question of “does this impact the discussions and the identification of problems?” Yes, if Americans and aliens (this is actually in the US Constitution, non-Americans are technically aliens) actually agree on a problem, a big if, then the proposed solutions are usually diametrically opposed. Individual responsiblity vs. group benefits, optimism vs. doom and gloom, market solutions vs. government programs and the ability to risk everything for nothing vs. the inability to fathom risk.Genrally, if a process, program or product works for Americans it generally will not work for the rest of the world.To quote Nye Jr., ” if American are the greatest communicators of history, how come they can only communicate with other Americans and not the rest of the world”. To quote Churchill, ” Americans are just different, get used to it”.Now we know why.

  3. Thanks Bill for your insights! You truly have a unique perspective on the US/Canada and/or US/ROW dynamic. Oh, and I can’t express how much I love it when someone posts a comment to a posting on my blog – and it isn’t me!

Leave a Reply