Paper published in Revue Quetelet

Daniel Courgeau, Jakub Bijak, Robert Franck and myself have just had a paper published in Revue Quetelet entitled Are the four Baconian idols still alive in demography?  The full PDF of the paper is available for free at the link.

I very much enjoyed contributing to this paper; as a relative newcomer to the field of demography, it is not often that one gets to pontificate on the past and future of a 450-year-old discipline with much more senior researchers.  Abstract follows, in French and English:

Cet article examine les quatre sortes d’idoles qui selon le Novum Organon de Bacon (1620) affectent l’esprit humain. Il s’agit des idoles de la Tribu – qui résultent de la croyance «que le sens humain est la mesure des choses» ; des idoles de la caverne – qui sont propres à chacun de nous ; des idoles du forum – «qui prennent naissance dans le commerce et la communauté des hommes», et des idoles du théâtre – «introduites dans l’esprit par les divers systèmes des philosophes et les mauvaises méthodes de démonstration». Nous examinons si ces idoles sont toujours présentes dans les sciences sociales contemporaines, et examinons plusieurs exemples affectant la démographie – la génétique du comportement, la théorie postmoderne, l’héréditarisme et l’herméneutique moderne. L’analyse de ces exemples suggère fortement que la démographie doit rester fidèle à la méthode scientifique lorsqu’elle recourt à de nouvelles approches et inspirations.

In this paper, we examine the four Idols that beset human minds according to Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum (1620). These are: Idols of the Tribe – false assertions resulting from the belief that «the sense of man is the measure of things»; Idols of the Cave – peculiar to the individual people; Idols of the Market Place – resulting from «the intercourse and association of men with each other», and Idols of the Theatre – stemming from «dogmas of philosophies and… wrong laws of demonstration». We aim to see if these Idols are still alive in contemporary population sciences, and look at several examples from the fringes of demography – behaviour genetics, postmodern theory, hereditarianism, and modern hermeneutics. The analysis of these examples strongly suggests that demography needs to remain faithful to the scientific method whilst looking for new insights and inspirations.

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