Saturday, July 10, 2010

When is Social Science Too Social?

Of course, the Pentagon generates heaps of controversy when it surveys the troops on attitudes about gays in the military.  There are several issues in play:
  • Should the military care what the troops think?  Truman didn't care when he integrated African-Americans into the military.  I do not recall any surveys as women have gained more and more opportunities in the armed forces.  However, if the survey is less for whether or not versus how, then perhaps it can be justified.  If it is to provide a fig leaf so that SecDef Gates can go ahead and do what is right, then it is a gamble but an interesting one.
  • Is this crappy social science?  Perhaps as one does not need to have a complete sample to get decent results.  So, this might suggest the fig leaf explanation may actually be correct.  Are the questions problematic?  Well, survey-writing is always challenging as the questions often shape the likely responses (I am no expert here, and my one attempt at a survey kind of blew up).
One thing we need to keep in mind is not that homophobia is a legitimate barrier to change, but rather most enlisted folks are going to be young and male--and, therefore, likely to have less advanced attitudes about gays and lesbians.  I certainly had homophobic attitudes when I started college, despite being brought up by a mother with liberal values.  If I remember correctly, at that time, I felt that gays and lesbians might be entitled to rights but they were "icky" (word used by the Salon piece).  I got over it at Oberlin as I interacted with actual, rather than mythical, gays and lesbians. 

So, the survey may or may not be a good idea, but the transition will inevitably have some difficulties and controversies along the way.  Given how many Canadian commanders seem unable to follow the basic rules about sex with subordinates and while deployed, these issues will never go away entirely.

1 comment:

Steve Greene said...

I've actually been quite surprised by the enlightened attitudes about gays from my students-- especially the ROTC guys. I was just like you when I started college. I think the attitudes of young people, especially, towards homosexuality have undergone a huge shift in the past 20-25 years.