Will Wilkinson reports on the inconsistencies of a happiness researcher. At a seminar presentation on this sort of "data" at LSE, I commented that treating any such subjectively chosen "measures" of happiness, health, well-being, etc., as if they were real, physical measurements that could be statistically analyzed is scientifically on the same level as asking people if various objects moved "slowly," "moderately," "somewhat fast," or "shit-kicking fast," assigning an arbitray number to each answer, and then trying to formulate a science of dynamics based on those numbers.
I believe that the majority of social science "data" are examples of social scientists wishfully imagining that dealing in such meaningless "quantities" can raise the status of their discipline to that accorded the physical sciences. For example, Will critically notes that Oswald, his target, admits: "The key point is that we do not know the shape of the function relating ‘reported happiness’ to actual happiness. This is a serious problem when researchers try to make statements about the curvature of relationships — though not as serious when we talk, as most of the happiness literature does, about the direction of relationships."
But Will implicitly accepts the idea that there is some "function" determinately mapping reported happiness to actual happiness, and that there are meaningful ways to quantitatively measure either. Since 'happiness' is not a physical magnitude but a culturally defined concept, I humbly suggest that there is no way to coherently measure it at all. Consider, for instance, three hypothetical respondents to a survey conducted by a "happiness scientist." For one of them, happiness means thinking that she has helped "God's will be done" in the world. For the second, it means having achieved material plenty. For the third, "happiness" consists in having scored with many potential sexual partners. If each of them rates their happiness as "7" on a scale of one to ten, why in the world should we believe that "7" represents a scientific, objective measure of anything?
But hey, maybe I'm just overly anal about these things.
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