Exploring the Unknown: Predicting Mass Responses - Intergenerational Value Change
This forth lecture on "Exploring the Unknown" undertakes something that is considered the decisive test of theories in the natural sciences, but which social scientists have tended to resist: prediction. In the Logic of Scientific Discovery, Popper argues that in order to be empirically validated, theories must be able to make reasonably accurate predictions of future events. Nevertheless, social scientists rarely test their theories against genuine predictions. Since the modernisation theory purports to provide a systematic interpretation of how socioeconomic development reshapes societies, we will use this theory to make and test predictions about cultural change. First, we use data from the first three waves of surveys to "predict" future responses, using regression analyses of existing data to devise predictive formulas that utilize indicators of a society's socioeconomic development together with variables that tap its historical cultural heritage. We use these formulas to "predict" the responses found in the fourth wave of surveys, carried out in 1999-2001. These, of course, are not genuine predictions, but postdictions that explain findings in data already gathered. But a comparison of the predicted and observed values demonstrates that most predictions are in the right field (even for societies that were not surveyed in the first three waves) and that a model based on our revised version of modernisation theory generates forecasts that are far more accurate than random predictions. We then use our model to predict how the publics of 120 societies respond to key questions that were asked in the 2005-2006 World Values Survey - predicting the values and beliefs not only of publics that were covered in past surveys, but also the responses that we expect to find from the publics of scores of societies that have not been surveyed previously. Inglehart and Welzel (2005) predicted the values that we expect to find in the 2006-2007 wave of the Values Surveys, enabling researchers to test these predictions when the data become available in 2007.