“What is social science good for?” Robin Hanson speculates:
Why then do so many people think otherwise? Many say it is because social scientists are stupid, or the social world is too complex or uncontrollable. Better answers are that social expertize conflicts with our overconfidence about familiar experience, or with our democratic ideology that everyone’s political opinions should get equal weight. But the best answer, I think is that most public talk by social experts reflects little social science. That is, what social experts say in legal or congressional testimony, or in newspapers or magazines, mostly reflects what they and we want and expect to hear, instead of what expert evidence reveals.
Andrew Gelman has this:
Rather than comparing social science to physics, chemistry, biology, and engineering, a more useful comparison might be to history. Historians know lots, both about specific things like what products were made by people in city X in century Y, or who signed treaty Z, and also about bigger trends in national and world events. But historians haven’t given us any useful products. History has value in itself–interesting stories–and helps us understand our world, although not always in a direct way. Once people start trying to organize their historical knowledge, this leads into political science.
And here is John Sides at the Monkey Cage:
All that is to say, while average people may not be so self-reflexive as to continually analyze their own behavior in light of social scientific theories, many do want to know how people really think and act and why they do so. Such topics are much closer to our daily lives than string theory or even Ziploc bags. In this way, social scientists have a tremendous advantage, one that Blink and Freakonomics and similar books have capitalized on.