Are the Social Sciences Really Science?

1
Sep 9, 2013
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Last summer, the Los Angeles Times published a territorial squabble among academics that highlighted a perennial question: should psychology, or any other social science for that matter, be included among the “true” sciences like chemistry, biology, and physics?

The kerfuffle began when Timothy Wilson, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, published an op-ed piece titled, “Stop Bullying the ‘Soft’ Sciences.” The next day, Alex Berezow, the editor of RealClearScience.com, published a response, “Why Psychology is not a Science.” In the months since, several others have chimed in (see here or here or, most recently, here).

Read the two op-ed pieces from the Los Angeles Times and skim through some other pieces adding to the conversation. Then, contemplate the following questions:

  • What definitions of “science” are the different authors working with? How does this influence their conclusions?
  • In the end, what do you think? Are the social sciences really science? Why or why not? (Realize that your answer will depend on your own assumptions, conscious to not, about the definition of “science.”)

1 Comment

  1. Oct 4, 2013
    1:55 am

    The authors say that the physical sciences produce detailed and precise predictions while the social sciences do not. One the authors goes on to say that social sciences are really science because they can’t use randomized, controlled experiences when people are involved. Another author went on to say that science must have clearly defined terminology, quantifiable, testability and reproducibility. The authors are working with definitions of “soft” science and “hard” science. This influences their conclusions because hard science is clear cut and predictable such as biology while soft science is unpredicatable and not easily repeated such as psychology. I feel that the social sciences are not pure science based on the definition of hard science because of the unpredicatability of human nature. In some fields such as social work scientific methods can be used but in the end the emotional side of the job truimphs over science. While some behaviors are predicitable others aren’t leading me to believe the social sciences aren’t true science but have roots in science.

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