Goodbye Soft Science

Makes as much sense as most soft science.What’s in a word?

Quite a bit, in fact.

There’s this “news” organization that calls itself “X News.”  Because it says “news” everyone gives it the same credibility as other organizations that deliver true news.

What is news?  We’ll talk about that some other day.

The fact of the matter is that when you are trying to sell something, and that something is not worth much, it’s to your benefit to disguise it.  Ask any fast-talking salesman.

So if your program is a bunch of talking heads talking nonsense, call it “news” so it has more credibility.

What about if your academic discipline is rather “funny” in itself?  What if your discipline has failed to advance our knowledge of its purported subject by any measurable amount during its entire existence?

Simple.  Call it a science.

If you’re a “real” scientist, like in chemistry, or physics, you’re not going to enjoy eating at the same table as an sociologist, or economist.

So you call yourself a “hard” scientist.  Your facts are hard.  Your experiments are hard.  Your conclusions stand the test of time and replication.  They are also hard.

What are the other guys?

So far we’ve been calling them “soft” scientists.

I suggest an improvement.

It’s time to give them a label that gives us a better idea as to what they truly are in the great scheme of things.

Squishy.

They are quite squishy.

You push them, and they move out of the way.

You can pinch, pull, stretch and fold them as much as you want, and they come back exactly the same.

That’s what economics, sociology, and a whole host of other such “sciences” can do.

So it’s time we call an ultra conservative talk show what it is.

And it’s time we call squishy sciences exactly what they are.

Squishy.

Now we need to drop the whole “science” bit from them.  But one step at a time.

 

When science goes awry

In “Cosmos” a few weeks ago, NdGT (my idol!) talks about ancient Greek philosophers like Thales.  Thales put forth the idea that everything in nature can be understood; that capricious gods could be effectively ignored.  It took a few thousand years for the rest of us to catch onto this great idea, but finally, during the Renaissance, the idea of “scientific method” was born.

Today, almost all the ‘natural’ sciences perform experiments, replicate them, and try to understand the results within the context of unifying laws.  Unfortunately, we in the ‘un-natural’ sciences don’t follow this method.  Yet we still call our disciplines by the work, science.

Yes, things like “Political Science,” and “Sociology” and even “Psychology” and “Economics” like to pretend that they are as rigorous and mature as Chemistry and Physics, but they aren’t.  Even the latest upstarts in Biology have had their apple cart upset by recent studies showing that many experiments are unable to be replicated.  We’re in such a rush to discover the next wonder drug that we are neglecting the fundamental precepts of science: Discover, replicate, validate, repeat.

Recently there has been a move in the US government to “raise the bar” on federally funded research that does not have a direct benefit.  For things like Political Science this causes quite a bit of concern, and perhaps it should.  For how much longer can we continue, as a society, letting academics run about pretending to do science when they are not?  How much longer can we afford to let them fool us?

You protest?  Please, prove it.  Put forth the three major axioms of Economics and how many ways they have been replicated.  Show us all the first law of sociology and how it impacts all other areas of that discipline.  Or, let us all settle for simply pointing us to the data set that “Political Scientists” use as the basis of all their research.

In the meantime, I’m going back to reading up on Isaac Newton.  Because, when I push him, he pushes me back with an equal but opposite reaction.