Friday, May 27, 2011

I can think of few more vacuous ideas than "hard and soft science"

That is all.


  1. I've been reading your blog for a while now, so believe me when I say that you can think of more than a few. :P

    Sorry. I just couldn't resist.

    Anyway ... it's amuses me that so-called soft sciences are also the hardest sciences. More charitably, the "hard sciences" tend to give more precise (if not always more accurate) predictions than the "soft" sciences. In the "hard" sciences, it is often more difficult to dismiss evidence with ad hoc assumptions.

  2. the commenters are getting uppity

  3. As someone in the humanities, I always get a kick out of it when a soft science person gets all defensive about the status of their own inquiry.

  4. It's not a matter of being defensive, it's a matter of promoting clarity and meaningful concepts.

    You're the one that wrote the damn paper about Barthian views on theology as a science.

  5. Well, right, that's my point... it's the softest of the soft (us humanities folk) getting a kick out of the fact that the mid-level soft (you social sciences folk) are subjected to similar typologies.

    I do continue to hold that there's defensiveness in play, though... at least a wee bit.

  6. There was a very good little article in The Independent, by Harry Kroto (Nobel laureate in chemistry) recently: "Why science teaching is an ethical issue". He touches on the main aspects of hypothesis testing and the emphasises the scientific method rather than absolute knowledge: In popular usage the word "science" does not convey its most important aspect – that it is the only philosophical construct devised by mankind to determine with any degree of reliability what is true, might be true, can be true and what, most importantly, cannot be true.

  7. Well, the hard sciences are more rigorous; they are more accurate. Therein lies the difference.

  8. There's been no way to empirically verify macroeconomic theories, so a more accurate delineation might be productive/non-productive sciences. Maybe economics is just in its embryonic stage even though it's been around so long.

    You said before "the fact is, that we can do with reasonable accuracy some short term predictions." I was wondering which of those predictions you could make (because of your specialization) better than random internetters could. You'd have to be a vacuous pinhead not to think of at least one case.

  9. mobsrule,

    RE: "vacuous pinhead"

    On behalf everyone of else that comments on this blog, please drop the churlish insults. We all get it: Ron Paul is untouchable and beyond reproach for you. I'm sure that DK rues the day he challenged (even if indirectly) such a notion.

    On a more general level, the one aspect that I particularly enjoy about F&OST is that it attracts a fairly diverse readership (on quite opposite sides of the political and economic spectrum). More often than not, I'm challenged to think in ways that I might not obviously be predisposed to -- not because someone keeps flinging an inane insult, but because they raise a conceivably valid point that I must either address or concede.

    Your first paragraph gives me reason to believe that may have have some interesting things to say. If you manage to keep it civil and intellectually challenging (or interesting), I can promise you that you'll receive a lot more engagement.

    Anyway. Just a suggestion. Use it, don't use it.

  10. I must disagree with this statement:
    "Well, the hard sciences are more rigorous; they are more accurate. Therein lies the difference."

    Measurement (one primary distinction between "hard" and "soft", as far as I can see) and control (another distinction--reliance on experimentation) do not define scientific rigor. Rigor, in a scientific sense, comes strictly from the thorough application of the scientific process (developing and testing hypotheses, etc.). Thus, there is no difference in rigor between hard and soft sciences, provided that researchers are indeed appropriately applying the scientific method.

    Moreover, if we want to talk about measurement, let us talk about meteorology. Even within the "hard" sciences, accuracy can be incredibly difficult to attain, particularly when dealing with chaotic or complex systems. For example, in meteorology, small differences in initial conditions (or, in other words, small errors in measurement!) can lead to drastically different outcomes from what is predicted--hence why our weather reports are only truly accurate a few days out. And while social sciences have picked up on complexity theory, complexity theory comes from chaos theory, which comes to us from the so-called hard sciences. A key part of which is that events cannot be precisely predicted.


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