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Author Topic: Is Social Science a Science?  (Read 4106 times)

Offline MDriver1981

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Is Social Science a Science?
« on: 16/06/2011 02:01:27 »
If someone on the Naked Science Forum asked a historical question, would it be considered a general science question, being that history is a social science? 


 

Offline grizelda

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Is Social Science a Science?
« Reply #1 on: 16/06/2011 02:17:30 »
I think philosophy was once a science, but it got taken over by sociology around the 17th century. So now sociology calls itself a science and philosophy is recreational. Probably anthropology has some claim to scientific legitimacy, but history is too politicized to qualify. Of course, governments claim power based on their sociological theories, so even if political correctness is a godless religion, we're stuck with their enforcement of it. 
 

Offline CliffordK

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Is Social Science a Science?
« Reply #2 on: 16/06/2011 02:40:03 »
Most social sciences employ the scientific method, and thus I would consider them a science.  For example in experimental psychology, one might set up a reaction time experiment, vary an experimental variable, and run statistics on the results.

History?
Perhaps that is a stretch...  but certainly many sciences deal with history.  What about archaeology and palaeontology?

If one can't learn from past mistakes, we're doomed to repeat them.

Anyway, if your question has some science basis, feel free to ask away.  If it is only vaguely science related, then put it under "New Theories", "That Can't Be True", or "Just Chat".
 

Offline graham.d

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Is Social Science a Science?
« Reply #3 on: 16/06/2011 08:54:32 »
A definition of science, according to Wiki...

"The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment".

and attributed to Richard Feynman...

"The principle of science, the definition, almost, is the following: The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific 'truth'. But what is the source of knowledge? Where do the laws that are to be tested come from? Experiment, itself, helps to produce these laws, in the sense that it gives us hints. But also needed is imagination to create from these hints the great generalizations — to guess at the wonderful, simple, but very strange patterns beneath them all, and then to experiment to check again whether we have made the right guess. [...] there is an expanding frontier of ignorance...things must be learned only to be unlearned again or, more likely, to be corrected."

I think that Clifford is right. I think experimental psychologists, anthropologists, archaeologists and paleontologists would rightly consider their work true science though the practical application of much "social science" is, unfortunately, certainly not, and the use of the word "science" is misleading.

Maybe a good test is if the people who study a subject are ...ologists, then it's a science  ;D

(except scientologists of course)!!
 

Offline Geezer

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Is Social Science a Science?
« Reply #4 on: 16/06/2011 09:11:14 »

(except scientologists of course)!!


Which means scientology is redundant, but we already knew that  :D
 

Offline CliffordK

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Is Social Science a Science?
« Reply #5 on: 16/06/2011 09:16:27 »
(except scientologists of course)!!
Which means scientology is redundant, but we already knew that  :D

Is that like saying that if a double negative equals a positive, then a double positive equals a negative?
 

Offline sofencamren

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Is Social Science a Science?
« Reply #6 on: 22/06/2011 08:30:11 »
The term "social science" may refer either to the specific sciences of society established by thinkers such as Comte, Durkheim, Marx, and Weber, or more generally to all disciplines outside of noble science and arts. By the late 19th century, the academic social sciences were constituted of five fields: jurisprudence and amendment of the law, education, health, economy and trade, and art.
 

Offline graham.d

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« Reply #7 on: 22/06/2011 08:49:21 »
Sofencamren, I think such a broad definition would widen the scope of topics for this forum well beyond its intentions. Past thinkers may have chosen to refer to their subject as a science but, by today's definition, it would be better to refer to the results of their deliberations more precisely. The term "political science" would be better referred to as a political philosophy for example. Law, Education etc. are certainly subjects for study and from which some decisions may be reached about how to react to circumstances, but this is not science by today's definitions.
 

Offline damocles

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« Reply #8 on: 22/06/2011 15:24:03 »
I think the question is really a matter of how you want to define the word "Science". It is certainly not a "Science question". That is, there does not seem to be any way that you could devise a controlled experiment or make a detailed series of observations to find the answer to this question. (Taking a poll does not count -- I see that as a non-scientific method that seems to have been brought into the fold of "scientific" procedure by sociologists and others.)

A subjective analysis follows.

"Social science" seems to have come into its own as a descriptor for a number of essentially humanities disciplines in the late 1950s and early 1960s from roots that originated much earlier. The context of the times was that the progress of our society and the promise for the future was seen to lie in the benefits that science (in the form of physics, chemistry, biology, and engineering) might provide. Funding for projects in the sciences -- especially physics and biomedical areas -- was lavish, and the traditional humanities areas of enquiry were getting a relatively bad deal.

So there seemed to be some mileage in using the term "Social Science", trying to cash in on the image of "Science", and adapting methods and approaches that were akin to those used in the areas of traditional science disciplines. Often these adaptations were rather simplistic, and the likenesses to methods actually used in the traditional sciences were quite superficial.

In terms of funding and the like this worked moderately well. In terms of advancing culture, knowledge, or human well-being the results were mixed. For example, disciplines like psychology were split. At one extreme were strict behaviourists, who believed in brain but not mind, and saw everything in terms of  response to stimuli. At the other were various traditions in psychotherapy that became almost mystical at times. Fortunately there was a middle path that was able to take the best form both sides, and not worry overly much about whether psychology was a science or not -- except for funding purposes.

I believe that some of the spin-offs were very unfortunate for the traditional sciences. I will point out just one of them:

There is a strong public perception that "scientific research" consists in finding, collating, and considering all of the available references in the library or the web, forming your own view about a subject, and then arguing for it as persuasively as you can. At times people even think that you can determine the truth about a controversial issue in science by preparing and presenting a questionnaire either to the public or to a group of "scientists".

Checking out previous work is an important part of preparation for experimental design and research in the sciences; it does not of itself constitute "scientific research".

My personal view is that humanities type disciplines are worthwhile areas of enquiry that should be recognized in their own right. They do not gain or lose value according to whether or not they call themselves a science. Their own methods should be developed and respected; they do not gain value by trying to squeeze into a straitjacket of supposed "scientific method". In fact, what is generally taught as "scientific method" bears little relation to how scientific research actually proceeds, but that is a topic for a whole separate rave!
 

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