Puny human! (science)

Posted by mouthyb | Posted in | Posted on 7:23 PM

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I understand, more now since I've spent a little time talking to people in the social sciences, both why scientists in the 'hard' fields (STEM) view sociology and psychology as less useful/not real science and why social scientists are so frustrated with the way they are viewed.

Some of it is definitely reporting; statistics can be extraordinarily precise, in the sense that accurate uses of statistics are carefully proscribed by methodology and limited in scope to the terms of the experiment. Statistics can offer broad conclusions, under the right conditions, but is almost always reported broadly. Where this concerns human behavior, this runs right on into the wall of disbelief (we're all special snowflakes!), statistics illiteracy (what constitutes significance? Numbers are significant, yay!), scientists trying to make a name for themselves (reporting small gains as huge findings) and the general sort of trust/distrust dynamic we have with science.

Some of it is the very public fights between social scientists, including wild claims, refusal to agree on a consistent methodology for interpreting human behavior and some unfortunate tendencies to cling to human behavior as a special, unique category of analysis which should not require methodology, but the interpretation of behavior through ideas/preconceptions. The social sciences are not alone in terms of public fights; Feynman's rather notorious comments about math and masturbation, for instance, were not isolated.

Some of it is sadly a belief that anything which studies people cannot be made methodological, and that anything which studies people cannot be a science.

And some of it is straight-up disgust for anything but the 'real' science (whichever one the person happens to favor).

I find all these things intensely frustrating, both in terms of what I feel is correct and in terms of the bullshit situations it puts me in. I've only been studying sociology formally for a short amount of time, and I've already been put in a position where I had to 'justify' myself against these things. There is an utterly frightening amount of ignorance, even among those who are well educated in other areas, of the body of research about human behavior, and a frightening amount of discomfort in the social sciences (some of which is probably reactive because of perceived snobbery) with science methodology.

Both 'your science isn't real' (True Scotsman fallacy) and 'keep your math away from my ideas' are profoundly anti-science, and ought to be tossed the fuck out.

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