Social Question

ilvorangeiceblocks's avatar

Do you think that knowledge obtained by human science or natural science is more biased?

Asked by ilvorangeiceblocks (793 points ) July 12th, 2012

And do you think that knowledge obtained by natural sciences is more reliable/valid than that obtained by human sciences? Why would it be more/less reliable? And reliable in what ways?

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12 Answers

YARNLADY's avatar

I don’t really know what you mean by natural science vs human science. All sciences are humans studying natural occurrances, so how would they be two different things?

SavoirFaire's avatar

I think they are both quite reliable when their conclusions are properly understood. Both physical and social scientists tend to be quite clear in their published papers about the degree to which their theory is supposed to be probabilistic, the amount of support they’ve gathered, and what the possible sources of error.

It’s when we ignore those qualifications and start treating the conclusions presented as absolute that the science may look unreliable. But the fact that one type of science may have more trouble controlling its sources of error does not make it less reliable so long as we understand the conclusions in light of that fact.

@YARNLADY “Human science” is another term for “social science” (e.g., psychology, sociology, anthropology).

ilvorangeiceblocks's avatar

@YARNLADY human science would refer to social studies, history, geography etc whilst natural science would refer to chemistry, biology, physics, etc.

poisonedantidote's avatar

Science that involves people will usually be less reliable in my opinion, simply because people can taint results.

For example, a culture of germs will never try to lie to you or trick you, but if you are doing a medical study on humans, they could lie about how they are feeling or something.

Not exactly 100% relevant, but there you have it none the less.

YARNLADY's avatar

Oh, I get it. I am dense today, I should have read the tags.

syz's avatar

Um, I tend to think that social sciences would have fewer absolutes and more subjective interpretations, but that may be my own bias.

Bill1939's avatar

If by human science you mean fields like anthropology, archaeology, sociology, psychology and such, and by natural science you mean fields like physics, geology, botany, zoology and such, then I would say that the relatively more subjective nature of human science would cause it to be more likely biased than natural science. The more objective nature of natural science is less speculative and therefore less likely to be as biased as human science.

syz's avatar

^ What he said.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@syz @Bill1939 But that doesn’t make it less reliable if those facts are built into the conclusions. “Reliable” is not a synonym for “determinate” or “objective.” If a social scientist’s research says that people have an 80% likelihood of doing x when in circumstance y, and if people do x 80% of the time they are in circumstance y, then the conclusion is reliable even if it is not of the form ”w always and determinately follows z.”

Moreover, if a social scientist concludes that 40% of people assert claim A, but clarifies his research by giving an margin of error on the basis that other research says that assertions of A tend to be overreported (perhaps due to something like the Bradley effect), that does not make his results less reliable. It would only be if we went on to say “40% of people believe A” that there would be unreliability—and we would be the source of it.

syz's avatar

@SavoirFaire But that doesn’t make it less reliable if those facts are built into the conclusions. True.

I suppose it’s perception on my part. Or perhaps my perception of declarative statements being more “accurate”. My perception is that the statement “The electron (symbol: e−) is a subatomic particle with a negative elementary electric charge.” as more exact than “Mental illness is any of various disorders in which a person’s thoughts, emotions, or behaviour are so abnormal as to cause suffering to himself, herself, or other people” is my own bias.

Bill1939's avatar

@SavoirFaire, I failed to address the issue of reliability, though it might have been implied by my response to the question of bias. I would think that the more bias that enters a study, the more likely the results might be unreliable. The reliability of even “objective” sciences is questionable since often the conclusions are the objects of the study; i.e., scientists see what they look for. Then you have the distortions that statistics can and often do create, even when null hypotheses are used.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@syz It’s a natural bias to have. Definitive statements are just so much more comfortable. But in a time when the results of the physical sciences have themselves become increasingly probabilistic (cf. quantum mechanics—at least for now), maybe it’s something we can get beyond.

@Bill1939 I would say that the reliability of the physical sciences isn’t questionable so much as non-certain. That is, science is a reliable tool for finding things out about the world, but it is not an infallible tool for doing so. Other than that, though, I agree.

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