General Question

debacle's avatar

Why does social science have the label science in it, when it's impossible to prove anything within this field?

Asked by debacle (21points) January 23rd, 2011

In a hard science, there are precise measurements and well-defined laws that can be replicated and demonstrated time and time again in experiments. In a social science, it’s impossible to prove anything. Social sciences can develop theories and models on how something works, but you can’t put it in a test lab to perform experiments on it.

Is social science mislabeled?

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20 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

Here are 38 thoughtful answers to the same question asked 9 weeks ago. Welcome to fluther.

josie's avatar

Yes, it is mislabeled. George Orwell would feel affirmed.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I was going to link you to the q @gailcalled alerted you to. Just in case, I’ll repost my answer

As a social scientist (my future) and a person of biology and scientific research (my past), I can understand your criticism – it’s thrown around a lot in academic circles, this kind of attempt to discredit – however, as you note, the umbrella of social science covers a lot of areas that do utilize the ‘scientific method’ and all the ‘rigorous’ aspects that come with it. The early pioneers you mention understood that science, to them (and to me), didn’t just mean ‘get to facts using hypotheses, etc.’ because it was social science and wasn’t always having to do with questions that can be addressed that way. I like this part from wiki:

“The term may be used, however, in the specific context of referring to the original science of society established in 19th century sociology. Émile Durkheim, Karl Marx and Max Weber are typically cited as the principal architects of modern social science by this definition.[4] Positivist social scientists use methods resembling those of the natural sciences as tools for understanding society, and so define science in its stricter modern sense. Interpretivist social scientists, by contrast, may use social critique or symbolic interpretation rather than constructing empirically falsifiable theories, and thus treat science in its broader classical sense. In modern academic practice researchers are often eclectic, using multiple methodologies (for instance, by combining quantitative and qualitative techniques).”

I think that no social scientist should put forth conclusions and state that they arrived at that conclusion using the scientific method if that wasn’t the method they used. However, I don’t think many social scientists do that – just like ‘normal’ scientists, they put forth theories about humanity, about societal patterns and understand that ultimately much of it is conjecture but the importance of the contribution of social science to me is invaluable. As a sociologist, I firmly believe that ‘regular’ science was NEVER objective in its trajectories and to this very day carries with it all the flaws of humans – that’s why many scientific ‘truths’ can be questioned by sociologists because there are social forces shaping science, affecting scientists and each period of discovery needs to be assessed within its social context. For example, my future research will be grounded on the work of social scientists who work on addressing evidence out there claiming to show sex differences between men and women – as it so happens, it is the regular scientists, in this contested topic, that are using VERY shady science, straight down to lies, which then gets disseminated to people and affects policy and educational options, etc. It is the social scientists in this field that have taken the task of debunking their faulty methodology, of asking about correct scientific method and whether all the steps were followed. So I am glad to be part of a field that often keeps the ‘objective’ scientists in check. Though, I call myself a sociologist rather than a social scientist because the emphasis, at least for me, is on the social rather than the science – but you will never hear me proclaim otherwise.

anartist's avatar

soft science.
fuzzy conclusions.
too many unknowable variables
human beings

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@anartist If only people remembered that when making conclusions about men and women based on brain organization theory with a shady past and brain scans that supposedly clarify everything for scientists that supposedly are completely objective and were,apparently, reared without biases.

gorillapaws's avatar

Science can’t prove anything either, it can only disprove.

wundayatta's avatar

Because social scientists follow the same method as “hard” scientists do: the scientific method. And don’t let them fool you. Things are not nearly as straight-forward as you think in hard science. There is lots of wibbly-wobbly room, and places where they rely on probabilities, too. The universe does not always do the same thing under similar conditions. That’s because we never have the same conditions twice. When you get down to a fine enough level, you find uncertainty all over the place.

debacle's avatar

If everything is uncertain then one can’t justify anything. If one can’t justify anything then one has to dismiss all the sciences. All laws should be abolished due to uncertainty, fore neither law can be justified over another with certainty. No one may pass judgment on one who commits murder, fore one can’t justify right from wrong with certainty. The only certainty would be one where everyone sets their own individual truths.

Now, if you do not agree with the above statement, explain how a psychologist can test mind with the scientific method, when mind is immaterial? If the scientific method was used in economics, then the concept of speculation would cease to exist, yet it still exists.

Jeruba's avatar

The word science means “knowledge.”

debacle's avatar

But from the answers I received, knowledge is uncertain.

gailcalled's avatar

@debacle: I am quite sure that relocating the comma in your sentence to just after “received,” would make its meaning clearer.

debacle's avatar

I caught the mistake and fixed it, thank you.

gailcalled's avatar

Lovely. Welcome to fluther.

Nullo's avatar

To add unwarranted legitimacy. Doubtless some anthropologist started griping about how he had a Ph.D. and ought to be recognized, or something.

mattbrowne's avatar

Of course proofs are possible. Properly designed large-scale studies and solid statistics will do the job.

Shippy's avatar

All parts are measurable that is why we take statistics as part of the course.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Some of the fields that are referenced by the term social science adhere strictly to the methods of science. Psychology is one such field. I am less persuaded that sociology is as meticulous in its adherence to scientific methodology.

wundayatta's avatar

@Dr_Lawrence I think you might change your mind if you ever saw a med student try to do sociology. In my experience, they are poorly prepared to do science. They tend to have a harder time with statistics than most other students. The methodologies for their studies tend to be less rigorous than what is required to get published in a sociological journal. I have found quite the opposite to you.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

My main career after obtaining my Ph.D. was in fact as consulting methodologist and statistical analyst to physician researchers. I was impressed with their statistical literacy which represented a marked change from their medical peers who graduated ten or more years before. Of course, As a specialist, I was able to enhance their work and contribute to the methods and analysis portions of their published work.

JesseM's avatar

The debate occurs because the data collection isn’t “scientific” as we do in physics, biology and chemistry (three basic sciences)

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