Newsletter 126 - Landing Page - Social science is not really science, is it?

I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN FASCINATED BY THE NATURE OF KNOWLEDGE AND ITS UNIVERSAL TRUTH. The purpose of science I believe is to arrive at a greater understanding of these universal truth and its relations. Furthermore to this is the relationship between theory (thinking about stufff) and practice (doing stuff).  Blade Nzimande speaking about Lenin analysis of the correlation between theory and practice cited that “we need to combine theory and practice. Practice without theory is BLIND and theory without practice is STERILE”.

Here are a few quotations to capture the essence of truth, universal truth, the relationship between theory and pratice and the nature of social science vis-a-vis empirical science. There are those who argue that "social science" is not a science at is merely an opinion and conjecture and an expression of power. You be the judge!

“Science begets knowledge; opinion begets ignorance.”


“In science the opinions of a thousand are not worth as much as one tiny spark of reason in an individual man.”


“Science is a self-correcting process. To be accepted, new ideas must survive the most rigorous standards of evidence and scrutiny.”


“Some people think that science is just all this technology around, but no it’s something much deeper than that. Science, scientific thinking, scientific method is for me the only philosophical construct that the human race has developed to determine what is reliably true.”


“Science, however, is never conducted as a popularity contest, but instead advances through testable, reproducible, and falsifiable theories.”


“God created two acts of folly. First, He created the Universe in a Big Bang. Second, He was negligent enough to leave behind evidence for this act, in the form of microwave radiation.”

PAUL ERDŐS, 1913 TO 1996 – Mathematician

“Progress is made by trial and failure; the failures are generally a hundred times more numerous than the successes; yet they are usually left unchronicled.”

WILLIAM RAMSAY, 1852 TO 1916-Chemist

“A fact acquires its true and full value only through the idea which is developed from it.”

JUSTUS VON LIEBIG, 1803 TO 1873-Chemist

“We are storytelling animals, and cannot bear to acknowledge the ordinariness of our daily lives.”

STEPHEN JAY GOULD, 1941 TO 2002-Paleontologist

“This is an era of specialists, each of whom sees his own problem and is unaware of or intolerant of the larger frame into which it fits.”

RACHEL CARSON, 1907 TO 1964-Marine Biologist

“Our thoughts, visions and fantasies have a physical reality. A thought is made of hundreds of electrochemical impulses.”

CARL SAGAN, 1934 TO 1996-Astrobiologist, Planetary Scientist

“Among the social sciences, economists are the snobs. Economics, with its numbers and graphs and curves, at least has the coloration and paraphernalia of a hard science. It's not just putting on sandals and trekking out to take notes on some tribe.”


“Human behaviour reveals uniformities which constitute natural laws. If these uniformities did not exist, then there would be neither social science nor political economy, and even the study of history would largely be useless. In effect, if the future actions of men having nothing in common with their past actions, our knowledge of them, although possibly satisfying our curiosity by way of an interesting story, would be entirely useless to us as a guide in life.”


“Logic is not concerned with human behavior in the same sense that physiology, psychology, and social sciences are concerned with it. These sciences formulate laws or universal statements which have as their subject matter human activities as processes in time. Logic, on the contrary, is concerned with relations between factual sentences (or thoughts). If logic ever discusses the truth of factual sentences it does so only conditionally, somewhat as follows: if such-and-such a sentence is true, then such-and-such another sentence is true. Logic itself does not decide whether the first sentence is true, but surrenders that question to one or the other of the empirical sciences. "


“Many 'hard' scientists regard the term 'social science' as an oxymoron. Science means hypotheses you can test, and prove or disprove. Social science is little more than observation putting on airs.”


“One of the differences between the natural and the social sciences is that in the natural sciences, each succeeding generation stands on the shoulders of those that have gone before, while in the social sciences, each generation steps in the faces of its predecessors.”


“Such instances of the almost infinite unpredictability of man are known to social scientists, but they are no more affected by them than the asylum inmate is by being told that he is not Napoleon.”


“The fundamental concept in social science is Power, in the same sense in which Energy is the fundamental concept in physics.”


“The next decade will perhaps raise us a step above despair to a cleaner, clearer wisdom and biology cannot fail to help in this. As we become increasingly aware of the ethical problems raised by science and technology, the frontiers between the biological and social sciences are clearly of critical importance—in population density and problems of hunger, psychological stress, pollution of the air and water and exhaustion of irreplaceable resources.”


“The saying often quoted from Lord Kelvin… that 'where you cannot measure your knowledge is meagre and unsatisfactory,' as applied in mental and social science, is misleading and pernicious. This is another way of saying that these sciences are not science in the sense of physical science and cannot attempt to be such without forfeiting their proper nature and function. Insistence on a concretely quantitative economics means the use of statistics of physical magnitudes, whose economic meaning and significance is uncertain and dubious. (Even wheat is approximately homogeneous only if measured in economic terms.) And a similar statement would even apply more to other social sciences. In this field, the Kelvin dictum very largely means in practice, 'if you cannot measure, measure anyhow!'


“The theory that gravitational attraction is inversely proportional to the square of the distance leads by remorseless logic to the conclusion that the path of a planet should be an ellipse .... It is this logical thinking that is the real meat of the physical sciences. The social scientist keeps the skin and throws away the meat.... His theorems no more follow from his postulates than the hunches of a horse player follow logically from the latest racing news. The result is guesswork clad in long flowing robes of gobbledygook."


“Unless social sciences can be as creative as natural science, our new tools are not likely to be of much use to us.”


 “In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.” (1987) 



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