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Friday, October 25, 2013


Tycho Brahae & Johannes Kepler's different temperaments and personal philosophies made collaboration nearly impossible.  Both accomplished astronomers in their own right, Brahae's concern for his legacy and Kepler's protestant ethics slowed the exchange and interbreeding of ideas.

In a similar way, the temperaments of the Social Sciences and the Hard Sciences make their synthesis appear to be impossible.  This is not only an issue of specialized vocabularies or "turf wars".  It speaks to the basic methodologies and assumptions of the two tracks.

Let's begin with every "real" scientist's favorite punching bag: Social Science. It has several apparent weaknesses.  It has ingrained linguistic biases which frame interpretations and judgments.[1]  The social sciences also accumulate extensive data (interviews, historical texts, etc.) regardless of the accuracy of these materials.  These resources are available for any academic to review, reinterpret or reframe.

On the other hand we have the apparent strengths, the rigors, of  the Hard Sciences.  The discoveries have mathematical proofs not just correlations.  No mediocre theory lasts long, or so the story goes.  Hard Science is compact, not verbose.  Physics has no need for literature reviews.  It is austere, elegant in its simple precision and proofs.  But hard science has its own shortcomings.  Politics and economics creep into the lab, individual scientists censor themselves to gain professional ground and if an unwary neophyte ventures out of the prevailing paradigm they will face suppression. 

So the question is, will we ever develop a methodology for integrating the hard sciences with the social sciences or will we continue to allow them to clash (bringing disrepute to science in the public sphere)?

Continue to Oh The Humanities

[1]  An example would be the prevalence of the term "deviant behavior" in applied psychology and sociology, even decades after their research counterparts have swapped this term for "non-normative behavior".  The first term carries a value judgment, the second does not.  The second (ideally) creates a space for objective observation.  But in a culture focused on individual action and evaluation, the traditional term holds out.

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