Hard vs. the Soft Sciences

Guest essay by Steven Burnett

This is an essay regarding the fundamental differences between the hard and soft sciences. While I don’t emphasize climatology much in the essay, I believe this may provide some insight into the chasm of evidence and approach between the two.

Recently, more climate consenters have been starting to grapple with the uncomfortable fact that the discrepancies between models and reality are, in fact, significant. While there are still some holdouts there have been more than a few mainstream discussions about some of the “softness” in climate science.

In a way it’s an olive branch to the climate skeptics. While there are crazies on both sides of the climate debate, I find that the core of climate skepticism stems from articulating the differences between the hard and soft sciences. I have studied and been degreed in both, and would like to offer up some explanations and examples of the differences between them.

I have been a scientist since before I had proper memory formation. My father, an engineer, and I used to go for walks and he explained the physical world the way an engineer sees it. So, as the story goes, by the time I was 13 months I pointed to a condensation trail by an airplane and explained to my mother what it was and how it was formed.

My first childhood Hero was Egon Spengler, a ghostbuster, and I pulled out my encyclopedias and looked for definitions of all the terms used in the movies and cartoons. I was then introduced to Back to the Future and my interests moved from nuclear particles to space time. Naturally my hero moved to Einstein. But it wasn’t just movies that influenced my development as a scientist. I had children’s books on Louis Pasteur, Dr. Ballard, Edison and Galileo. Each of these scientists drastically moved humanity’s understanding forward, despite enormous criticism of their theories and hypothesis. Needless to say my scientific heroes weren’t particularly popular in their day and age.

As a child I was listed as gifted learning disabled. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s, dysgraphia, and ADD while I was young. I thus had poor social skills, a short attention span, and couldn’t write legibly. As an extrovert, having trouble with nonverbal communication was a massive struggle. I turned to my books, encyclopedias, and the library to attempt to understand and solve the problem. There is an incredible amount of information and not being able to focus appreciably on a single source led to research threads through multiple disciplines. At the end of the day my choice was simple, experiment with social techniques or give up. I chose the former.

I still perform regular experiments and log the data. All results are mentally catalogued, anomalies flagged and reviewed until I thoroughly understand what nuances I missed. The system isn’t perfect, I can intone or inflect improperly, I can also mistakenly use accurate but socially improper lexicon as my vocabulary is immense. Failures can lead to hostility, repudiation or ostracization. Society is more unforgiving than many realize, but my experiments have been fruitful. The application of successful techniques has helped me mitigate eccentric behaviors and evolve or cultivate strategies which help me appear normal. The proper application of the scientific method in my daily life is the difference between being functional and not.

Being able to screen good hypothesis formulation, experimental technique and results was an integral part of my development. Determining logical fallacies and errors, standards of proof and reproducibility was the difference between keeping friends and losing them. It is also how I fundamentally distinguish behind the hard and soft sciences.

The whole reason for this essay came from me stumbling upon the Wikipedia article attempting to distinguish between the two and being frankly dumbfounded. I have to reproduce the second paragraph in full so that everyone truly understands my issue.

Philosophers and sociologists of science have not been able to confirm the relationship between these characteristics and perceived hardness or softness in empirical studies. Supposedly more “developed” hard sciences do not in fact have a greater degree of consensus or selectivity in accepting new results. Commonly cited methodological differences are also not a reliable indicator. Psychologists use controlled experiments andeconomists use mathematical modelling, but as social sciences both are usually considered soft sciences, while natural sciences such as biology do not always aim to generate testable predictions. There are some measurable differences between hard and soft sciences. For example, hard sciences make more extensive use of graphs,[4][11]and soft sciences are more prone to a rapid turnover of buzzwords.”

In short philosophers, and sociologists of science, both soft science fields, haven’t been able to confirm the differences. They point to a lack of consensus in the hard sciences, controlled experiments and mathematical models. The analysis is about as meaningful as finding no difference between a peewee and professional basketball game because they both shoot rubberized orange balls at hoops. That is exactly the problem with the soft sciences, they can get the results they want by only evaluating the characteristics they choose.

Ironically I have been degreed in both the hard and soft sciences. I possess a bachelors in chemical engineering and psychology. Asking someone what they want to do for the rest of their life at 18 is a bit tough to answer especially when your knowledgebase and interests were as tremendously varied as were mine.

I started as a biological engineer, thought it was a ridiculous amount of work compared with the political science and business majors I roomed with and switched to psychology. I wasn’t too far into the psychology program before I realized I despised psychology and by extension the other soft sciences. I only graduated with the degree to spite the psychology program, I’m not joking.

The soft sciences spend the first two weeks of a course talking about how they are a science, and the next 13 weeks destroying every pillar of the scientific method. When my research methods professor used Carl Sagan’s essay a dragon in my garage as a means of saying that nothing can be proven or disproved, I dropped my textbook on the floor, so it would make a rather loud sound, stopping the lecture. I then dropped it again, and remarked that maybe next time it will stay up because we totally can’t prove the existence of gravity. Looking back it wasn’t very nice, but there is only so much rage I can contain.

That isn’t the only instance of things that resulted in a massive mental face palm in that program. In the soft sciences it’s accepted that the phenomena are inherently complex, thus it is acceptable to formulate a study that does not eliminate variables beyond the one being studied. Statistics is used to sort for the significance of a result.

For instance in a survey there is no regard given to the difference between people who choose to respond vs simply throwing it out, and all responses are considered correct regardless of the topic’s nature. Imagine performing a survey on human sexuality that asked about frequency, number of partners and propensity for cheating. Accepting any of the responses as representative of the population as a whole is not only unverifiable, it’s also very likely to be wrong.

Personal bias enters any discussion of results frequently. There is very strong evidence from monozygotic twin studies and others that IQ is strongly correlated with genetics. Because of the implications regarding racial IQ discrepancies, we received rather lengthy lectures about any variables, missed test parameters and the like, every time these studies entered the curriculum. Even though IQ heritability has generally been confirmed as 85%[1], regardless of the test used, the idea of nature vs. nurture is still considered a legitimate debate topic in this “scientific” field. More importantly the variables we were warned about are accounted for in the original studies.

Of course it’s perfectly acceptable to present an ad hoc change of the definition of intelligence without a preceding lecture and caveats about possible problems or complications. If it tickles the political fancy it’s taught, even if there are no empirical studies to support the hypothesis. Gardner’s hypothesis was only one politically correct theory taught with no evidence.

Carol Gilligan is a published feminist who wrote about male bias and suppression in adolescent development. Neither she nor her disciples have ever been able to validate her claims. In the textbook Adolesence and Emerging Adulthood, her theories would receive a dedicated page or more, and were filled with notations about how “her writings have received a wide audience”, or, that a school was “so impressed with Gilligans findings that school authorities revised the entire school curriculum”. By comparison the fact that both girls and boys self esteem declines in adolescence, that she only uses excerpts of interviews in her research, or that no corroboration of her results can be found, were minimized. The section concluded with the paragraph,

“although Gilligan’s research methods can be criticized for certain flaws, other researchers have begun to explore the issues she has raised, using more rigorous methods. In one study Susan Harter and her colleagues examined Gilligan’s idea of losing one’s “voice” in adolescence…. ….However Harter’s research does not support Gilligan’s claim that girls’ voice declines as they enter adolescence.” [3]

In the hard sciences, a lack of evidence and poor methodology usually excludes theories and researchers who promote them from the textbooks and the classroom, but in psychology, I was still tested on them.

Unfortunately soft science is spreading into the other domains. In my capstone course we had to watch the thoroughly debunked Gasland documentary. We heard about fracking fluids, well contamination and maybe just possibly earthquakes caused by the process. When I presented three studies that thoroughly destroyed the claims the professor dismissed them with a wave of his hand. We were required to take a course called energy and the environment, which is best described as green masturbation. When you present solar roads, indoor farming, renewables, and local agriculture, as a required engineering course without any sort of cost benefit analysis or numerical pretense what else can you call it?

Overall though, in chemical engineering we have very exact equations that give us very exact answers. These equations are derived from hundreds of experiments, outlining the variables for each substance used. Fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, heat transfer, physics, chemistry and other hard science disciplines have had to prove themselves correct by testing for the opposite conclusion. My thermodynamics textbook didn’t begin with a lecture about how scientific it is, it opened with the statement that the study of thermodynamics exists only because we haven’t found any instances where a system operates differently.

When neutrinos were detected moving faster than the speed of light it was a big deal. The result would have overwritten over 100 years of experiments saying it couldn’t be broken, it still hasn’t just FYI. When cold fusion experiments couldn’t be validated their proponents were laughed out of any major publication. In the hard sciences when the results of a hypothesis diverged from reality they were discarded and checked for errors, but it would still only take a single reproducible experiment to validate or invalidate the concept.

The same problems that plague psychology are rampant in climatology. Tribalism is strong enough that most are willing to break out into red or blue war paint. When faced with an incredibly complex problem they only design their experiments (climate models) to handle the variable they are interested in. Confounding variables, be it ENSO, the AMO, cosmic rays, TSI, ocean heating, surface albedo, UHI, and other impacts are ignored even though they have demonstrably significant impacts on their measurement parameter. When faced with falsifying data, the data is ignored or marginalized. There is no significant internal forensic review of the experimental construct once it can be declared dead, and they essentially keep cashing the checks and publishing as if the hypothesis are valid.

Please understand it’s not that soft sciences are pointless, they’re simply worthless. Examining what makes humans, society or even the climate tick are noble endeavors. The failure to demand reproducible or falsifiable results, reject failed hypothesis, or allow for and defend work that is riddled with personal or political bias is what undermines these fields, it’s what makes them “soft”. More succinctly the problem with these fields isn’t entirely methodological, it’s cultural and it exists at every stage of training.

Inevitably, the ignorance of logical fallacies and degradation of the sciences begs the question why. Perhaps its tied to the ever increasing percentage of American’s who are going to college. After all, more students means more professors. Perhaps it’s a hiring bias[2], and subsequent group think, or maybe hiring more professors simply means they have to lower standards. By the same token, making more money available for grants may allow for more shoddy research. My hard science background was rooted in survival, perhaps not needing to worry about your next meal is bad for scientists. Like Kohlbergs sixth stage of moral development, maybe it’s simply too difficult to uphold the standard. It’s Ironic that after all my research, and all my studies, that the most compelling insight likely comes from the ghostbusters.

If I may wax poetic for a moment, the hard sciences are like a rock while the soft sciences are like sand. They are fundamentally composed of the same stuff, but it’s the structure that makes them different. You must find a comfortable spot to rest on the rock but sand conforms around you. An uncomfortable rock must be dealt with, sand can simply be brushed away. Rock climbing requires training and equipment, a walk on the beach does not. I have had the opportunity to do both, and from personal experience, rock climbing is both harder and more fulfilling.

References

1. Bouchard, Thomas J. “Genetic Influence on Human Psychological Traits. A Survey.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 13.4 (2004): 148-51. Print.

2. Inbar, Y., and J. Lammers. “Political Diversity in Social and Personality Psychology.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 7.5 (2012): 496-503. Web.

3. Arnett, Jeffrey Jensen. Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood: A Cultural Approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. Print.

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108 Responses to Hard vs. the Soft Sciences

  1. Fantastic article, thanks.

  2. cartoonasaur says:

    Nothing but win! An engaging read woth revealing insights at every stage – bravo!

  3. geronimo says:

    “…nothing can be proven or disproved” For that statement to be true it must be able to be proven.

    Another one I like from the soft sciences is: “There are no absolute truths”. When a sociologist said that to me I tried to explain to him that the statement itself was proof that there must be absolute truths.

  4. Larry Geiger says:

    “I then dropped it again, and remarked that maybe next time it will stay up because we totally can’t prove the existence of gravity. Looking back it wasn’t very nice, but there is only so much rage I can contain.” I like this guy.

    “Please understand it’s not that soft sciences are pointless, they’re simply worthless.” Now I really like this guy!

  5. Crashex says:

    Excellent article.

    Climatology fits best in the Political Science Department.

  6. A very interesting exposure of feminist indoctrination procedures. That has been polluting minds for decades and rarely can anyone find any criticism on their inane and insane methods of indoctrinating willing drones. A very enlightening article and a great read.

  7. GlynnMhor says:

    “green masturbation”… I love it!

  8. Art Wannlund says:

    My father is a physicist (a professor then went on to head up an R&D Dept) so my childhood too was framed within the scientific method. My initial course work in college was Chemistry, then changed majors to Sociology/Anthropology.. I found the same distinctions you put forth. And I also came to the same conclusion that Climate Science has gone from a “hard” science to a “soft” science. My first indicator was when I heard the phrase “consensus” used as a rationale and then followed up by “the science is settled”. Neither of those expressions are a part of the hard sciences, and they are terms often used to validate the results of the soft sciences..

    Great article.. you have articulate very well what has been bothering my about whole discussion regarding climate..

  9. cwon14 says:

    Great article, very relevant.

    “Perhaps it’s a hiring bias[2], and subsequent group think, or maybe hiring more professors simply means they have to lower standards.”

    The thing to keep in mind is the decline isn’t socially isolated in the U.S., science or even the West alone. In fact it’s only symptom of something much larger. The schism between market and public values seems only to grow as the capital value of devices and technology makes interdependency less assured. This explains the desperation of the public value sector to be bonded to the private production results through ever higher taxes and social controls. The climate policy ambition achieves that result in the fantasy. Academia has been devalued (deflation) by the technology as well and it too is desperate to cling to relevance, climate policy and authority is a mission statement for thousands of academics and ultimately millions of followers (or allies) on the public side of the schism.

    There are no physical limitations in expanding “soft” studies other then social discipline which is obviously weakening in broad social decline to begin with. The social and political incentives are to go soft when the general society is DE-industrializing and the public value sector (socialist inclined) has greatly expanded almost from the founding in the case of the U.S. There are just fewer representatives of “hard” science in practice and the natural conflicts over what is actual “science reason” is subject to a political decision. “Consensus” on climate change reflects this process rather completely. With enough political momentum “soft” can declare itself “hard” with a declining public with little science training or education (or training in a very soft sympathetic education system) and that explains broad support for “soft” science authority.

  10. SalvaVenia says:

    Applause, applause!!

    And thanks to the commentaries by geronimo, geiger, and christian: you saved my time by expressing likewise sentiments. :)

  11. Joshua says:

    Interesting to think about soft sciences using soft science to try to prove that they are no different from hard science. Reminds me of the quote, “The only difference between theory and practice is that in theory there is no difference.”

  12. bobj62 says:

    Wonderful essay–it expresses a succinct understanding of the tribal divisions of the climate wars.

  13. Cleverly written and thoroughly enjoyable contribution. You hit the proverbial nail in the( klima) coffin.

  14. brilliant. loved the last paragraph

  15. SalvaVenia says:

    Reblogged this on SalvaVenia and commented:
    Quoting the commentary by Christian J Wmasaw: “A very interesting exposure of feminist indoctrination procedures. That has been polluting minds for decades and rarely can anyone find any criticism on their inane and insane methods of indoctrinating willing drones. A very enlightening article and a great read.”

    Says the author: “Inevitably, the ignorance of logical fallacies and degradation of the sciences begs the question why. Perhaps its tied to the ever increasing percentage of American’s who are going to college. After all, more students means more professors. Perhaps it’s a hiring bias[2], and subsequent group think, or maybe hiring more professors simply means they have to lower standards. By the same token, making more money available for grants may allow for more shoddy research.” – A paragraph that could have been written by Hadmut Danisch as well, I dare say.

    In short, a very important and worthwhile text to be read, indeed. And, please, spread the news around! Thank you.

  16. Murray O'Brien says:

    Great read. Thank you!

  17. MarqueG says:

    Excellent distillation. Your experience in psychology reminds me of my experience in academic linguistics: The early chapters are all about saying, “Hey, we’re real scientists, just like physicists!” I termed this phenomenon “vicarious existentialism.” They think, therefore I am.

    I wouldn’t say that the soft sciences are not worth exploring, but the caveats about any research findings should be plastered across the head of every page: Not empirically verifiable. The best one can hope for is that researchers in the soft sciences be as objective as possible, honest about their potential biases and motives, and open with their experimental data so as to allow reproduction or falsification. Unfortunately, these qualities do not appear to feature in today’s climate science.

  18. BioBob says:

    This essay is a fine example of why WUWT rocks !

  19. Bruce Cobb says:

    Although an excellent treatise overall, I could have done without the obvious references to, and general agreement with the platitudes of the recent posting of Matt Ridleys’. Whatever grudging admissions the Warmists now make are of the CYA nature only. Those aren’t olive branches they are throwing, but life-preservers as the rats increasingly jump the fast-sinking SS Warmatanic.

  20. Theo Goodwin says:

    Wonderful article. You nailed the main difference in the following:

    “My thermodynamics textbook didn’t begin with a lecture about how scientific it is, it opened with the statement that the study of thermodynamics exists only because we haven’t found any instances where a system operates differently.”

    Physical science rests on a bedrock of universal generalizations that are accepted as true until some factual circumstance contradicts one or more of them. The soft sciences, including econometrics, are yet to create such a general truth.

  21. bregmata says:

    The hallmark of the “soft sciences” is the reliance on post-hoc analysis as the dominant means to determine relationships between factors, whereas the “hard sciences” predominantly use controlled experiementation. The common “science” part comes from the use of theories to explain phenomena and hypotheses to test those theories. The amount of control over the creation of the data vs. the selection of data is what places a hypothesis into the “hard” (more control) or “soft” (more selection) categories.

  22. You said: “As a child I was listed as gifted learning disabled. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s, dysgraphia, and ADD while I was young.”

    Translation: You were “different” and hence defective. You weren’t dumb, stupid, and compliantly conformant to the diagnostician’s fantasy of normal.

    Your problem was that you were growing up to be a rational person competent to live in reality rather than fantasy. Reality was a place your diagnostician was desperately trying to ignore because he/she/it was incompetent to exist there without being an economic parasite and an intellectual bully.

    You are a survivor of a Borg like war against being human. The Borg pretends resistance is futile. Some of we humans resist and win! Interestingly, without we competent humans being successful dealing with reality, the Borg would soon starve to death.

  23. temp says:

    While I enjoyed the read I find one point where you stray into the soft sciences.

    “as a means of saying that nothing can be proven or disproved, I dropped my textbook on the floor, so it would make a rather loud sound, stopping the lecture. I then dropped it again, and remarked that maybe next time it will stay up because we totally can’t prove the existence of gravity.”

    In science this statement is in fact correct…. nothing can be proven or disproved. However because it is being taught by someone who doesn’t understand science they leave out the rest of the statement. The statement should be more along the line of “nothing can be proven or disprove unless in relation to time” aka all science under the scientific method happens in the past. All events in the future are merely projections/predictions and can never truly be proven/disproved until the very moment they happen.

    Lets take your book dropping. You drop your book the first time get your loud thud and pick it up again. You goto drop it a second time, let go of it but it doesn’t move… Does this mean that their is no gravity? Could be, or it could be someone put a hand out to grab the book and stop its fall… or countless other things. The agreement that because the book falls you have proven gravity is thus meaningless as the fact the book doesn’t fall doesn’t disprove gravity. All science is a past event. Only after it happens can we know why it happened and thus prove or disprove anything about it.

  24. cwon14 says:

    Climate science (or soft science) is the buggy whip, even if it gets to 100% “consensus” (by their own count to be sure) it will still be obsolete;

  25. Kip Hansen says:

    Marvelous!. Thank you for writing and posting here. It is a great insight that Cli Sci has become a soft science.

  26. Ron C. says:

    Thank you for your informative post. I also have had experience in both hard and soft sciences, in my case Chemistry and Management Science, and what you say resonates.
    For example in Organizational studies, it is a principle that a widely shared perception is reality. That is, as an individual or leader, you may see things differently, and may be persuaded by facts that disprove the general perception. But if you act without respecting the perceived reality, you do so at your peril. The parallel with “consensus” science is obvious.

    I appreciated your insight that social sciences deal with realities so complex that all relevant variables cannot be excluded, whereas hard sciences proceed by studying one variable at a time. This is exactly how the CO2 “control knob” was invented. All other variables were dismissed as evening out over time. It was never mentioned that CO2 and temperature observations are only correlated for a short period, the last quarter of the 20th century. Now there is a scramble to affirm some variables which offset warming (to explain the pause), and to make certain to discredit any factors, like AMO, that could have contributed to past warming.

  27. Jim G says:

    Excellent article!! I took 27 semester hours of psychology courses as electives as they were a cake walk compared to the engineering, statistics and quantitative methods courses I was required to take in undergrad and graduate school and can very much identify with Mr. Burnett’s article and Mr. Burnett, himself. I would only add that Climatology, and the soft sciences in general, seem to have degraded significantly since my college days. Decay of intellectual honesty would seem to be the main culprit. But then it is obvious from many of the references Mr. Burnett makes in his article that many years separate his academic experiences from mine.

    Also, acceptance of the concept of ‘networking’ as a legitimate tool for seeking and selecting individuals for positions in academics and industry has legitimized political and personal relationships above skills, intelligence and experience in personnel selection, leading, to some degree, to many of the problems noted.

  28. Seattle says:

    “there is in the universe something for the description and analysis of which the natural sciences cannot contribute anything. There are events beyond the range of those events that the procedures of the natural sciences are fit to observe and to describe. There is human action.

    It is a fact that up to now nothing has been done to bridge over the gulf that yawns between the natural events in the consummation of which science is unable to find any finality and the conscious acts of men that invariably aim at definite ends. To neglect, in the treatment of human action, reference to the ends aimed at by the actors is no less absurd than were the endeavors to resort to finality in the interpretation of natural phenomena.” – http://mises.org/books/ultimate.pdf

  29. Solomon Green says:

    An excellent article. Well worth reading more than once. Thanks and thanks to Anthony for hosting it.

  30. Joe Born says:

    Although I appreciate the hard-vs.-soft-science distinction, my experience leads me to emphasize the difference between the scientists, not the sciences. There are a great number of people who have been able to master enough of a hard science to pass the tests and get the credentials but who are unwilling or unable to apply the scientific method. Conversely, but probably less relevantly to this blog’s subject matter, there have been some in economics and probably even sociology who apply the scientific method meticulously.

    I bring this up because our society currently suffers greatly from that fact that the overwhelming majority of our ruling classes mistake the pronouncements of “scientists” for the fruits of the scientific method. Yes, lack of rigor in the soft sciences is a problem, as is the tendency for citation of a “study” to end debate prematurely. Even more of a problem, though, is the tendency for hard-science credentials to give weight to transcendentally silly hypotheses. The hard sciences may not be the disciplines most afflicted with the tendency of its credentialed to speak with more confidence than their knowledge justifies. But the results of that tendency within the hard sciences may be worse.

  31. Todd says:

    “I then dropped it again, and remarked that maybe next time it will stay up because we totally can’t prove the existence of gravity.”

    I really hope you didn’t add that one to the “do not do” part of your notebook. Greatest response to idiocy ever!

  32. David L. Hagen says:

    Empirical “Hard” v “Soft” science
    “Hard science”: Optical sciences such as at the National Institute of Standards and Technology Time and Frequency Division where:

    We develop mode-locked fs-laser frequency combs to connect stable optical frequencies to each other and to microwave sources with an imprecision approaching 1 part in 10^19.

    “Soft science”: “Climate science” where > 95% of 34 year projections by Global Warming Models are greater than actual global temperatures.
    Aerospace Engineer Burt Rutan demonstrates the perspective of a “hard” scientist/engineer on “climate change”. aka Anthropogenic Global Warming PDF and WUWT TV

  33. That is exactly the problem with the soft sciences, they can get the results they want by only evaluating the characteristics they choose.

    The soft sciences spend the first two weeks of a course talking about how they are a science, and the next 13 weeks destroying every pillar of the scientific method

    A most enjoyable essay. I’m bookmarking it as a Watts Best and sharing it.

  34. jabre says:

    Great post. As an electrical engineer I can relate to the frustrations in dealing with the soft sciences both in college and now through my exposure to much of climate ‘science.’

  35. Big Don says:

    I’ve been practicing the scientific method in the private sector for more than three decades. Many would say this makes my work an evil, profit-driven, heartless activity. But in reality, we’re looking for truth — a technically and economically correct answer. Our funding is driven by the need for a correct, practical, affordable solution for a technical need. If a hypothesis is found to be wrong, my employer cannot afford to ignore this fact, regardless of how much everyone wanted it to be correct. Like it or not, economics says that you do not implement a solution that does not work – you go out of business if you do. The hypothesis is discarded regardless of personal feelings.

    If you’re in a venture funded by the government — by definition primarily a political enterprise — the consequences of finding a politically undesirable answer is more dire than finding a technically or economically undesirable one. The researcher’s organization may not be able to afford a politically intolerable answer, regardless of the technical correctness. There may be few consequences for publishing technically incorrect information, but publishing politically unpopular information – regardless of its accuracy – may be suicidal.

    My hypothesis (just a hypothesis, mind you – it may well be wrong): Whether a given branch of science evolves into “Hard Science” or into a “Soft Science” is mainly driven by the primary source of funding for it.

  36. AlecM says:

    Yup; Climate Alchemy is a soft science. It’s all based on the assumption that a planetary surface emits net IR energy to a GHG-containing atmosphere at the same rate it would in a vacuum to a sink at Absolute Zero. This is total bunkum as any professional engineer or physicist will confirm.

  37. jauntycyclist says:

    any look at a climate science course shows 50% of it is mitigation policy for global warming. which fits with the 97% researcher who said they had reviewed plenty of papers and most were about mitigation rather than anything that dealt with ‘the science’.

  38. rogerknights says:

    from Henry Bauer’s Science or Pseudoscience? page 14:

    “the distinction between natural science and social science is clear enough for the present purpose: between, respectively, certain and merely probable consequences of a given set of circumstances. That’s the essence of it, and for many purposes it is a world of difference.”

  39. Steven Mosher says:

    ““Philosophers and sociologists of science have not been able to confirm the relationship between these characteristics and perceived hardness or softness in empirical studies. Supposedly more “developed” hard sciences do not in fact have a greater degree of consensus or selectivity in accepting new results. ”

    Yes.

    The inability to draw hard fast sharp lines between science and non science, between ‘hard’ science and ‘soft’ science is well know. It is the problem known as epistemology. What do we know, what are the forms of knowing, and how do they differ.

    If you think you have a solution, a medal in philosophy is awaiting you.

    Put another way, if you examine the empirical evidence of what various sciences actually DO, then you will find no sharp lines, no uniquely defined categorizations. Part of this is due to the problem of classification and natural categories. Is science a natural kind?
    Another way to look at it is a rationalist approach, wherein you just “think about” what “science” should be. This approach fails in a spectacular way, go ahead and try.

  40. Great article. Somehow you navigated the system. Congrats. Today you would likely have been drugged into conformity.

  41. stan stendera says:

    WUWT hits another home run. Thanks Mr. Burnett for this illuminating essay. Terrific thread of comments too.

  42. It was said above: “In science this statement is in fact correct…. nothing can be proven or disproved.”

    Nonsense! That is except when context is dropped and the assumption is made that proof means to be shown to be true without context. Proof MEANS to specify the context and facts of reality in which the proposition is true. Go outside of that context and ignore critical facts of reality, then all bets are off (ie. the so called soft sciences). The critical fact ignored is that, for man, knowledge is contextual. Meaning that any given unit of knowledge is Knowledge because it is without contradiction with all other units of knowledge that are known (in context) at the time. Said context can expand but previous knowledge is still true but now better understood with more detail.

    One of the more perverse aspects of the pretense of contextless knowledge is the presumption that, in the future, anything can become anything else without consideration of cause, action, or circumstance (ie god did it, stuff happens, somehow, just because et.al). Hence, the conclusion follows that even if it is demonstrable in the past and present, it may not demonstrable in the future. More succinctly stated: A equals Non A for all cases of A.

    Question: if the above is true, how could one know it to be true? You can’t because the position destroys itself. The mind that accepts it has committed intellectual suicide. Extinction is soon to follow. See the dark ages for instructive detail.

  43. This essay brought back a memory of a professor in engineering who thought Statics, Dynamics, and Strengths courses (Hard Science and Engineering). He was known to be a hard grader and students lobbied partial credit on assignments marked wrong, usually without success.

    One day, there was a newspaper article about a ski-lift accident. The engineer who designed the dolly wheel assembly and cable had neglected to account for cable sag. Therefore there was higher tension than expected on the fitting for the hauling cable. The professor posted the newspaper article and a force diagram of the cable and trolley assembly on E-2 paper. Below that he posted something like the following:

    Should this engineer have received partial credit?
    It is wrong.
    People die when we get it wrong.

    It is a lesson that sticks.

  44. Badger40 says:

    Thank you so much for your article. I really enjoyed it. I have always thought this way. I am not a scientist. Neither of my parents were college educated. But I always looked at the world the way you described you do.
    When I went to college as an older adult for the first time, I gravitated towards geology. I have a BS in it. I have never worked in the field, instead getting a teaching certification and taking more courses to become certified to teach all sciences in high school in grades 7-12.
    I am very rigorous and critical of these soft sciences. I have always maintained these soft sciences cannot give us a true picture of things. I’ve said the same of statistics. Fuzzy math. However, I see their usefulness, as I do other soft sciences. But they are only as useful as human beings make them. And unfortunately they are used more for ill, IMO, than they are for good.
    I often find myself alone in the company I keep when it comes to evaluation of information.
    As a public school teacher, I am inundated on a daily basis with ‘educational data’. This term disgusts me every time I hear it.
    The politics in a public school system, to be sure, is revolting enough. But when they defend their politics using educational ‘data’ I have to refrain myself from showing my disgust, because when I have been very vocal about the worth of this so-called ‘data’, it has been used against me by administrators in unpleasant ways.
    I’m sure you can appreciate the conundrum I always find myself in when trying to explain to parents in the most gentle and diplomatic way possible that Little Billy’s test scores are more than worthless. Because of course, if he is labeled as being proficient in science, then why is he failing my class?
    And the decisions being made in regards to funding are outrageous because it is based upon this ‘data’.
    I am forced as an educator to attend seminar upon seminar and class upon worthless education class perusing through ‘data’ that is some of the most meaningless on the planet. Educators who are not science teachers babble about the importance of these fruitless exercises as if they are saving the world with this stuff. They are robots without an original thought in their skulls.
    And though there are still many science teachers across the spectrum of disciplines who are just as outraged by these things, that number is rapidly declining. More and more ‘science’ teachers are getting BA degrees in a science and have no sort of scientific training to speak of. Hence, they push these ridiculous notions that you mentioned.
    I often comment the day a student’s test scores are used to primarily evaluate my effectiveness as an instructor, I’m heading for oil field work. I still wonder if I could really do it. Because somehow, maybe irrationally so, I believe my presence in the two communities I teach in may somehow help change a few people into solid critical and rational thinkers. That is if parents don’t lynch me first because they think I am too ‘hard’ and that A’s for effort should be given freely.
    I guess I am still on the fence about this.
    Thanks again for the great article!

  45. G. Karst says:

    Did someone open a window? The fresh air is exhilarating! Marvelous. GK

  46. Theo Goodwin says:

    rogerknights says:
    May 20, 2014 at 8:59 am
    from Henry Bauer’s Science or Pseudoscience? page 14:

    “the distinction between natural science and social science is clear enough for the present purpose: between, respectively, certain and merely probable consequences of a given set of circumstances. That’s the essence of it, and for many purposes it is a world of difference.”

    No, the general laws of physical science can be probabilistic; however, the probabilities are objective not subjective and certainly not Bayesian. The soft sciences have no general laws of either variety. Climate science is similar. It contains general laws in the theory of radiation but they must be supplemented with laws about such phenomena as cloud behavior, laws which simply do not exist at this time.

  47. Theo Goodwin says:

    Stephen Rasey says:
    May 20, 2014 at 8:19 am

    Isn’t this article powerful evidence for my claim that Anthony is the world’s best blogger?

  48. kwinterkorn says:

    This article resonated for me as no other. I too was trained at the interface of soft and hard science, and continue to live at this border between methodologies: as an undergraduate at Harvard College I majored in “Experimental Psychology”, think B. F. Skinner and rats and pigeons in specialized boxes, and now I am a physician, using hard science and technology for my tools, but interfacing with sick, dying and suffering peoples as my work. The art part of medicine is definitely more in the soft science realm.

    The Harvard Psychology department distinguished itself from its neighboring department, Psychology and Social Relations, and the somewhat more distant Sociology department, by pushing the hard scientific method to a fanatic degree. Fuzzy thinking, as some called it was banned. Significance with p at .05 was barely tolerated—–we were to strive for p<.01. And I think some very good science was done.

    Yet even the fetish for hard science, which to this day I admire, was undermined often by the personal agenda-based need to extrapolate findings in rats and pigeons to the ever so much more complex social animals like Humans. The classic of the era was BF Skinner's utopian book about the "Control of Human Behavior". But the extrapolations from rats and pigeons to humans was sometimes more wishful than scientific.

    As a senior in college I ventured over into the Psych and Soc Rel department for a course called "On Aggression", as in Konrad Lorenz's book. Sadly, the whole topic was treated as what we now call post normal science. An assumption of the course was that aggression is an evil that must driven out of human behavior. Starting with that discussion there was no possibility of discussing whether aggression has been critical to human evolution and sustaining human progress and in that light discussing aggression as a phenomenon subjectible to hard scientific study. When I wrote an essay suggesting that many "psychologists" enter the field in order to answer questions about themselves, or to gain levers of control over others, because they perceived themselves as vulnerable to aggression, in this case, I was ostracized by others in the seminar as almost beyond the pale.

    It is so sadly true that the agenda-driven science of "climate change" is like the agenda-driven findings in psychology. What used to be called Earth Science or Geology or Science of Oceans and Atmosphere, and which was and still can be truly a hard science (think of Bob Tisdale's posts) is used for the personal and political agenda's of the Mann's, Gore's, and others, and facts be damned.

  49. Theo Goodwin says:

    Badger40 says:
    May 20, 2014 at 9:38 am

    Seems to me that, of all hard sciences, Geology would be the most fun to teach. At least, it would be if your school supports you with proper resources. Also, it seems to me that Geology incorporates Hard History rather than Soft History or today’s ubiquitous Faux History. Geology also incorporates aesthetics. Your job has to be just too much fun.

  50. Doug says:

    I think “Two dogmas of empiricism” is pretty much required reading on this matter.

    Also: The Wikipedia article is right in that claims of distinction between hard and soft science fail empirical (i.e. hard science) tests miserably and reliably.

  51. cwon14 says:

    Soft science leads to soft logic;

    http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/kerry-if-were-wrong-climate-change-whats-worst-can-happen_793392.html

    This was a very common meme in the 60’s-70’s when real carbon tax and regulation was a pipe dream to the “Che”/Earthday crowd. Hardline AGW co2 mitigation supplanted it, now it’s back and part of the organized political retreat and contingency plan for the longer-term. Adaptation is another coded scheme, as long as it leads to central planning and control it can be worked with from a greenshirt point of view.

    On the GOP side there is still the national security types, McCain and Graham for example ready to cut deals on nuclear growth and carbon rationing to reduce imports (Thatcher blunder). It’s how social/economic suicide is facilitated by the opposition party.

  52. An acquaintance on Faecebook once proudly forwarded this link, with an implied wink-wink-nudge-nudge:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/07/10/only-six-percent-of-scien_n_229382.html

    Aside from being deliberate “othering,” the SuckingtonPost article completely ignored the very obvious possibility of hiring (and retention) bias, as outlined in Burnett’s hiring bias link in the post.

    And Wankerpedia isn’t a source I’d rely on for assessment of hard/soft science distinction.

  53. Theo Goodwin says:

    Doug says:
    May 20, 2014 at 10:16 am

    I just stated an empirical test that has not failed. The soft sciences have no universal generalizations that are highly confirmed through active or passive experimentation. Produce one and I will withdraw my claim.

    All hard sciences use universal generalizations that are highly confirmed (have stood the test of time).

  54. @Theo Goodwin 10:12 am
    Seems to me that, of all hard sciences, Geology would be the most fun to teach.

    Geology is an interesting example of a hard science. It has frequently been wrong. It has evolved over time. Much of the world is hidden from view, either buried in the subsurface, eroded away, microscopic, or altered by later processes. But it makes predictions. Predictions that can be tested with the gravimeter, magnetometer, seismic shoot, and ultimately the drill bit. Evidence that confirms, refutes, adjusts theories or concepts. (ex. Suppe 1983) The science grows.

    To say a field of study is a Hard Science, is not to say it lacks uncertainty. Quantum Mechanics consists of nothing but uncertainty and probability functions. Yet it is perhaps the hardest science capable of astounding testable precision. Hard enough to enough to predict ahead of time the existence of neutrinos and other sub-atomic particles that devices built later capture.

  55. @Theo Goodwin at 10:56 am
    The soft sciences have no universal generalizations that are highly confirmed through active or passive experimentation. Produce one and I will withdraw my claim.

    Microeconomics: Supply and Demand.

    It is a universal generalization in a soft science (economics) that policy makers ignore at their (and our) peril.

  56. Jim G says:

    Stephen Rasey says:

    “To say a field of study is a Hard Science, is not to say it lacks uncertainty. Quantum Mechanics consists of nothing but uncertainty and probability functions. Yet it is perhaps the hardest science capable of astounding testable precision. Hard enough to enough to predict ahead of time the existence of neutrinos and other sub-atomic particles that devices built later capture.”

    And yet, almost mystical in nature, as in the collapse of wave functions when observed or entangled particle communication.

  57. TAG says:

    It appears to me that this blog essay presents a simplified and not very useful conception of the role of experiments in science. Experiments at the forefront of science are difficult with many unknown confounding factors which can give rise to anomalous results. it is the job of the experimenter to understand his/her experiment and to sort through these results to obtain the one that provide meaningful insight.

    Millikan and Ehrenhaft: contended in the 19th century over the nature of teh charge on the electron. Ehrenhaft contended that it was a continuous quantity while Millikan contended that it was finite and quantized. Millikan performed experiments with falling oil drops to determine the charge on the electron. However historical research has shown that he rejected 59% of the drops from consideration. Many of his drops demonstrated fractional charges on the electron. He chose the drops that gave the best result and so is now accepted as the scientist who proved the finite charge on the electron.

    A scientist must be able to review his experimental results and identify and eliminate confounding variables. The simple application of Karl Popper’s falsification idea just does not work.

  58. Theo Goodwin says:

    Stephen Rasey says:
    May 20, 2014 at 11:03 am

    You offer a different standard. I agree that it is perilous to ignore the Law of Supply and Demand.

    My standard is that there is no known factual circumstance that contradicts the law. In the case of the Law of Supply and Demand, there has never existed factual circumstances in which the law was not intentionally thwarted by government. John Locke’s famous example from his Second Treatise on Government is a thought experiment. So, the law has never been tested and it is unclear how such a test could be created.

    Perhaps a bigger problem is that the Law of Supply and Demand must be implemented through the outright or tacit agreement of all participants in the community.

    The closest I can come to a law in the soft sciences is “The rich live on the high ground.” Today, you might have to revise that to “The rich own the high ground.”

  59. cwon14 says:

    Societies, global developed countries, had to make a decision in late 20’s and through the Depression that followed if they were going to practice “hard” economics along classical rules with a fixed unit of exchange (gold conversion) or if they would go “soft” and fiat. They were at the end of their ropes in the aftermath of WWI and frankly they were at end of a debt cycle before WWI. Colonialism was massively debt driven, unstable and conflicted which is what WWI essentially was about. The war accelerated all “modernization” which can well be considered a vast social and economic decline. When England caved in on gold 31′ the Depression went worldwide and permanent. Why it all went a certain way is obviously complex but the unintended results of the growth of other “soft” cultures, welfare states, academia tied to the hip of government and a general depreciation of actual labor in favor of intellectual capital rights is clear. Academic authority and central planning peaked around WWII and the aftermath and the social rotting ran right next to it in tandem.

    It’s the soft government run economy of Keynes that funds soft science and academia. It funds the climate change authority. It’s the original junk science that massively forces paper debts (fiat money) through any economy to maximize short-term production (essentially a war policy regardless of peace or war) results. We romanticize people who “make things” but in reality we produce 45000 new, freshly minted lawyers a year (U.S. alone) and that’s just one of many similar net zero production professions. Thousands of soft scientists are certainly on the list as well. Technology and industrial productivity growth obfuscates the reality to many but the system is dying on its own weight. Zero natural birth rates abound through out many developed countries. Are we going to take away “soft” academic jobs and the entire soft economic culture funded top-down by governments? Return 1/2 of the student population to jobs instead of “education”? Hard jobs instead of “soft” ones?

    It seems light-years away. As for soft academics directly;

    In practice the solution is the devaluation of past prestige and trust held by words like “scientist” or “academic” etc. especially when they are tied to selling policy based on their conclusions and more importantly their political inclinations that are dove tailed to the fiat Keynesian culture we exist in today. That’s already happened, other than celebrity most professions have sunk massively in terms of social respect and desirability including academics. Still, a reality TV show with Michael Mann digging in a coal mine or working a wheat field would send a corrective message, it remains unlikely near-term. So would ending the social need for reality TV, another product of soft culture decline.

  60. @Theo Goodwin 11:24am
    In the case of the Law of Supply and Demand, there has never existed factual circumstances in which the law was not intentionally thwarted by government. ….
    Perhaps a bigger problem is that the Law of Supply and Demand must be implemented through the outright or tacit agreement of all participants in the community.

    Governments may intentionally thwart the Law of Supply and Demand. That doesn’t mean they can evade or abolish it. The Law of Supply and Demand is a universal generalization that is highly confirmed through active and passive experimentation. (your criteria.) It is a generalization of the soft science Microeconomics, but evident in Macroeconomic experiments such as Nixon Wage Price controls that Ford and Carter were equally unsuccessful. In 1981, when Reagan made the oil price controls go away, so did the gas lines.

    must be implemented through the outright or tacit agreement of all participants in the community Must you outright or tacitly agree to the Law of Gravity? The Law and it’s effects work whether or not you agree to it. Your survival is enhanced if you agree with it, however. Likewise with the Law of Supply and Demand. You may not agree with it, but the market place, (even the Black Market place) will go on without your agreement.

    Other truths in economics would be Price Elasticity, Net Present Value, Option Value (of an unspecific type). You can even calculate these with a rough precision.

    I’m not saying the “miserable science” is a hard science. It is it is no better than “soft serve”. I just close my argument that some Soft Sciences do offer up some Hard Truths.

    But a good science always knows its limitations.

  61. Floyd Doughty says:

    What a superb essay (which I have passed along to many of my friends). I have had similar experiences, and can definitely relate to the comments by Jim G.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/05/20/hard-vs-the-soft-sciences/#comment-1641348

    As an undergraduate engineering student in the early 1970’s, I also took two psychology courses in order to fill out my “humanities” electives, hoping that I might find them useful in my future professional life. They were not. In both classes, I was the only student pursuing a technical major. The classes were primarily composed of education and journalism majors, for which psychology was a required subject. Grading was done on “the curve”, and as it turned out, I set the curve for nearly every exam. Several of the other students even approached me and suggested that I purposely answer some test questions incorrectly in order to help them improve their scores. The experience significantly degraded my opinion of those (then) future educators and journalists, and I have found no reason to change my opinion over the intervening years. The classroom situation at that time is well-illustrated by the following two incidents from the first day of class, which have stayed with me for many years:

    The first day of class, the instructor stated that all exams would consist solely of multiple choice and true/false questions. An aspiring journalist in the class raised his hand and asked, “Will there be any essay questions on the tests?”

    Also, while describing the grading procedure, the instructor stated that 25% of the final grade would be derived from short weekly quizzes, 25% would be derived from the mid-term exam, and the rest would be determined from the final exam. An eager young education major raised her hand and asked, “What percentage of the final grade will the final exam count for?”

  62. Steven Burnett says:

    There were some parts that did not make the final cut for the article. I went for a softer less numerical approach than im typically comfortable with but this may help clarify the discrepancy to the couple of holdouts saying there isn’t one.

    When I was in my Psych. program we were instructed to use a p value of .05, the fact that Fischer had only suggested this as the level of significance was noted and we were informed to not necessarily rule out significance at a higher p value. We should consider a science experiment to be a box that answers a question with a green (significant) or red (insignificant) light. A p value of .05 means there is a 20 sided die in the box and if it rolls a 20 regardless of the answer the light changes to green. A p value of .10 would change the answer to green on a 19 or a 20.

    Now that’s for a single variable controlled study, for a multivariate study add in a 20 sided die for each and every other confounding variable. Every time any die rolls a 20 the light changes to green. That’s for a controlled multivariate study. Now examine an uncontrolled study, such as a survey or the temperature stations with a mix of proper and improper placement. For every location or individual who doesn’t respond the box flips a coin, if tails the box just shuts off. For station, or survey responses if the situation in which the question or siting is inappropriate, the box flips a coin, if the result is tails the box changes the actual result at random. Their personal bias can be represented by red/green colorblindness.

    The point is the more variables that could confound the result the lower the p value should be. Unfortunately the issue of confounding variables becomes simply accepted so a p value of .05 or .10 is still considered valid. Essentially some soft scientists use the complexity of their subject as an excuse for poor study design without tightening their standards for proof to compensate. This is a mechanistic way to explain the differences.

    There is some great work in soft science fields, but there is also a mountain of crap. If they want to play with the big boys they are gonna have to tighten their standards, grab a shovel and start digging. This is unlikely simply because you would have to depose an inordinate amount of gatekeepers, and then overturn the system. it’s a cultural problem, and it is also why soft science fields simply don’t get it.

  63. John Boles says:

    Yes it seems to me that soft sciences are very prone to being twisted toward political ends.

  64. Seattle says:

    “No, the general laws of physical science can be probabilistic; however, the probabilities are objective not subjective and certainly not Bayesian. The soft sciences have no general laws of either variety.” – Theo Goodwin

    Misesian praxeology (part of the Austrian school of economics) yields theorems. For example, the Ricardian law of comparative advantage. See (1) http://mises.org/books/humanaction.pdf and (2) http://mises.org/books/ultimate.pdf

    Though these theorems are apodictically certain, they are often of the “ceteris paribus” sort and have limited predictive power. Per (1), one way to think about them is: “Its statements and propositions are not derived from experience. They are, like those of logic and mathematics, a priori. They are not subject to verification or falsification on the ground of experience and facts. They are both logically and temporally antecedent to any comprehension of historical facts. They are a necessary requirement of any intellectual grasp of historical events. Without them we should not be able to see in the course of events anything else than kaleidoscopic change and chaotic muddle”.

    Also, such theorems do not depend on an arbitrary choice of axioms. Per (2), “The assumptions of Euclid were once considered as self evidently true. Present-day epistemology looks upon them as freely chosen postulates, the starting point of a hypothetical chain of reasoning. Whatever this may mean, it has no reference at all to the problems of praxeology. The starting point of praxeology is a self-evident truth, the cognition of action, that is, the cognition of the fact that there is such a thing as consciously aiming at ends.”.

  65. george e. smith says:

    Well I have to plead that I was born handicapped, in comparison to Steven Burnett. When I was 13 months old, I looked up in the sky, and asked my mother; “Why the hell are there no condensation trails ?”

    No such thing existed; planes simply couldn’t fly high enough.

    But I’m partial to # 13, or more specifically B13. That was my number for most of my youth; my older brother was B15. Those numbers adorned everything we owned.

    But I also had some memorable revelations. I believe I was six when I discovered that stirring tea, does NOT make it sweet. It takes some chemistry to make tea sweet, and no amount of stirring will render it so, without the proper chemicals. I also discovered that if you don’t spread butter on your bread; the jam just soaks right into the bread.

    By far the bigger mystery, is why I still remember making those discoveries.

    I have to admit that dropping a book, and doing it twice, is proof of sheer genius.

    There’s nothing soft about the science of statistics. It is a rigorous mathematical discipline, performed according to rigid rules, on a set of exact, known numbers. So the results are always exact. They also have no meaning, outside the envelope of statistical mathematics.

    Like religious tenets; it is the external extraneous interpretation, that one wants to invoke, in regard to the sterile exact statistical output, of such calculations, wherein lies the mischief.

    As for Psychology, it was the choice of University study by the member of my high school graduating class, who would have been voted hands down, least likely to succeed. He’s now retired after a long career in that field. By any reasonable measure of intrinsic value, his contribution to the human race greatly exceeds that of the rest of that graduating class, all combined. (including me)

    It’s not so much, what one chooses to learn, as it is what one chooses to do with what one learns, wherein lies any value. What he and his equally contributing life mate did, will give normal healthy educational opportunities, to tens of thousands of otherwise discarded (figuratively) children, previously doomed from birth.

    Plenty of “hard” scientists, can be worthless drones too.

  66. sophocles says:

    “Inevitably, the ignorance of logical fallacies and degradation
    of the sciences begs the question why.”
    ======================================================
    In a word: Money. When politics manages the purse, intellectual rigour
    departs.

  67. Doug says:

    Theo Goodwin says:
    May 20, 2014 at 10:56 am

    No, you misunderstand. The only way that you can empirically and reliably distinguish between hard science is by comparing the amount of journal space devoted to scientific graphs. The distinction between hard and soft science is a soft science distinction (and has been since the sociologist Auguste Comte came up with it), if soft science is useless, then so is the distinction.

    You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

    Another thing: If you don’t know about consistent and reliable results in “soft” sciences you don’t know soft sciences well-enough. If there is a difference then it is only in that the focus of attention is not on the reliable and consistent results, it is a question of subject matter. Physics underpins everything in the end.

  68. Seattle says:

    “Physics underpins everything in the end.” – Doug

    Does it? I thought mathematics underpins physics.

    Also, “[materialism] wipes out any difference between what is true and what is untrue and thus deprives all mental acts of any meaning. If there stands between the “real things” of the external world and the mental acts nothing that could be looked upon as essentially different from the operation of the forces described by the traditional natural sciences, then we must put up with these mental phenomena in the same way as we respond to natural events. For a doctrine asserting that thoughts are in the same relation to the brain in which gall is to the liver, it is not more permissible to distinguish between true and untrue ideas than between true and untrue gall.” – Ludwig von Mises

  69. Gary Pearse says:

    Wow, I didn’t know what I was getting into for the first part of the essay, but it turned into a fine comparison of the hard and soft sciences. Nice work Steven. We all know that when the word ‘Democratic’ is part of a country’s name, the advertisement is definitely a sign that this characteristic is going to be hard to find in this country. Likewise, inclusion of the word ‘Science’ and ‘Sciences’ as a part of the name of the discipline is there as a form of insurance and assurance because it otherwise may not be obvious when you delve into it. I was very unhappy when they neutered the fine discipline of ‘Geology’ by adding the diminutive ‘Sciences’ to ‘Geo’ or Geological (note the commanding ‘Geology’ was reduced to an adjective prefixing ‘Science(s)’). Not content with that they felt the need to remove ‘Geo’ altogether and soften it more to ‘Earth’.

    A look at the titles of the journals in your biblio reinforces the softness of the science. E.g.:

    1. Bouchard, Thomas J. (‘Current Directions in Psych…)

    2. Inbar, Y., and J. Lammers. (‘Perspectives on Psychological Science’)

    3. Arnett, Jeffrey Jensen. Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood: (‘A Cultural Approach’)

  70. A.D. Everard says:

    Brilliant post. My favourite line is this one: “The soft sciences spend the first two weeks of a course talking about how they are a science, and the next 13 weeks destroying every pillar of the scientific method.” I nearly spilled my coffee. I wish that line could be repeated in every classroom everywhere.

  71. Ely says:

    “After all, more students means more professors.”

    The wisdom of pushing so many not-obviously-academic young people into university is often questioned: but the negative impact of all this expansion on the quality of the faculty is ignored. It strikes me that Phil Jones (say) would perhaps have made an admirable high school geography teacher, back in the day: and his working life would certainly have been more useful if he had.

  72. Theo Goodwin says:

    Stephen Rasey says:
    May 20, 2014 at 11:58 am

    Read John Locke and then Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia. The Law of S and D exists in the state of nature but is violated by bandits whose only remedy is police or mafia. The Law has never operated in an actual social order.

  73. Theo Goodwin says:

    Seattle says:
    May 20, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Yes. Von Neumann’s Game Theory too. Being non-empirical, I do not classify them as science, though that is not to say that they are run of the mill soft science.

  74. Seattle says:

    “The Law of S and D exists in the state of nature but is violated by bandits” – Theo Goodwin

    How is it violated? In my area, possession of marijuana may be illegal, but there are still voluntary exchanges and the higgling of buyers and sellers still fixes a price (e.g. $300 / oz).

    If I don a jet pack, does that mean I’m violating Einstein’s field equations?

  75. Seattle says:

    “Von Neumann’s Game Theory too. Being non-empirical, I do not classify them as science” – Theo Goodwin

    Is mathematics a science? Its theorems are tautologies, i.e. restatements of axioms.

    Is geology a science? What about its a priori axioms, such as the cross-cutting relationships? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_cross-cutting_relationships
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_lateral_continuity
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_superposition

    “The question whether the term “science” ought to be applied only to the natural sciences… is merely linguistic and its solution differs with the usages of various languages. In English the term science for many people refers only to the natural sciences. In German it is customary to speak of a Geschichtswissenschaft and to call various branches of history Wissenschaft, such as Literaturwissenschaft, Sprachwissenschaft, Kunstwissenschaft, Kriegswissenschaft. One can dismiss the problem as merely verbal, an inane quibbling about words.” – Ludwig von Mises

  76. catilac says:

    Sheldon?

  77. Seattle says:

    According to “Gauss”, mathematics is “the Queen of the Sciences” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematics

    But I understand what you are saying, Theo.

  78. Theo Goodwin says:

    Seattle says:
    May 20, 2014 at 3:36 pm
    “The Law of S and D exists in the state of nature but is violated by bandits” – Theo Goodwin

    “How is it violated? In my area, possession of marijuana may be illegal, but there are still voluntary exchanges and the higgling of buyers and sellers still fixes a price (e.g. $300 / oz).”

    Those people may not be bandits. I am talking those who use a gun to “facilitate” an exchange. Read Locke.

  79. Philemon says:

    The distinction between hard and soft sciences is, unfortunately, not hard science.

    Moreover, physics, biology, geology, economics – which is practically asking for it – ahem!, psychology, linguistics, and even philosophy have all fallen prey to politics at one time or another.

    It’s depressing, but, to cheer you up, here’s Tom Lehrer!

  80. Steve P says:

    Theo Goodwin says:
    May 20, 2014 at 10:56 am

    Doug says:
    May 20, 2014 at 10:16 am

    I just stated an empirical test that has not failed. The soft sciences have no universal generalizations that are highly confirmed through active or passive experimentation. Produce one and I will withdraw my claim.

    All hard sciences use universal generalizations that are highly confirmed (have stood the test of time).

    Proverbs are often allegorical condensed wisdom of human beings. They are soft, but firmly so.

    Look before you leap / Fools rush in
    A stitch in time saves nine.
    (Get the) Right tool for the job.
    Save something for a rainy day.
    (Don’t take) Sand to the beach ./ ‘Coals to Newcastle
    Check 6
    &c

    Math and physics are underpinned by logic, no?

    In related matters, CO2 remains ostensibly well-mixed despite that fact that JAXA’s Ibuki GOSAT CO2-sniffing satellite shows spatial and temporal variations in CO2 flux, which is not-so-good for the well-mixed assumption. The JAXA satellite data also show that the northern industrialized nations are nets sinks of CO2 during the summer months, which blows the wheels off the plan revving up among 3rd word poor nations to tax wealthy nations for damage due to climate change..

    Soft, fuzzy logic in the face of contradictory hard data. Anthony and E.M. Smith have been all over this going back…

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/07/29/co2-well-mixed-or-mixed-signals/

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/09/13/some-results-from-gosat-co2-hot-spots-in-interesting-places/

    http://chiefio.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/japanese-satellites-say-3rd-world-owes-co2-reparations-to-the-west/

    Hard-boiled eggs, soft-boiled eggs, and unboiled eggs may look the same…

  81. Dave Worley says:

    “We can find no other cause for the warming besides the CO2 increase.”

    I’m glad you mentioned ghost busters, because my favorite argument against the above fallacy includes the ghost busters.

    It goes like this: My neigbor insists that the noises in my attic are ghosts. He admonishes me for not calling in the ghostbusters. I tell my neighbor that they may be friendly ghosts, so I prefer to just leave them alone thank you.

    At a Harvard “women and science” symposium about 6 years ago, the then President cited studies indicating that statistically males are better able to rotate and manipulate 3d objects in their minds (imaginary objects). He merely cited these studies as one of many possibilities to consider in the discussion of why less females pursue physics. At least one professor stormed out, and the political correctness firestorm that followed forced him to apologize. I would say that is another good example of the difference between soft and hard sciences.

    Emotions are about as undefinable as anything else in nature. I would agree that Psychology may be the softest science there is.

  82. Steven Mosher says:

    “The distinction between hard and soft science is a soft science distinction (and has been since the sociologist Auguste Comte came up with it), if soft science is useless, then so is the distinction.”

    yup.

  83. Steven Mosher says:

    “I think “Two dogmas of empiricism” is pretty much required reading on this matter.”

    Yup

  84. TheLastDemocrat says:

    Theo Goodwin says:
    May 20, 2014 at 10:56 am
    Doug says:
    May 20, 2014 at 10:16 am

    I just stated an empirical test that has not failed. The soft sciences have no universal generalizations that are highly confirmed through active or passive experimentation. Produce one and I will withdraw my claim.

    All hard sciences use universal generalizations that are highly confirmed (have stood the test of time).

    –Somewhere along the line, I was shocked to see some graph of melting point of some metal across a temperature range. The results were not all uniformly on the line!

    This myth that “hard science” has some super high level of certainty and predictability is a myth.

    Just try to shake out the correct amounts of chemicals from the containers, have them combine, and see if you get the exact output/results your equations predict.

    It might happen one in a hundred times.

    Physics or chemistry may be “perfect” in the lab, but in reality, predictions are only within some margin of error. Material purity, humidity, temperature, and other influences keep lab-level predictability from being observed in the real world.

    http://ba201w2012.blogspot.com/2012/03/houston-what-decision-should-i-make.html

    –Why aren’t all of those dots on a line?

  85. TheLastDemocrat says:

    The proof of the predictive validity of the “soft” sciences is the overwhelming adherence of great portions of the populace to the idea of man-made global warming in the face of obvious disproving evidence.

    How?

    This whole scam is a product of social sciences. It has worked. The first school of social sciences was the Institute for Social Science Research in the 1930s, in Frankfurt, Germany, AKA The Berlin School. Marxists all.

    The intellectual line has been continuous. They have studied the factors that lead to the formation of our perceptions of authority, of confidence in supposed knowledge, of formation of opinion, and so on.

    Ultimately, they have figured out how to deliver messages of their choice that are unethical and factually wrong, but are following the laws of soft sciences so well that they are successful. It is like understanding human attention (phi phenomenon, etc.) well enough to repeatedly stun people with a magic trick they will swear is fake but have no idea how it is carried out – the old saw-a-lady-in-half trick.

    Every hustler winning three-card-monte on the street is using us – our “psychology” – against us – and winning.

    I played three-card-monte / AKA the shell game – once in an entertainment setting. I figured out how to win: follow the Queen, then when the cards stopped moving, guess EITHER of the other two cards besides the one I was sure was the Queen. I began winning.

    Likewise, the sociologists have studies voting patterns, opinion formation, our altruistic emotion formation, tpyes of political appeals, etc., and have used all of those to get us to buy into unfounded dooms-day scenarios and have each of us believe that we are being virtuous as we do so.

    Here, sociologists FTW.

  86. Jimmy Finley says:

    Theo Goodwin says:
    May 20, 2014 at 10:12 am “…Seems to me that, of all hard sciences, Geology would be the most fun to teach….” Yes, one can wave one’s arms more here than just about any other science. Because much of geology is eradicated, and some barely accessible to us latecomers, and much is happening at depth, and so slowly, that we cannot really grasp it.

    Stephen Rasey says:
    May 20, 2014 at 10:57 am: Great response to Theo on the subject of geology. A friend of mine, a very good geologist, once told me that it is “a pseudo-science”. Much is probably unknowable, but what is knowable is being dug into by good scientists with fervor. In a broad way, the present is key to the past, but because some things are unique to the past, at some point, we can only guess what transpired.

    Seattle says:
    May 20, 2014 at 3:44 pm: What? Have you overturned these “a priori axioms” – “…such as the cross-cutting relationships?…” These aren’t “a priori” in any way; they come from people going into the field and mapping the rocks. Geology is based on observation, mapping, comparison and measurement. But maybe there is a Nobel Prize awaiting you for overturning some of the key conclusions of thousands of good observers. Hmmph.

  87. Seattle says:

    Jimmy Finley says:
    May 20, 2014 at 9:14 pm : I wasn’t disparaging geology. Only pointing out instances where a priori knowledge is used in hard science.

    The use of logic is another example.

  88. Doug says:

    Seattle says:
    May 20, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    No. Mathematics most certainly does in no way shape or form underpin anything, much less everything. It is a great way to describe things in reality, but it is not “real” or “true”.

    What you are describing is logical positivism, some of the greatest minds in history have tried to substantiate the claim, but to man they all only succeeded in proving in many diverse ways that it is not and absolutely cannot be true.

    If you want a “truth” in science, that is the best one you will ever get. There are three broad ways of thinking about truth in mathematics: Platonism (basically claiming it as a religious fact), Nominalism (which fails horribly beyond the simplest mathematics) or Instrumentalism (which basically says that the only sense in which math can be considered true is in that it is useful, the only position with solid support beyond wishful thinking).

  89. Doug says:

    Steve P says:
    May 20, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    “Math and physics are underpinned by logic, no?”

    Heavens no!

    It sounds like good idea, but I assure you that the only way to arrive at that conclusion is to break logic entirely which, by the ex falso quodlibet, renders anything you claim to prove afterwards essentially only based on empiricism alone.

    You can use logic to ensure the internal structural validity of an argument, but the “truth” of it will always and by necessity be an external matter, which logic can (by the paradox of analysis) have no access to.

    That’s why you can’t test models against models. The model is a purely rational tool, driven only by logic which simulates (at best) mathematics. The computer has concept of what the numbers it uses means and still less what connection it has to reality. It just churn signals blindly.

    That is also why GIGO exists on the other side. The only truth in the mathematics is where you either see that the result matches your observation, or that the result has sufficiently reliably matched the observation in the past for you to substitute it for an observation for practical reasons.

    But neither the model nor the result is rendered “true” by this in the logical sense. Otherwise there would be no place for “hard sciences” to begin with, logic being firmly in the “soft science” philosophy department.

  90. Michael Larkin says:

    I had mixed reactions to this essay. On the one hand, it gave me insight into how the author thinks, what challenges he overcame, and so on. On the other, I think that the “hard” sciences are actually the easiest to do, and the “soft” ones, the hardest.

    Hard science is largely confined to the study of *relatively* simple phenomena that are susceptible to the application of well-designed experiments. When I say the phenomena are relatively simple, I don’t mean that studying them might not involve the application of difficult mathematics, or the construction of devilishly intricate test equipment like the LHC.

    The fundamental phenomena of physics, such as particles and waves, are not as complex as, say, human behaviour, or embryological development, or the climate system. “Softer” scientists probably wish that the phenomena they study were like that, and maybe the mistake they make is to try to deal with them as if they were, when they’re anything but. They are forced to fill in the cracks with pretty malleable putty (aka BS).

    Doing that might help them feel on a par with practitioners of hard science, but I don’t think we yet have a science that’s hard (in the sense of sophisticated) enough to examine anything much above fundamental physics and chemistry. No scientist of so-called “hard” subjects, however accomplished, can yet handle that, and it’s hardly surprising that no “soft” scientist can either.

    IMO, we will have to get very much cleverer than we currently are to be able to generate sufficiently sophisticated approaches to studying such complexity with rigour. If and when we get to that stage, perhaps we will discover how hard science really can be, but isn’t yet.

  91. Joseph Murphy says:

    What makes them soft sciences is that they don’t discover any truth about nature. What Law has psychology laid out for us? Or climatology? All that work with no results, well, at least no hard science result. The hard sciences are certainly not immune from this phenomena. Physics was a nice hard science until quantum mechanics allowed philosophy to slip into physics unoticed. Now, listening to a lecture on the latest QM theories and ‘discoveries’ is like an amatuer philosophy 101 circle jerk. It makes for good entertainment and grabs the attention of the laymen but it is bothersome to see such pseudoscience accepted as legitimate research.

  92. Russ in TX says:

    No soft science pretends to be a hard science without the person making the claim properly being laughed out of the room. “Soft” vs “Hard” science is not a function of better-vs-worse; it is a function of substance. A “Soft” science is a “wissenschaft,” its results subject to interpretation and not amenable to empirical solution. In my own fields, history and experimental archaeology, we encounter this all the time. Sachkritik may appear in good-quality work, but none of us are under any illusions that what we do is an actual science.

  93. Zeke says:

    “Personal bias enters any discussion of results frequently. There is very strong evidence from monozygotic twin studies and others that IQ is strongly correlated with genetics.”

    The separation of identical twins at birth by a NY adoption agency, and the subsequent studies on those twins, has resulted in assertions like these. When the twins, who had been deliberately placed in comparable homes shortly after birth by adoption, were reunited, there were indeed similarities in their life decisions, their intelligence tests, skin conductance, and even in their dress and choice of hobbies and careers.

    One of the famous examples includes brothers who had married wives with the same name, both become fire fighters, and had even given the same name to their dogs and I think their sons also.

    There are many names in the eugenics fields who turn up in the major studies.

    I will simply point out that this study then also by the same standard indicate that there is a genetic basis for what you name your dog and whether you remarry after a divorce or not. And the problems worsen as these experts simply introduce a mechanism for genetic expression which somehow governs what your major is in college.

    The similarities between MZ twins in all of these studies does not necessarily mean that their decisions had a genetic basis. It may have other explanations. This is also buttressing a resurgence in eugenics/population control studies. Attachment theory is the most promising area for studying intelligence. The answer is not ripping kids out of their homes earlier and earlier, and giving them “intelligence tests” at the age of nine to determine their life’s limitations and future schooling choices. Be careful because the Twins Studies revealed many similarities, besides intelligence, between twins that were reared apart; therefore one would have to accept that almost all traits, decisions, and likes and dislikes are genetically based. There is no mechanism for these kinds of genetic expressions, and there are other reasons why identical twins were so similar even when they did not know of eachother’s existence until they were in there 30’s or 40’s, and even in their 60’s.

  94. Theo Goodwin says:

    Steven Mosher says:
    May 20, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    Sorry, but that essay argues that individual theoretical sentences do not have unique sets of observation sentences that could falsify them. The argument is pretty much against Rudolf Carnap who held that each theoretical sentence has its very own unique empirical meaning.

    I have accepted all of that essay for at least 45 years. The essay has no bearing on the claims that I made above.

    The fundamental idea of empiricism is that theories which are about the world must have their feet held to the fire of human experience expressed as community wide observation sentences. How radical is that? Only the Frankfurt School would deny it. For them, there is the dialectic of nature to deal with. If you can get someone to hire you to discuss dialectics of nature you are guaranteed no stress for the rest of your life.

  95. Steve P says:

    Doug says:
    May 21, 2014 at 12:40 am

    Steve P says:
    May 20, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    “Math and physics are underpinned by logic, no?”

    Heavens no!

    It sounds like good idea, but I assure you that the only way to arrive at that conclusion is to break logic entirely which, by the ex falso quodlibet, renders anything you claim to prove afterwards essentially only based on empiricism alone.

    Yes, my statement was mangled. What I mean is that logic precedes math and science. First we ask the question, then we figure out a way to arrive at the answer. So in that sense, until you have logic, you have no need or use for math or science.

    Logic leads math, physics, and the other hard sciences because without argument, there is no logic, no rhyme or reason, for doing the numbers, or running the experiment in the first place.

    The first step in problem-solving is recognition of the problem, and that is a logical process, but it is based on experience:

    Hard science relies on empirical data – the kind that can be observed, measured, and recorded, or quantified, while the soft sciences have no such precise metric as numbers, and its subjects are instead usually qualified, or described and evaluated with words, which are soft.

    So logic is soft, but it recognizes its own limitations, and sets internal rules to overcome these.

    But obviously there is great merit and synergy to soft and hard systems working in unison like this, and we may evaluate the success of this approach by considering and appreciating the achievements of Western Civilization over the last five millennia.

    .

  96. ezra abrams says:

    why is it that nerds from MIT almost always wind up working for better paid marketing people from Harvard ?
    Cause the “hard” sciences are anywheres near as hard as you think; your total premise is just nonsense
    OR, was R Feynman remarked, next time a physicist is boasting about how he can predict the origin of the universe, ask him what happens when you push water through a pipe; he can’t tell you .

    PS: lean how to write; all that stuff in the front about your growing up and aspergers; irrelevant to your argument; you need to learn how to focus an essay

  97. DavidCage says:

    I beg to differ. As and engineer I had a low opinion of social science and decided to do a degree in it to see how well it stood up to examination. I found that while it had not the certainty of the hard sciences it had a rigorous appreciation of the potential for error in the data and the interpretation of it. I came away with a respect for it as both uncertain in that it dealt with a very uncertain starting point of people but a belief in its integrity not always reflected in the public reporting of its conclusions.

    I started to do the same for climate science when I accidentally picked up a file during a set of tempest test on the radios we were working on that showed what I will charitably label as questionable practices. The more I looked and found out the greater the extent of not just bad practice but of overt dishonesty in candidate selection for grants with pro AGW second class honours graduates from low ranking universities getting preference over first class ones from much higher ranking ones just for questioning the “corrections” to the anomaly figures in their work.
    The were increasing the warming effect knowing full well that there was no sound justification for it whatever.

  98. Doug says:

    Steve P says:
    May 21, 2014 at 7:52 am

    No.

    Logic is about as hard as it gets in terms of reliability and truth preservation. If you have a valid model and true inputs you are 100% certain to have a true outcome.

    The “softness” comes in when you start asking empirical questions about what constitutes the “truth” of a proposition. Logic plays no role here. Mathematics does, but if you take the case of of economics (which is the only science where the inputs are given in numerical form) it does not guarantee “hardness”.

    What I am trying to illustrate is that the very idea of hard vs. soft science falls apart when you examine it critically. It is not mathematics, nor logic, nor empiricism, nor reliability nor even practical applicability that determines it.

    At best it is a question of subject matter, some of which lend themselves to comparatively simple explanation and others do not. The reason why the techniques of “hard” sciences don’t work well in the “soft” ones is because the questions are much harder.

    That is why climate science is a soft science, and will remain so until some really clear and reliable predictions can be made using comparatively simple techniques. It has nothing to do with numbers, methods or observations.

  99. TheLastDemocrat says:

    BTW I think the essay is pretty good, considering it is from someone who is not an essayist by profession, and has to work quite hard at carrying on in social conversation.

  100. TheLastDemocrat says:

    It is ridiculous to claim “soft sciences” are not proper science.

    Improper science is improper science. According to the scientific method, falsifiable predictions are made, and tested by observations. If the prediction is supported, then you have evidence that the hypothesis may be considered a fair candidate for “truth” as long as no other such test comes along to weaken it, a little or a lot.

    We get told that evolution is a fact. Our local science museum says this.

    The support of evolution is inductive logic, not observable, testable fact.

    It is bad science to declare that the theory of evolution is truth. It simply has not been tested by a falsifiable, empirical test.

    Likewise, declaring the earth to be 4 billion years old depends on inductive logic. Lead-lead dating depends upon many assumptions regarding the meteorite upon which it is based, assumptions about subsequent polluting lead, etc.

    Inductive logic can be very useful for deciding whether something is true. But if you depend on inductive logic, but not scientific, a priori hypothesis testing, then a hypothesis is not a strong contender for a truth due to science but do to logic.

    If a soft science is carried out a certain way, then it will be proper science.

    Predictions in soft science are more difficult than in “hard” science. This is because the phenomena of soft science are at incredibly higher levels of complexity than “hard” science.

    A human body, with its psychology, depends upon phenomena of “hard” sciences such as chemistry, electricity, hydrology, optics, and so on. A human body depends upon all of these, but not in a simple, additive way, like a car is a complex combination of these same “hard” science knowns.

    A human takes these knowns and blends them into an incredibly much more complicated whole.

    This is like saying climate can be predicted by knowing hydrology, radiation, etc. Climate is simply more complex. Optimistically, you could predict weather or climate fairly narrowly, since the complexity is really additive, not multiplicative.

    Robert Cialdini have studied how people become persuaded of some belief when their initial stand is neutral, or contrary.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Cialdini

    This is decent psychological science. You make predictions, you can test them empirically, and you can move from micro-truths to more broad findings.

    However, since humans are vastly more complex than molecules floating in a hypothetical task of water, you cannot simply apply some Brownian Motion formula and develop a fair probability of where the molecule will be in five seconds.

    All you can arrive at are “principles.” Such as these: reciprocity (it is a principle of our psychology, generally, that if someone does something for us, we are more likely to do something for them, such as give me a jump start one day and I am more likely to return the favor when you need it); commitment and consistency; social proof; authority; liking; and scarcity.

    See the link for more info on these.

    This is not all-or-nothing. Just “more likely, generally.”

    If there is no predictability to our buying behavior, then why are there advertisements? If there is predictability, then the rules of predictability can hypothetically be discovered. If they can be discovered, they can be used to influence buying behavior.

    Anyone is ridiculous to not see how decent science can be performed in this “soft” science realm.

    If the “soft” science is done poorly, such as a marketing study where experimenter bias, or sampling bias, is introduced, or fake data are used, then sure it is not good science.

    Most of the “soft” science you hear about is in the media, and is there because 1. the “soft” scientists are actually Marxists, and are merely carrying out their belief system, and 2 our media holds Marxist values and beliefs and is willing to run any press release that fits the world view.

  101. @Jimmy Finley at 9:14 pm
    RE: Geology, “The Present is Key to the Past”

    One of my teachers, Dr. Paul Weimer, Sr. hit us upside the head with that chestnut.
    “Don’t you believe it!
    Two billion years ago there was no free oxygen on this planet.”
    The oceans were acidic. The continents barren. What oxygen that was generated was consumed in the precipitation of the Banded Iron Formations. His lesson was that the Present only HINTS at the Past. Never forget the Past might be far different than what exists today.

    That is why one of my hobby horses is the question “What was the atmospheric pressure in the middle to late Paleozoic to Cretaceous?” to understand the fossilized evidence of large fauna. There is an awful lot of carbon buried in the geologic records. Once upon a time a lot of it was in the atmosphere.

  102. Philemon says:

    “There are three broad ways of thinking about truth in mathematics: Platonism (basically claiming it as a religious fact), Nominalism (which fails horribly beyond the simplest mathematics) or Instrumentalism (which basically says that the only sense in which math can be considered true is in that it is useful, the only position with solid support beyond wishful thinking).”

    Doug, while I can agree with much of what you write, this is misleading and unphilosophical. Modern Platonism versus whatever else in mathematical philosophy, e.g., formalism, constructivism, logicism, none of which are nominalism, differ over the ontological/metaphysical status of mathematical truths or entities, that is, whether they are ‘real’ in their realm, and in what way. Quine was only a nominal nominalist, ;) and contra Theo, Quine was never really anti-Carnap, since Quine was hoping for veridical sensory nerve stimuli to be the experiential data that Carnap wanted for a long time.

    Mathematics in practice is conducted *as though* the entities in question are real and subject to discovery. But there are metaphysical problems with those assumptions.

    Instrumentalism was a philosophy of science concept and has its own problems. Epistemologically and metaphysically. I’m actually interested in whether mathematicians or philosophers of mathematics are doing anything with instrumentalism nowadays.

    Also, you are not quite fair to people who recognize that logic has to be prior to experience in order for experience to be possible.

    And when you opine that “Physics underpins everything in the end.” Do you really mean everything? And do you really mean physics?

  103. albertkallal says:

    And while greens so often adopt whacked out concepts such as bio fuels that are causing starvation around the world, you would think they be pushing LENR (aka: Cold Fusion).

    Cold fusion and the heat effect been re-produced over 1800 times now around the world. So no science explain how this works (hard science) but LENR does produce HEAT and lots of it.

    Just because the hard science does not yet have a handle on LENR is not reason to ignore the heat and potential of this new energy source.

    The only real question left is how + when this new energy source without pollution can be commercialized.

    Video here:

  104. Doug says:

    Philemon says:
    May 21, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    I am not going to pretend to be an expert on the philosophy of mathematics, I’m not, and I certainly won’t claim that I can settle the issues and put everything in neat boxes in the space of a forum post. I therefore trust you will forgive any mischaracterisations.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the names.

    The question of whether something is true or not becomes the same as the question of whether it is real or not once you accept that for something to be true it must be true of something.

    A ^ A is true for every A, but 1+1=2 is not true of everything (one puddle of water plus another makes a one puddle of water) and it is difficult to know just what i is supposed to be true of, or even the full expansion of Pi for that matter.

    Roughly, to be Platonistic is to postulate a heavenly object of which “1” in the mathematical sense is true. To be nominalistic is to hold on to the belief that there is some real system which corresponds to mathematics, perhaps just difficult to find, but real nonetheless. Logicism is basically the (vain) belief that mathematics can somehow be reduced to logic and have the universal sort of truth applied to it, in the face of mountains of contradicting evidence. Fictionalism is what I prefer to call instrumentalism, although strictly strictly speaking you can be instrumentalist without believing that mathematics is false, I guess. Constructivism is more a question of what sort of proofs are valid in mathematics, rather than being about the truth of mathematics broadly. Formalism entails instrumentalism or fictionalism if you accept the idea truth having to be about something unless you are happy to accept that the process is a thing itself, in which case it starts to resemble Platonism or nominalism, so again, it is not really functionally distinct at that level.

    I’m not sure I agree with your reading of Quine though, he was very anti logicial-positivism (and therefore Carnap), and he pretty much blows whatever was left of it out of the water. The nature of logical-positivism is that almost anything can be read as support for it, but the key is really Quine’s devastating attack on reductionism, which is central to the thesis.

  105. Philemon says:

    Well, Doug, not to nitpick too much, but…

    You still seem to be assuming that, in mathematical philosophy, “Platonism” relies on some sort of religious belief, or heavenly objects, or maybe what Plato said, when the modern day usage is more akin to Realism about truths wherein mathematical objects are, well, objective, even if the objects are conceptual. Conjectures for mathematicians are akin to empirical questions, especially given that there is no mechanical way to come up with proofs to decide them one way or another. The problems with mathematical realism for philosophers are the ontological and metaphysical ramifications.

    “Constructivism is more a question of what sort of proofs are valid in mathematics, rather than being about the truth of mathematics broadly.” Actually, it is about the truth of mathematics broadly as well. There are epistemological issues.

    The least of Formalism’s problems is that it entails some sort of “fictionalization”, which I don’t think it necessarily does. There are multiple types of Formalism, for one thing, but the idea in most of Formalism that mechanical proofs are something mathematics is made of is erroneous.

    As far as Logicism goes, well Russell pretty much got told by Gödel. Yes, yes, there are modern variants, and I am not above going for the cheap score. I am a very poor role model.

    “Instrumentalism” is something of a loaded term in philosophy of science. If you mean something else, you should call it something else, or, at least, be prepared to very carefully and precisely define it before using it.

    Quine wasn’t anti-reductionist in that he was still pursuing various sorts of reductionism to the very end, but kept finding them wanting, even going so far as to joke that the only way he could think of to make his sensory nerve stimili truly veridical was by assuming “pre-established harmony” because he saw that evolution wouldn’t really guarantee it. He himself admitted to sympathizing with the Carnap’s hopes and sharing them even though he couldn’t help seeing and pointing out deficiencies in the various schemes, including, but not limited to, logical-positivism’s underlying assumptions. If you want to point out a philosopher who was truly anti-logical-positivism, Popper is a better candidate.

  106. tz2026 says:

    And your opinion on Darwinism is? Feel.free.to.add.eugenics. Or are you afraid of being “Expelled” as in the Ben Stein documentary?

    Personally, I belie the math of the hard sciences precludes “evolution” as typically imagined. Either there is God, Magic, or some kind of smart ET and we are like Pentium chips.

  107. It is actually the “hard” scientists who are naïve ,simplistic, and lacking both in common sense and scientific competence when they mistakenly believe that they can make useful predictions of future climate. Only small volumes of time and space and a carefully selected small number of variables are subject to useful analysis by the equations of classical physics. For example – Newtonian -Einsteinian gravity works with great utility at the scale of the solar system but fails hopelessly
    at galactic levels. Like the climate scientists the cosmologists are so wedded to their mental constructs that the immediately invent epicycle like theories in their case dark matter and energy to preserve their equations.The GCMs are basically weather forecasts scaled up to global levels spatially and to time periods well beyond any possibility of accurate computation. Once again see

    Climate science is in the first instance an historical science. Readers would do well to read Vol1
    of The Geological Time Scale Gradstein et al Eds Elsevier to gain some understanding of the methods of this Historical Science. Do not doubt that this is a hard science in that billions of dollars are spent every year to test the accuracy of its predictions in the oil and mining industry.
    For a forecast of the possible coming cooling based on the 60 and 1000 year quasi periodicity in the temperature data and using the Neutron count and 10Be record as a proxy for solar activity see
    http://climatesense-norpag.blogspot.com.
    This type of prediction is in reality “harder” than anything produced by the IPCC modelers which depend on a myriad of subjective speculative assumptions concerning the variables involved.

  108. cd says:

    Steven

    I found your essay interesting, and while I agree with a lot of it some of it seemed steeped in irony.

    You highlight the failings of psychology while trumpeting the relationship between IQ and genetics. IQ is itself a construct founded in the social sciences. You also ignore the link between IQ and diet which would highlight the importance of environment. One could accuse you of the same thing you accuse others of. I may be wrong, but I thought that they now realise that IQ tests are just an elaborate way of measuring how good someone’s short-term memory is; which is essential to most cognitive tasks.

    On the general point of soft vs hard sciences, I’d agree that hard sciences are useful and have proven to be so while soft sciences tend not to be. I think the demarcation between hard/soft is linked more precisely to the aptness of “reductionism” as a method in each discipline. For example, physics and physical chemistry are purely reductionist in that most processes can be modelled using reliable mathematical models; while secondary sciences such as biology and geology have a spectrum of reductionism (ranging from pure to less pure – less pure being by semi-quantitative means). From these then testable, repeatable predictions can be made. The soft-sciences deal largely with people. People are primarily emotional rather than rational therefore it is very hard to repeat the same experiment, even with the same group of people and get the same result. Economics is different to most social sciences in that reductionism is apt in some areas such as relationships of supply and demand and profit; however most economic modelling is just complete nonsense.

    As for softness slipping into all areas of science. Yes it is happening and via the growth of environmental components in nearly every science courses. Most worryingly in biology, geology and chemistry.

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