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Are social Sciences useful?

  1. Jan 28, 2014 #1
    Are social "Sciences" useful?

    Now I myself don't consider "social sciences" as a type of science... but do you think it's useful or not? I don't think it's as useful as say: nature science or computer science.
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  3. Jan 28, 2014 #2


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    IMO, social sciences are tools. Whether a tool is useful or not depends on what you're trying to fix. If the problem you're trying to fix needs a tool in the social science toolbox, then yes social sciences are extremely useful.
  4. Jan 28, 2014 #3


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    Good answer.
  5. Jan 28, 2014 #4
    Sometimes though, there are no problems and only sculptures to sculpt (ok, well unearth...)
    And don't tell me that there even needs to be an utility for things like:
  6. Jan 29, 2014 #5


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    Wiki again

    lists the following as being social sciences:
    Environmental Studies
    Area studies
    Business studies
    Communication studies
    Development studies
    Industrial relations
    Information science
    Library science
    Media studies
    Political science
    Public administration
    Social work

    I am not sure if you are asking if it is useful in calling them "social sciences" or if "social sciences" are useful.
    In any case, regardless of the term used, from the list, I would say they do have a profound impact, some of them directly, upon your life.
  7. Jan 29, 2014 #6
    Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.

    -- Pablo Picasso
  8. Jan 30, 2014 #7


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    It's interesting that history is included as a social science, as I would personally consider history to be part of the humanities. And "area studies" (e.g. East Asian studies, Latin American studies, etc.), depending on the nature of the program, can encompass both the social sciences (with a focus on research in political science, economics, anthropology, law, sociology, geography, etc.) and the humanities (with a focus on the language, literature, and arts of the given area of focus).

    As far as the OP is concerned, the very question is non-sensical. What makes any particular field of study "useful"? Are we to imply that if one cannot directly apply the knowledge gleaned from the field, then the field is not "useful"?

    Perhaps this is expressing my bias, but the pursuit of knowledge in of itself is valuable and thus "useful", whether that be in the humanities, social sciences, physical sciences, biological sciences, or mathematical sciences.
  9. Feb 11, 2014 #8
    You might have a point in arguing over the usage of the word science. But asking if social sciences are useful is like asking if statistics is useful.
  10. Feb 11, 2014 #9
    The question might make sense if the OP had just learned that, for example, evolutionary theory is chock-full of just-so stories and racist junk science. Perhaps s/he was suddenly filled with doubt about the credibility of ANY discipline that attempts to analyze society and its many thingings.

    OP, were you asking something more like "in social sciences, is it possible for the truth to rise to the surface when it's so incredibly easy to assume your conclusion then work backward and contort datasets to fit whatever you like since human psychology and thus society is so complex that it resists complete analysis?"? I would say probably, but it's bleak, but we should try anyway!
  11. Feb 24, 2014 #10
    This line of thought is merely affirming the consequent.
  12. Feb 25, 2014 #11


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    As long as money comes streaming in, "social sciences" is a useful structure for feeding people within that profession.
  13. Feb 25, 2014 #12


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    No. And because my answer is too short, I need to write this message, I also don't think that business school is useful, but they may call me radical.
  14. Mar 1, 2014 #13
    I don't get it. Creating a workable welfare program is literally impossible without sociology, which I assume has to be a social science, given the name an' all. Welfare helps prevent poor people from starving, which is a Good Thing. Which social sciences do you have beef with, exactly?

    Economics is useful. Business school is not.
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2014
  15. Mar 1, 2014 #14


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    Of course social sciences are useful. At the very least, there is a lot of useful stamp collecting going on in the social sciences. Data that we can analyze to see what programs and policies are most effective (or ineffective as it may be). And from there, we can make predictions about a culture (or demograph's) nature:

    incentive X tend to lead to outcome Y

    Then when several different cultures have collected such data, we can see how often X and Y are similar across cultures. And then we can look at biologists and anthropologist data on primates and other mammals and see how X and Y vary as you become more genetically disparate from humans. Then we can look to evolutionary neuroscience and see if structures in the brain associated with the X/Y behaviors have homologies that compare well to the varying X and Y across species and posit some behavior as an evolved adaptation.

    The trick now is just making the qualities X and Y quantifiable without leaving too much wiggle room.
  16. Mar 3, 2014 #15


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    I think its a question of pseudoscience vs science.
  17. Apr 18, 2014 #16
    The worst thing I ever saw in my intelectual journey was a bunch of engineers, physicists and medical practitioners trying to think about society, humanities and art... A really awfull spectacle...
    Life, I mean "we", are not a technology...
  18. Apr 18, 2014 #17
    Parts of natural sciences and computer science are completely useless too!

    Now, I don't think social sciences are sciences. But you can't deny that they are very useful. Many of these social sciences have very important applications. Where would our society be without psychologists for example?

    Sure, there are things like history too which tend to have much less practical applications. But then again, practical applications are everything! The pursuit of knowledge is the most important thing that humanity can do. We are born to pursue knowledge, even if it's just for the knowledge.

    Nowadays, there is this trend that everything must be applicable and immediately useful. If it's not, then it's immediately seen as a waste of time. I much prefer the ancient Greeks were knowledge was seen as something sacred and where the pursuit of knowledge was the most important thing one could do.
  19. Apr 18, 2014 #18


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    It is quite interesting about having this debate here, considering the assault put on by the Republican members in the US congress to severely cut funding for the social science section of the National Science Foundation.


    Certainly, there are many members of the US congress who also do not see the importance of social science research.

    There are many societal issues that face us every day, and politicians often make claims of such-and-such a thing will cause this-and-that. There are people who say that violent, explicit music will cause disruptive kids, there are people claiming that providing condoms to high school kids promote promiscuity, etc.. etc. You will notice that many of these are statements uttered by politicians and talking heads are seldom backed by any kind of valid, careful research. It is as of just simply stating these things make them true!

    Social scientists are intimately involved in these types of studies. They look at societal behavior, the changes in human interactions, and what factors are not only correlated with these changes, but also the cause-and-effect of these changes. In other words, many of these talking heads simply do not like these types of studies because they could easily falsify many of the fallacies that these people have been spewing, or at the very least, reveal the glaring fact that these claims have no solid evidence to back them.

    Many of our policies, regulations, and laws are put into place because of human behavior and the consequences of those behavior. I would think that you'd want something to be decided not just because some politician said so, or some TV personality said so.

    Or maybe you don't care about any kind of valid evidence......

  20. Apr 20, 2014 #19


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    Currently, the Republican party of the US are increasingly dominated by right-wing extremists, many of whom are also Christian fundamentalists who believe in the Bible in the absolute literal sense and reject the theory and fact of evolution. So therefore, it should not be surprising that many Republicans don't care about any kind of valid evidence.
  21. Apr 20, 2014 #20


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    We could say the same about extreme liberals and curing cancer with diet and vaccination causing autism and holistic medicine... but why do we need to make this about political ideology rather than sticking to the merits?
  22. Apr 20, 2014 #21
    Sure it is a science: you collect data and you attempt to interpret the data and/or form empirical laws based on that data e.g. Law Of Effect.

    Now to be sure the science is a soft one compared to physics as it involves studying sometimes unpredictable and, usually very often, irrational human beings.

    Is it useful? That is probably just a matter of opinion but then is abstract mathematics useful?

    And if you think that economics or psychology is not really a science then I would argue that computer science isn't either.
  23. Apr 20, 2014 #22
    There aren't a lot of those laws, are there.


  24. Apr 21, 2014 #23
    Probably a lot more than you aware of.

    Would Feynman consider computer science a science?
  25. Apr 22, 2014 #24
  26. Apr 22, 2014 #25


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    I found the NY Times op-ed piece especially interesting due to the issues they raise about how insisting that the adoption of a simplistic view of the "scientific method" (which, by the way, is not necessarily even used in the "hard" sciences) may be detrimental to social science research. As a statistician, I do agree with the authors that the analysis of empirical data can be valuable without a grand theoretical framework (although I should note that analyzing empirical data statistically does implicitly require use of a mathematical model).

    The article does raise a question, however. The authors claim that, as examples, economist Anthony Downs offered an elegant explanation for why rival political parties might adopt identical platforms, or how economist Kenneth Arrow devised the "impossibility theorem", and how neither of these explanations/theorems/theories were not empirically tested. This begs the question about how to compare or evaluate between different models to determine whether they are good or bad for the given problem at hand.

    After all, without some empirical justification (at least based on data available), how can we claim that the model accurately explain the reality of a given situation? I wish the authors had tried to address this.
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