Is Psychology and social science really a science?

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  • #26
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Here, maybe this will help a little. "What is the definition of science?" Answer that and you'll quickly answer your question too.
 
  • #27
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Here, maybe this will help a little. "What is the definition of science?" Answer that and you'll quickly answer your question too.

One way to define science is by defining what it's not. One thing it is not is what you're trying to do here, i.e. creating a definitional identity and then establishing whether something "fits" that identity or not. Science is primarily done by rigorous critical and empirical questioning of established knowledge. Science is the opposite of dogma. Scientific knowledge can become dogmatic, which is what creates much of the confusion about what is and isn't science. Few people can seem to understand that good scientific knowledge can become religious dogma when it becomes the object of worship and anti-critique. The law of gravity may be air-tight, but the moment people start persecuting others for daring to question it or subject it to empirical testing, it's no longer science but defensive religion.
 
  • #28
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Well, the whole area of psychology is to broadly defined for one to actually being able to say something general about in what extent people adhere to the scientific method within it.

I've read psychology for quite some time now, however, I would say that my area (cognitive psychology/neuropsychology) is very different from more therapeutic research within the field, and I would say that it's in the latter that most of the pseudoscience is going on.

I mean, even though one can ask whether the constructs being made to measure something in many studies are meaningful (it's easier to know what is relevant when it comes to for example physics, and the building of a rocket that should be able to go into space), once you've defined your concepts, I would say that most research is very much scientific within the field of psychology (at least within the part of it I'm familiar with, that is).
 
  • #29
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If you come from the arrogant perspective of some physicists, which proclaim that physics is the ONLY science, the rest is stamp collecting, then social sciences and psychology isn't a science. Yet, I don't think that that arrogant position is justified, and our scientific methods in such fields have increased dramatically. Our psychology can now be tested directly under an MRI-scanner, we might indeed at some time directly "read" our minds and psychological structure, so it will become more and more an exact science.
 
  • #30
unmovedmover
Don't forget theoretical physics can get very speculative too..
 
  • #31
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Don't forget theoretical physics can get very speculative too..

The only kind of "science" that isn't speculative is science whose history has been documented and validated according to academic authorities. The actual practice of scientific thought and experimentation is always speculative in some manner, even if it is just repeating a known procedure to verify results. Beyond that, some modification of experimental designs and/or theoretical parameters is the basis of progress. Nevertheless, the academic model of "learning existing knowledge" reframes science as its history so that students can study approaches and models that have had successful results. This is somewhat confounding, imo, in that students come to see good science as a final product instead of a critical process. The point isn't whether thought is speculative or not, it is the critical rigor in the speculation that matters. Speculating that the universe might have been created by unicorns because you think it's a neat idea isn't a rigorous thought experiment. Speculating that particles or light behave a certain way in order to flesh out the implications to compare them with known observations is more scientific.

The same kinds of rigor can be applied in social science thought. Social science will never deliver perfect law-like predictions because of human creativity and free will, but that is not really the point of science. If anything, the point of science is to establish when and how something behaves deterministically and when it doesn't. Then, science goes on to theorize and test explanations and predictions in a way that attempts to produce ever better models of the phenomena in question. If physicists think social science is soft because humans don't behave as deterministically as atoms, then they are really just shirking the scientific project of dealing with this fundamental aspect of human behavior and rigorously pursuing models that work better than mechanical determinism - which social science has been working on in rigorous ways for quite a while now.
 
  • #32
unmovedmover
The only kind of "science" that isn't speculative is science whose history has been documented and validated according to academic authorities. The actual practice of scientific thought and experimentation is always speculative in some manner, even if it is just repeating a known procedure to verify results. Beyond that, some modification of experimental designs and/or theoretical parameters is the basis of progress. Nevertheless, the academic model of "learning existing knowledge" reframes science as its history so that students can study approaches and models that have had successful results. This is somewhat confounding, imo, in that students come to see good science as a final product instead of a critical process. The point isn't whether thought is speculative or not, it is the critical rigor in the speculation that matters. Speculating that the universe might have been created by unicorns because you think it's a neat idea isn't a rigorous thought experiment. Speculating that particles or light behave a certain way in order to flesh out the implications to compare them with known observations is more scientific.

The same kinds of rigor can be applied in social science thought. Social science will never deliver perfect law-like predictions because of human creativity and free will, but that is not really the point of science. If anything, the point of science is to establish when and how something behaves deterministically and when it doesn't. Then, science goes on to theorize and test explanations and predictions in a way that attempts to produce ever better models of the phenomena in question. If physicists think social science is soft because humans don't behave as deterministically as atoms, then they are really just shirking the scientific project of dealing with this fundamental aspect of human behavior and rigorously pursuing models that work better than mechanical determinism - which social science has been working on in rigorous ways for quite a while now.


I totally agree. Speculation is really how we got where we are today. I did not mean speculation in a sense similar to speculation in the financial market. I meant in a philosophical sense. That is, PURE REASONING. Which I think is what you meant by speculation too right? As to theories that have not been "validated", they are still science as long as they have falsifiability. There are no right number of positive outcomes that can affirm the proposition, but one negative outcome can be enough to raise doubts on the proposition. I definitely agree that social sciences are legit sciences.
 
  • #33
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I totally agree. Speculation is really how we got where we are today. I did not mean speculation in a sense similar to speculation in the financial market. I meant in a philosophical sense. That is, PURE REASONING. Which I think is what you meant by speculation too right? As to theories that have not been "validated", they are still science as long as they have falsifiability. There are no right number of positive outcomes that can affirm the proposition, but one negative outcome can be enough to raise doubts on the proposition. I definitely agree that social sciences are legit sciences.

I disagree that falsifiability automatically validates any theory. Sometimes falsifiable theories are flawed in their premises and operational definitions, etc. in such a way that they present themselves as falsifiable on the basis of poor assumptions. In statistical social science, for example, it is common to make a subjective assumption that all individuals assigned to a particular population will be homogenous outside of the variables that differentiate them. So, for example, statistical research that generates a certain probably for a disease, say lung cancer, as it correlates with a variable like smoking is assuming that rates for all can be transparently distributed to each in terms of a probability of occurrence. For one thing, this is not falsifiable at the individual level, because no individual was ever claimed to be predicted by the population model overall - but because the population as a whole is taken as the research object, falsifiable propositions can be made at that level without any concern about the interface between dynamics/mechanics at the population level and those at the individual or interactive levels. What makes matters worse is that measurement actually precedes theorizing in some types of research, so non-falsifiability at the methodological level gets completely ignored in favor of focussing on the research at the meta-data level. Imo, the use of statistics and macro-scale approaches generally in social science has prevented it from ever theorizing at an empirically concise level, and the problem is only exacerbated by the fact that every attempt to rigorously theorize at the level of individual-interactions is usually criticized as being qualitative instead of quantitative.

So sociologists cling to statistics to gain mathematical credibility, when the type of modeling needed to measure social life at this level actually obfuscates the interactional dynamics at the empirical level. It's not a question of falsifiability yet at that point. It's just a question of establishing the empirical rigor of the data and how it is framed and analyzed.
 
  • #34
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Yes, these both are sciences, but a different kind of science (hence the name "Social" science). We have natural science.. and then social science.. When you're dealing with the social, it's a whole different ball game. Social sciences are highly theoretical fields; they have many theories that can be somewhat proven, but can also be falsified by other theories. Take for example functionalism and conflict theory in sociology.. it is true that society is functional, because x contributes to y, and y contributes to z, and if it wasn't for z, then a couldn't perform its function... but it also conflicts; the higher social classes are more dominant over the lower social classes and whatnot.. Chaos theory has also developed significantly over the last century as well... and many studies into chaos in the social sciences have been done.. This is a good example.. Meteorology.. can we REALLY predict the weather?? Last week the weatherman said it's supposed to rain, but now he's changed it and said we're going to get snow.. this phenomenon is chaos.. so, similarly, the social sciences are full of chaos.. Can we predict economic cycles?? Can we predict what next year's trend will be?? I believe that's why the social sciences exist.. because the natural sciences, for some people, just aren't enough.. it's not as theoretical and interesting as people is.. doesn't everybody want to know why people behave as they do?? The natural sciences have been around for centuries, but the social sciences have only been around for a couple hundred years.. it took medicine a couple thousand years to get to where it is now.. same goes for social sciences.. we're just in our infancy.
 
  • #35
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Maybe it's just me, but it seems that more often than not people in the fields of psychology and social sciences will abuse the scientific method in order to justify their own inane BS. Am I right or wrong? Please explain, thanks.

if all the rulers are subjective then how can anything be measured by them? (the rulers in psychology would be people basically).
 
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