Sunday, March 3, 2013

Regarding the so called "soft" sciences

Sometimes, sciences such as sociology, psychology and the humanities are dismissed as somehow being "soft". Especially by those who think of themselves as coming from the "hard" sciences, with physics as the crown achievement of everything.

Allow me to bitch-slap this stupid notion out of your silly little head.

There is nothing soft about the so called soft sciences. When things go wrong in them, people die. And they die in so brutally fucked up ways that not even the most hyped of death rays can even come close in comparison.

When policy reform fails due to an inability to understand the reality of the social situation, tragic ensues. In minor cases, people get away with a higher than intended tax rate. In severe cases, bloody revolutions occur.

When systems of distribution are smashed to pieces because of misguided ideological notions, people die. Literally. With starvation not being the prime example.

When social pathologies are institutionalized and reified into the very physical fabric of the world we live in, people die. Not least when it turns out that these very same pathologies are prone to abusing state violence to stay institutionalized.

If you get the soft sciences wrong, you end up with a lot of dead people. And a situation that will keep generating dead people until either everyone is dead, or someone understands the political, social and psychological situation well enough to kick it where it matters.

So if you are one of those who drone on endlessly about the softness of the soft sciences - please do return to your (real or imaginary) lab and keep pretending that your hard-on is relevant to anyone other than yourself.

I can't imagine it being as hard as you make it out to be.


  1. I don't think any reasonable person would say that the soft sciences are not dealing with important matters, but then again I'm not quite sure what you mean by "soft" and "softness" in your text.

    If you mean soft as in opposite to hard as in difficult, I'd say it's been pretty well established that that's a very bad description. Heck, every time I've heard about some "hard-scientist" giving soft science a go, it's the same story. Worst case scenario, they yell "Why is this so hard!?" and give up. Best case is pretty much the same thing, although they are a bit more literate about it.


    1. There's plenty of people who considers themselves reasonable that can say (with the straightest of faces) that sociology is just a load of bunk, and that the only thing that matters are the "real" sciences. Mainly physics, that bastion of applied knowledge.

      There is an interesting subsection of these people, that maintain that all soft/social sciences are bunk, except economy, which somehow is elevated to near truthhood. I can't say I understand why, or how, but they do tend to be pretty vocal about it once they get going.

  2. I usually don't use those words, but I think of the scinences as two groups: the ones where every question has exactly one answer which can be calculated correctly with a formula. And the ones where there are many possible answers and it is much harder to convey which is the correct one or if there even is one. I find what you call soft in the text above way too hard and prefer not to touch them.

    That being said, if you get physics wrong (and it sometimes happens) people die too. If you get the cable dimensions on an elevator wrong people can plummit to their deaths. If you do not anticipate airplanes hitting a skyscraper and do not get the support dimensioned for that (would probably look ridiculous), the building will collapse in such an event. And so on.