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Monday, November 21, 2005

P-sych v Soshe: science schmience

Here's a slightly edited question I recieved in email (edited to remove identifiers, a little content):

I had a guy who's a sociology major tell me... that sociology, unlike psych, is a real science. I'm willing to concede the fact that psych is a bit of a soft science at best but I am not really willing to admit the opposite for sociology... what [do] you think[?]

Thanks for asking.


Since sociology does deal with larger trends, it does have the potential for being more science-like.

Unfortunately, that requires, at the very least, real math and the knowledge and ability to structure falsifiable hypotheses, the ability to test (using real numbers and statistics with a full understanding of the underlying calculus) those hypotheses. (I doubt I could do the calculus to check statistical models myself, any more. Too much water under the bridge. :-) The stat courses sociology and psychology students take do not generally require such understanding-even at the graduate level-since most soche and p-sych research is "cookbook science" designed to obtain a predetermined outcome.

Note: I did NOT say "all" sociology and psychology research, 'K?

So "real science"? No, in fact, since it usually deals in generalizations from large numbers absent the rigors of real science, it's usually more voodoo than p-sych is.

Usually. Though you recall I did say because of the large numbers/trends it supposedly deals with, it has the potential for being more scientific than p-sych, which must by its nature generalize from smaller sample sets, that is, individuals, even though it attempts to use large groups of these smaller samples.

(Unless of course the sample sets include a LOT of multiple personalities heh)

The problem is largely in preconcieved bias being superimposed on sociological "experiments" without the open and clearly stated fact that almost NO sociological (or psychological) experiment is truly falsifiable in the scientific sense-that is, stated in a hypothesis that is capable of being PROVEN wrong if the data does not support it, AND still manages to describe a significant process. Or even something that exists at all, except in the biases of the observer.

So really, "science" applied to p-sych or soshe is more of a description of attempting to approximate applying scientific research principles, not actually a description of real science.

But that does not mean that either is an invalid discipline. Scientific knowledge and exploration is only one type of knowledge/exploration. The fact that p-sych and soshe attempt to appropriate the name "science" to their disciplines says more about either the lack of knowledge of people in those disiplines OR their low self-esteem (or both) than it does about what they learn. As an example in another field of appropriation of the label and terms of scientific inquiry, Creationist wackos have attempted to appropriate the label "Intelligent Design" and hijack its terms in much the same way, but that doesn't make the Creationism=Intelligent Design equation true, either. (Nor, for that matter, does Neodarwinist whines, shouts and table-thumping about their version of evolution being fact have anything whatever to do with science... )

Pretty much ditto with climate shift research, though there, the problem is in too much data available to sample and not enough of it being actually sampled, then what little is gathered filtered through a predeterministic political agenda.

Kinda like with most sociology.

But I digress... ;-)

The value of what little real approximations of scientific research done in the names of psychology and sociology lie in the ability of observant and discerning individuals to appropriate the research that is validated by their real world experience and treat the rest simply as interesting intellectual exercises. Often intellectual exercises in discerning the biases and preconceptual biases of the "researchers" is a lot more fun (and revealing) than the p-sych or soshe "research" itself, where the research doesn't really have any darned thing in the world to do with the real world.

(See much of DSM-IV for examples of "scientific" classification of mental states/behaviors. Compare with past DSMs. It's becoming more and more stratified... and more and more voodoo-ish.)

But that's my opinion. What about you?

Linked at Don Surber, Committees of Correspondence, Lunch at Basil's (Dessert :-)