Social Sciences are not Falsifiable

There is another, equally important, lesson to be learned from the op-ed and reactions to it. The contradictory statements above are a manifestation of the “it-is-too-complicated” syndrome, which is a symptom of the social sciences. “It-is-too-complicated” prohibits any firm conclusion of any detailed study in social sciences because, say social scientists, the object of study is too complex to allow “simple” conclusions. Neither the claimer nor the refuter can convince the other of the validity of their reasoning, and contradictory statements live on side by side. “It-is-too-complicated” does not exist in physics, chemistry, and (molecular) biology. Not in the sense that statements (theories) come “easy” in those fields, but in the sense that conclusions can be easily made about statements because quantitative experimentation and observation can either verify or nullify them. In other words, physical, chemical, and (molecular) biological statements are falsifiable, and this falsifiability is one of the most important characteristics of science. The disagreements sampled above is indicative of the non-falsifiability of social scientific statements.

With so many unresolved disagreements in the field of psychology, is it feasible to call it “science,” as psychologists want to?

When the public is so scientifically illiterate as to think that quantum healing, conscious universe, Tao of physics, quantum psychics (that’s “psychics” not physics!), Yoga of time travel, etc., are all legitimate sciences, wouldn’t it add to the public’s confusion and illiteracy if psychology, with all its contradictory ideas, is identified as science?

Wouldn’t the public be served better if we accept and publicize the fact that, despite its enormous usefulness, psychology is not a science?  … just as sociology, medicine, and technology are not sciences, despite their indispensable utility?

3 thoughts on “Social Sciences are not Falsifiable”

  1. It is funny that the people who complain the most about discrimination against women in –let’s call it- hard sciences are people in “social” sciences or the media. They don’t understand science and always find ways to criticise it “There are fewer females in hard science therefore scientist are misogynist patriarchs who want to keep women out!”
    On my research area, biomedicine, the number of male and female researchers, of my own age, is pretty much the same. I teach MSc students, and some cohorts of students are 90% female. There are also many female professors and lecturers. True, there are more male big professors. But big professors tend to be over 50 (more like 60 actually) and graduated 25 years ago, when probably students were 90% male and females of my own ages stayed at home. That is -I think- the main reason there are more mal big wigs right now, but it will change.

    1. Ariel, It is always inspiring to read your frank and honest comments.

      I believe that underrepresentation is especially acute in America, and it is not restricted to women. My field, physics, is dominated by foreigners, Jewish-Americans, and Asian-Americans. So, not just women, but non-Jewish, non-Asian Americans are underrepresented in physics. That is probably because most American high school teachers of math and physics are totally incompetent. A typical student is ill prepared for college physics and math, despite the fact that (s)he has a grade of A or B in the two subjects.

  2. I have the perfect short test to measure the mathematical sophistication of a high school math teacher. It involves nothing more than high school trig.

    A unit sphere has a radius of one. Center the sphere on the origin of the xyz- Cartesian coordinates. Now consider only the top half of the sphere. Draw a line segment from the North Pole to the xy-plane. What are the (x,y) coordinates of where this line segment “hits” the xy-plane?

    Does the solution to this problem involve memorizing something? Answer: Not really. Does the solution to this problem involve creativity? Answer: not really in the way creativity is understood by the lay public.

    By the way: this is a canonical problem relevant to at least two areas of “higher math.” In other words, this is not a trivial problem.

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