Why sociology is not a science

I pointed out above how contradictory the “theories” proposed by Comte, Marx, and Spencer were! This contradiction persists among the “theories” even today. And the prediction is absolutely non-existent. Otherwise, sociologists would be in high demand to predict the outcome of the conflict in regions like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Middle East, and Africa.

4. Historical Continuity

The forced application of scientific methodology in “social physics”, in stark contrast to science itself, leads to a hodgepodge of disciplines: philosophy, linguistics, humanities, even morality. Historical continuity of ideas, so crucial to the development of science, is inevitably lacking in this forced application: sociology pops into existence in the nineteenth century by essentially a single person. Since the application of scientific method has not come from nature’s dictum, i.e., quantifiable observation, there are opposing viewpoints from the very beginning, which are never resolved.

5. Mathematics

There is a branch of sociology called “Mathematical Sociology,” which is another forced application of what is used in (fundamental) science. The mathematics is not any statement of a “sociological” law as it is the statement of physical laws like gravity, electricity, fluid dynamics, relativity, quantum mechanics, …

6. Communication is Sociology

While there are a multitude of journals devoted to sociology, they don’t – can’t – have the rigor of the scientific journals. The Sokal hoax is a good example of the “rigor” of journals such as Social Text, which is one of the main venues of the dissemination of sociological knowledge.

7. Lack of Controversy

I don’t have to say anything here. I just refer you to Sociological Theories to see how many contradictory ideas are afloat – and actively pursued – in sociology.

8. Sensitivity to the Removal of Statistics

If you take away statistics from sociology, there will be nothing left. Statistical sample taking and its analysis is the only “scientific” method available in sociology, just as it is the only “scientific” method available in polls, gambling, traffic patterns, insurance, marketing, etc.

9. Relation to Technology

There is not a single invention, device, gadget, gizmo, … which is based on sociology.

10. It IS “Too Complicated”

This phrase is constantly used in sociological debates, in which both sides justify their claims by admitting that the problem at hand is “too complicated” to be explained or resolved by any theory. Actually, in a typical situation there is a claimer and a refuter. The refuter reminds the claimer that sociological problems are “too complicated” to be explained. Therefore, “your claim is too simple-minded and does not take into account all the complications.”

The claim that sociology is a science has failed to satisfy any of the characteristics of science. Add to this the fact that many sociologists themselves oppose the characterization of their discipline as scientific, and you have to conclude that despite the -ology at its end, sociology is NOT a science.

23 thoughts on “Why sociology is not a science”

  1. Science is the knowledge man uses to describe, understand, predict and change his environment. The science of the natural matters adopted a logical and empirical method because its subject matter was easy to predict. the science of social matters can’t adopt such empirical method because its subject matter can’t be easily predicted.
    so we mustn’t use the natural sciences as a parameter for judging the social sciences.
    therefore sociology is a science.

    1. “empirical method” in Sociology is meaningless – judged more through subjectivity than any objective process it is a pseudo-science as it attempts a traditional empirical method.

      1. Why is it that so many are under the illusion that the basic or so-called “natural” sciences aren’t conducted by people who make decisions in the course of their data collection and analysis based on their own limitations, resources, and social and cultural contexts? This aspect of science is a universal one. Objectivity, validity, and reliability, are ideals that scientists strive for but oftentimes by ignoring the inherent subjectivity of human endeavors such as science, basic scientific practices are taken as perfected and basic scientific knowledge as dogma. Fear of complexity in a complex world is truly a hindrance to understanding.

  2. sociology has a full explanatory regard to be considered as a science because the society is discussed in different ways and some scientific methods are use they include observation,experimental and statistics

  3. Wow, what a half-baked and uninformed answer!
    Let it suffice to say that you have not actually named the three key figures in sociology. Emile Durkheim and Max Weber should have been addressed in your brief essay. And why didn’t you assess Spencer’s work, after having mysteriously named him? He did at least compile some impressive comparative datasets back in the 19th Century.

    Very disappointing level of critical assessment here.

    1. Compilation of data set, even analysis of data set, does not make science. Unless you want to call polling, marketing, and insurance business science. When social scientists cannot convince one another of the truth of what they publish, their disciplines are not falsifiable (just like pseudoscience). See Characteristic 7 in http://skepticaleducator.org/charasteristics-of-science/4/ and for a concrete example, see this http://skepticaleducator.org/science-education/academic-math-intensive-science-is-not-sexist-or-is-psychology-a-science/

  4. Oh, I see this article actually has multiple pages. No matter. The only kind of observation is of the survey type? Page 2 of the article is no better informed than page 1 had been. 🙁

  5. I love sociology and really appreciate this article! However to consider sociology is not a science makes me sad but I understand! Love the argument Dennis – keep it up!0

  6. Thanks for this essay. Because this issue is generally constructed as a debate, someone needed to produce a set of claims such as this. Indeed, the scientific status (or whether it is desirable for sociology to hold itself to the standards of the basic sciences rather than the complex social sciences) of the discipline has often been discussed by sociologists themselves. There may be some valid reasons for this controversy, but I have not read any of them on this website.
    Unfortunately, the arguments contained in this essay are rooted in a narrowly defined straw man of the field of sociology. I could be more exhaustive but I will just focus on a few key areas of misrepresentation in the evidence presented here:
    First, we could take biology, physics, or chemistry theories from the 17th and 18th century and show how they have defects and that would not reflect on the present state of the field.
    Second, Social Text is not a sociology journal but rather an interdisciplinary humanities journal that has at times published work from people in social science fields. The way you have worded this section is either deliberately misleading or poorly written as Social Text is not one of “the main venues” of communicating sociological research.
    Third, sociology employs an extremely wide range of data and methods much like other scientific fields and the appropriateness of these methods is based on the specific question that a researcher is attempting to answer. You have only mentioned one and have demonstrated a shallow understanding of the sociological use of statistics. Moreover, there is a wide body of literature wherein sociologists work through how to create more objective and unbiased forms of observation and analysis which has lead to significant progress.
    I’m happy to engage further if the author or any commenters wants to respond. I have other critiques but will reserve them for a later date.

    1. “First, we could take biology, physics, or chemistry theories from the 17th and 18th century and show how they have defects and that would not reflect on the present state of the field.” Those “defects” were essential for the later development of the field. One of the main characteristics of science is Historical Continuity (which social “sciences” lack). Please see Characteristic 4 of http://skepticaleducator.org/charasteristics-of-science/

      “Second, Social Text is not a sociology journal but rather an interdisciplinary humanities journal that has at times published work from people in social science fields.” So, social scientists do publish in this journal. You can eliminate reference to Social Text from my article. That would not change anything, because the more important point is that there are different schools of social sciences with their own journals and different schools oppose each other. Please see Characteristic 7 of http://skepticaleducator.org/charasteristics-of-science/

      “Third, sociology employs an extremely wide range of data and methods much like other scientific fields and the appropriateness of these methods is based on the specific question that a researcher is attempting to answer. ” Pollsters, marketing agencies, insurance companies also “employ an extremely wide range of data.” This does not mean that they are sciences. If by “scientific method” you mean statistical analysis, then please see Characteristic 8 of http://skepticaleducator.org/charasteristics-of-science/

  7. There are some major mistakes in this post.
    Firstly, as mentioned by some of the other commentators Emile Durkheim and Max Weber are of marvellous significance if you’re going to mention the important names in Sociology. And I can confidently say after studying sociology for four years that these two are far more essential than Herbert Spencer.
    When it comes to your paragraph on Marxist Sociology, besides the minor confusion with name since marxian is not really used in Sociology, MARXISTS ARE NOT ANTI-POSITIVIST. They are among the positivist groups in Sociology including functionalists, feminists and marxists who argue that sociology should be treated like a positive science. Meaning, sociologists should favour quantitative data over qualitative data, use replicable research methods to ensure reliability and be as objective as possible.
    It is absolutely shocking that a post assessing the scientific credentials of sociology got that so wrong.
    And finally If you included Max Weber you’d see that this is the group who are anti-positivist. Action theory and Interactionist/Weberian sociologist argue that the principles of “verstehen” should be applied to sociological research, which means understanding in German. Basically these people say sociology is not a science and shouldn’t be one if a sociologist is to fully understand the society which is created on a daily basis by interaction. Consequently, they use qualitative data which is very difficult to make reliable or replicate at all. Since they pick up participant observation techniques, they are not and they don’t claim to be objective or scientific.
    Overall, Weberian sociology is not a science and Positivist sociology claims to be science yet their scientific credentials can be questioned. Personally, I think positivist sociology is a science depending on the quality of research conducted but why wouldn’t an objective researcher using replicable methods be regarded as scientific? No different than a chemist.

    Also, this seems quite wrong to say when there are still communist countries in the world, “The history of communism from its inception in 1917 to its total collapse today, is a testimony to the failure of Marxian sociology”. Even if there wasn’t any, this wouldn’t indicate the failure of Marxist Sociology with the presence of left wing, merely based on Marxist Ideology. And there’s no need to see a living legacy of any ideology to evaluate their logic.

    1. Regardless of the labels “positivist,” “anti-positivist,” — or any other label that social scientist are fond of — or people associated with those labels, the main criterion of science is falsifiability. If it ain’t falsifiable, it ain’t science! Sociology is NOT falsifiable (see the short 7th characteristic of science here http://skepticaleducator.org/charasteristics-of-science/4/ and the link in it that demonstrates clearly why social sciences in general are not falsifiable).

  8. Phrenology is not a science. It may have some of the trappings of it, but the basic idea (“the lumps on your skull will reveal some details of you”) is utter nonsense.

    Likewise, SOCIOLOGY IS NOT A SCIENCE. The basic idea is the study of groups of humans. This is flawed from the git-go, because humans are individuals and do not always act or think as predicted according to which group they belong to. For example, one cannot talk about the mindset of the good people of New York because it is a very diverse group. You many find some common pronunciations, but political affiliation is not 100% predictable. You can make sweeping statements and stereotypes, but they are only true as far as statistics. Science needs laws: 100% predictability.

    Sociology is the study of groups of people. Flawed premise.
    Psychology is the study of people. Missing something.
    Anthropology is a SCIENCE. It studies the individual as being an animal; a product of evolution.

    1. Anthropology uses biology, chemistry, and physics to study ancient humans. Like all sciences, it is part of the web of science. Sociology and psychology (as opposed to neurology) use none of the three main sciences. They are NOT part of the web.

  9. This discussion of whether or not sociology is a “science” is a meaningless “word game.” Give me your definition of “science” and I will then tell you whether or not sociology (including economics) is a science.

    The most narrow definition of a “science” is some discipline in which experiments can be run to falsify a “theory.” This is the definition offered by Karl Popper.

    But then we have the epistemological question of whether the only knowledge we can have is that derivable from falsifiable propositions.

    Two examples:

    The mainstay of undergraduate physics is the equation “force = mass x acceleration.” The joke is that everything can be derived from this. But of course this has been proven false and yet it is extremely useful for those of us calculating things at classical speeds and classical sizes.

    Sociology/economics certainly has its natural experiments. The effects of a government printing money to pay all its bills are fairly predictable. In the 20th century we have had several such natural experiments of hyper-inflation.

    More generally, rational people act predictably to monetary rewards. We can certainly run experiments where one group of employees is paid more than others — and then measure how their performance differs.

    Certainly sociology is mathematical with its chief tool being regression analysis. But in the sociological realm we have to be very careful with using a historical statistical regularity to predict the future. This is because the “data generating” system is not stable/stationary in contra- distinction to flipping coins. See David Hume, Karl Popper, and Nassim Taleb of “Black Swan” fame. Furthermore the Lucas Critique posits that a statistical regularity in the economic realm cannot be exploited for long.

    The flipping of coins is the binomial distribution and in the limit the “normal/Gaussian” distribution. I use the word “is” not the phrase “analogous to.” The past can predict the future if one’s data generating system is as stationary as that of flipping coins, drawing cards from a deck, or removing colored balls from urns in the manner of the French.

    In summary — whether or not sociology is a science is a mere word game dependent on how we define the term “science.”

    The profound question is whether we can have knowledge and predictability by means in addition to that of falsifiable proposition in the sense of Karl Popper?

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