Soft Science vs Hard Science

Monday, July 10, 2006
This topic comes up in the comments here pretty often. Here is a nice little rant from Luboš.
Recently, the soft side has been vigorously attacking the hard side and the hard side does not seem to be defending itself anymore. The extremely soft segments forced Lawrence Summers, an eminent economist and an extraordinary university leader, to resign. There are many episodes behind the Summers controversy. However, the main lasting consequence of this story for the big picture is clear: the resignation was a significant victory of the soft side in the culture wars.
...
Soft sciences make students memorize a certain amount of material and insights that are not related with each other, and if they are, the relations are comprehensible to most ordinary people. This lack of unifying structure is often compensated by artificially invented principles which usually means a political ideology. The right ideology is chosen according to the ability of their proponents to convince others, according to their face, vocabulary, friends, political allies, and according to the people whom they eat with and sleep with. What matters is whether you belong to a group that is being liked by others or viewed as a politically correct group. Depending on the mood in the society, being a Jew or a woman can be a tremendous advantage or a tremendous disadvantage. Social sciences sensitively depend on the political twists in the society and they magnify their effects which is why they are also controlled by groupthink most of the time.
...
The rest is can be found at Culture wars: hard vs. soft sciences

5 comments:

Rick Ballard said...

Thanks for the pointer, Chuck. Motl would probably agree with what Hayek wrote sbout the subject in 1952. In 1995, Reason carried this review by Robert Storey which incorporated the following Hayek quote:

"The scientistic [view]," wrote Hayek in The Counter-Revolution of Science, "as distinguished from the scientific view is not an unprejudiced but a very prejudiced approach which, before it has considered
its subject, claims to know what is the most appropriate way of investigating it."

It would seem that little change is occuring in those most enlightened institutions of higher indoctrination.

David Thomson said...

“The extremely soft segments forced Lawrence Summers, an eminent economist and an extraordinary university leader, to resign. There are many episodes behind the Summers controversy. However, the main lasting consequence of this story for the big picture is clear: the resignation was a significant victory of the soft side in the culture wars.”

Lawrence Summers was always somewhat wimpy. What else would one expect from a Clinton Democrat? His mealy mouth handling of “esteemed black scholar” Cornel West was downright embarrassing. Harvard University is dominated by the politically correct zeitgeist. This sad situation is worsened by the cowardliness of Harvard’s faculty and student body. They “don’t want any trouble.” Gosh, a single unfriendly email might ruin their whole day. On top of that, the graduates primarily want to find a good paying job. In back of their mind, getting involved in “campus politics” could prove detrimental.

chuck said...

This sad situation is worsened by the cowardliness of Harvard’s faculty and student body.

Let's condemn in detail, not broadly. Summers was popular with the students, even as the students were not popular with some of the left leaning faculty. Remember that many of the current academic achievers are the ambitious children of working class immigrants and that many of them challenged the opinions of the entrenched faculty, who recipricated by feeling that the students represented a coarsening of academia. Heh, ISTR that Henry Adams said similar things about Harvard students in his autobiography, where he lamented the passing of the sensitive New England patrician class from the scene.

That aside, many of the graduate faculties supported Summers. I agree that Summers folded too easily, but I suspect that fight at Harvard is far from over. They are still looking for a new president and it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

Rick Ballard said...

Chuck,

It would really be a kick if Motl were on the selection committee. I liked his take on the science behind the Gore movie too.

Morgan said...

Summers's comments drew on controversial soft-science research. As you would expect, there is no more strident opposition to soft science apostacy than within the soft sciences themselves.