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Author Topic: Hard and Soft Sciences Discussion  (Read 3034 times)

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Offline SureTopic starter

Hard and Soft Sciences Discussion
« on: July 20, 2010, 08:42:28 PM »
The official thread!

Comments, cheerleading, side debates, and love letters go here.

The Dialogue/Debate
« Last Edit: July 20, 2010, 08:43:31 PM by Sure »

Offline Trieste

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Re: Hard and Soft Sciences Discussion
« Reply #1 on: July 21, 2010, 09:43:04 AM »
Should have a reply up this afternoon. I keep having to resist the temptation to pull out my laptop in Calc class and finish it up. I keep getting interrupted! *fistshake*

Offline Pumpkin Seeds

Re: Hard and Soft Sciences Discussion
« Reply #2 on: July 21, 2010, 02:23:47 PM »
What about economics?

Offline DarklingAlice

Re: Hard and Soft Sciences Discussion
« Reply #3 on: July 21, 2010, 02:24:21 PM »
Reading the two posts up currently, I think it would behoove the two of y'all to clearly state a definition of science. Currently, Sure seems to be working from an abstract belief of advancing knowledge, while Trieste seems to maintain a more classical definition based on the employment of the scientific method. Proceeding without common definitions will most likely cause confusion later on and may cause purely semantic disagreements that will hobble the discussion.

Offline SureTopic starter

Re: Hard and Soft Sciences Discussion
« Reply #4 on: July 22, 2010, 08:40:30 PM »
Trieste might disagree, but I tend to think of Economics as soft.

The subject of our definition of science might be a side discussion, but I don't think we'll let it hobble debate. All the same, again, I'll wait for Trieste's response.

Offline Jude

Re: Hard and Soft Sciences Discussion
« Reply #5 on: July 22, 2010, 11:38:36 PM »
Quote from: Trieste
I would venture to say that the soft sciences deal more with relatives, while hard sciences deal more with absolutes. The temperature of absolute zero IS 0 Kelvin. The rate of reactions, how much heat they produce, even the amount of energy required to overcome entropy and kick off a reaction - these are all quantifiable, measurable, definitive save for perhaps a little room for instrument or operator error. They are thus because past scientists have worked through the scientific method and placed values as accurately as possible on those things. In contrast, a lot of research has been done for soft sciences, but they deal more with "Is Jan feeling more stressed by this pressure than Jim?" and similar questions. It isn't that they are not valid, but the answers are not pursued in a scientific manner.
This is a very interesting astute observation.

Social sciences tend to study the "average" individual; so with psychology per se you're really determining facts (which are unquestionably solid given a large enough sample size) about how the behavior, beliefs, and attitudes of that average individual.  The probabilistic and inductive side of things is on the application of the information found; it's impossible to be sure that the data you've gathered is actually a reflection of any one individual.

Whereas the hard sciences are the complete opposite:  the statistical side of things is in the verification of the ideas (with the notable exception of some things in Quantum Mechanics).  As more data is collected, the confidence we have in the laws derived rise and eventually reach a nearly airtight level of confirmation.  That isn't to say that nearly airtight ideas don't sometimes turn out to be only part of the picture or incorrect (Newtonian Mechanics for example), but this is not expected to occur and rarely does with heavily confirmed ideas, unlike in the sphere of social sciences where anomalies are anticipated.

In short, hard sciences are better at being deterministic in their prediction of outcomes on an individual basis and social sciences are better at finding information which is reflexive on a population but difficult to imply on an individual level.

It also goes without saying that social sciences are relative; they discover truths which may only apply to a particular setting (cultural, societal, et cetera) where hard science attempts to uncover information which really gives a glimpse at the nature of reality in many ways.

Offline Pumpkin Seeds

Re: Hard and Soft Sciences Discussion
« Reply #6 on: July 23, 2010, 12:44:30 AM »
The problem I see with that observation is to assume that this is intrinsic to the soft sciences described.  Soft sciences do not by their nature study the relative, but have to from necessity.  The subject material that these sciences handle cannot be subjected to removal of variables.  For the hard sciences there is the ability to remove variables, to establish and test the variable desired.  Cause and effect can be measured time and time again as the conditions are replicated for each step.  Bacteria can be custom grown in a laboratory in order to be sent to scientists for their experiments, elements can be packaged in vials to be used for testing and so on.  A human being cannot be custom grown to include certain cultural aspects or to have others removed. 

A demonstration of how even the hard sciences face difficulty in their absolute certainty when presented with a subject that cannot readily be recreated.  Medicine makes uses of biological science, a hard science, and is tested extensively.  Each pharmaceutical produced faced rigorous standards and experimentation to reproduce the desired effect.  Yet any novice in science can open a Drug Guide to take note of the side effects and possible interactions.  Despite the rigorous testing, the drug is being introduced into an environment for which science cannot control the variables.  People have different internal makeup and so the drug interacts differently.  Pharmaceutical companies have to rely on statistics and relative numbers based on the average person.  No one would argue that biology is a soft science but even biology must become relative when faced with an instance where variables cannot be easily removed. 

Notice in Trieste’s argument that she points toward experiments performed by psychology in its infancy, when ethics was not developed for that discipline.  Great strides were made that fit into her categorization reserved for the hard sciences.  Ethics was the introduced variable that discontinued such experiments and so reduced psychology to relative figures.  Bacteria and elements had no such revolution to their study and so the hard sciences proceed uninhibited. 

Offline Jude

Re: Hard and Soft Sciences Discussion
« Reply #7 on: July 30, 2010, 08:22:04 PM »
Sure, we actually can create evolution in a lab.  There's a species of extremely short-life span bacteria that has been observed evolving.

Offline Hayley

Re: Hard and Soft Sciences Discussion
« Reply #8 on: July 30, 2010, 08:49:53 PM »
I feel like an imposter - my background is in Theology ("The Queen of Sciences")

To me, the distinction is in methodology.  While 'soft' sciences are ultimately unprovable, 'hard' ones stand up to an external proof - maths.

That is to say, 'soft' sciences make logical and coherent sense only within themselves while 'hard' ones can all be linked to an external framework.

So while economic theory is self-consistent, it can't be justified in terms of pure maths (maths being the external framework, justified being the key phrase - as opposed to 'explained') but Quantum Physics is a progression of maths applied to the universe as we see it.

Not sure if I made sense there?

Offline SureTopic starter

Re: Hard and Soft Sciences Discussion
« Reply #9 on: July 30, 2010, 09:53:01 PM »
Sure, we actually can create evolution in a lab.  There's a species of extremely short-life span bacteria that has been observed evolving.

Into another species? And link to an article, please.

Edit: A scientific article, by the way. Preferably something in peer reviewed a journal.
« Last Edit: July 30, 2010, 09:54:38 PM by Sure »

Offline Jude

Re: Hard and Soft Sciences Discussion
« Reply #10 on: July 30, 2010, 10:16:51 PM »
This certainly isn't "into another species," but it's the article I was thinking of.  I'm not sure why "into another species" would be particularly relevant anyway, since you only need to establish the mechanism in order to recursively explain evolution.  Either way, the claim that "we cannot create evolution in a lab" is demonstrably false:
The role of historical contingency in evolution has been much debated, but rarely tested. Twelve initially identical populations of Escherichia coli were founded in 1988 to investigate this issue. They have since evolved in a glucose-limited medium that also contains citrate, which E. coli cannot use as a carbon source under oxic conditions. No population evolved the capacity to exploit citrate for >30,000 generations, although each population tested billions of mutations. A citrate-using (Cit(+)) variant finally evolved in one population by 31,500 generations, causing an increase in population size and diversity. The long-delayed and unique evolution of this function might indicate the involvement of some extremely rare mutation. Alternately, it may involve an ordinary mutation, but one whose physical occurrence or phenotypic expression is contingent on prior mutations in that population. We tested these hypotheses in experiments that "replayed" evolution from different points in that population's history. We observed no Cit(+) mutants among 8.4 x 1012 ancestral cells, nor among 9 x 1012  cells from 60 clones sampled in the first 15,000 generations. However, we observed a significantly greater tendency for later clones to evolve Cit(+), indicating that some potentiating mutation arose by 20,000 generations. This potentiating change increased the mutation rate to Cit(+) but did not cause generalized hypermutability. Thus, the evolution of this phenotype was contingent on the particular history of that population. More generally, we suggest that historical contingency is especially important when it facilitates the evolution of key innovations that are not easily evolved by gradual, cumulative selection.
Source:  Blount ZD, Borland CZ, Lenski RE (2008) Historical contingency and the evolution of a key innovation in an experimental population of Escherichia coli. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 105(23):7899-7906.

« Last Edit: July 30, 2010, 10:23:00 PM by Jude »

Offline Pumpkin Seeds

Re: Hard and Soft Sciences Discussion
« Reply #11 on: July 30, 2010, 11:14:19 PM »
Well, evolution can easily be observed in the world around us with no need for complicated experiments.  One can simply look at the various breeds of dogs from which specific traits were breed for by humans.  This is an example of selective breeding and is similar to the selective breeding seen in nature where a mate is chosen based on key traits.  Examples might be size, scent, particular song sung or a display of feathers.  Also the various antibiotic resistance tests performed in labs also show evolution occurring. 

For a species to become another species is actually not so much evolution.  This is mainly caused by a separation of a group of the same species for prolonged period of time.  Remember the definition of a species is that the two members are capable of naturally producing viable offspring.  The only occurrence of this I know off hand is of two species of bird whose only difference is the song they sing is off by a couple of notes.  The reason for this is believed to be a massive glacier that separated their living area for a lengthy period of time so that the song shifted subtly over the years.  The two species are identical otherwise.

As for the part regarding methodology, I contest that quite firmly.  Social science does not consider itself a science as some sort of jest to gain more prestige.  The phenomenon observed, recorded and studied by the soft sciences goes beyond merely making sense.  In fact many of these discoveries went against logical conclusion of their time period.  For instance Emile Durkheim’s study on suicide went against conventional logic and wisdom at the time by showing that suicides can be predicted in certain populations based on key criteria.  The work of Erving Goffman in regard to presentation of self can be seen by simply walking outside or simple self-examination.

Math is not the foundation on which science is built, but skillful observation and experimentation are.  Darwin did not calculate evolution nor is there a formula for the heart.  The heart is there, it beats and blood is moved to the extremities.  None of this requires mathematics. Science does not trust math because the experiments are not made through observation.  Math may help us understand why a certain phenomenon exists, but we only know of that existence through observation.

Offline SureTopic starter

Re: Hard and Soft Sciences Discussion
« Reply #12 on: July 31, 2010, 02:17:49 AM »
And yet, under the definition of everything being lab testable, that sort of reasoning is not valid. It is not enough to say it should work that way, we would need it to happen under observable conditions, and be created and controlled by scientists.

Into another species is a valid need because the theory of evolution directly claims that species evolve into other species.

And I'm not denying evolution here. There is a wealth of evidence for it in the fossil records, in genes, and so on. It is simply not evidence from scientific method type experiments. I feel that is still valid evidence, as does Trieste in all likelihood, but from what she is limiting science to (scientific method type experiments) it is not scientific by her definition. Or at least as I understand it.

Offline mystictiger

Re: Hard and Soft Sciences Discussion
« Reply #13 on: October 03, 2010, 08:01:30 AM »
In the first instance, evolution does not require 'into a new species'. Why? Because the very notion of what is a species is contested. Secondly, evolution merely requires that lovely mixture of mutation-adaptation-competitive advancement-reproductive benefit-advancement. There are a number of examples, though, of artificial speciation that create two populations that do not interbreed.

The distinction between hard and soft science as a binary opposition is meaningless. Each science covers so broad a subject matter that it will have both hard and soft elements contained therein. Biology, for example, contains such diverse disciplines as biomechanics and evolutionary pscyhology.

Inherent in the distinction is the belief that one is somehow more genuine, better than the other. What we have here is, as Darklingalice pointed out, a problem of definitions. I cannot subscribe to Sure's understanding of science as allowing us to predict or control an outcome of a phenomenon is cripplingly limited. By this definition, statistics and logic aren't sciences as they don't directly address a predictable or controllable phenomenon. I should at this point like to point out that Newtonian physics is not ironclad. In fact, it fundementaly fails to predict the outcome of certain events (things going really fast and/or being really small). It means that Newtonian physics is, according to Sure, no longer science when things are very small and / or fast.

I think it's incorrect to determine what is science purely by its outcomes. There are certain non-scientific modes of conduct and analysis that allow for understanding or control over a phenomenon (I wouldn't have said that the ancient Egyptian practice of trepanning people with cerebral overpressure was based on an understanding of pressure, but rather that 'it just worked' or perhaps related to the relase of demons).

To this end, I'm with Popper that what makes something scientific is the process. You can think scientifically about anything, be it atoms, people, wombats, or moods.

The idea that something is only science because it requires a lab is a fetishisation of empiricism.

Offline Jaybee

Re: Hard and Soft Sciences Discussion
« Reply #14 on: October 15, 2010, 03:51:19 PM »
I have very little respect for MOST Sociologists.  No, I don't actually know any.  But that doesn't change my stance.