Human Exceptionalism

NSF Should Not Fund Social Science

I agree with Tom Hartsfield, a physics Ph.D. student writing in Real Clear Science, who writes that the National Science Foundation grants should be reserved for “science,” not “social science.” From, “NSF Should Stop Funding Social Science:” 

By forcing research to be conducted in a manner that is repeatable, exact and quantitative, science has succeeded brilliantly at furthering human conditions and knowledge. This success rests on the fact that within its framework, experiments may be repeated over and over by many people to make sure that they are accurate and correct. Science does not long harbor falshehoods. It enforces a rigorous ethics of truth, of fidelity to nature. Science is defined by this trait, which also restricts its application to those problems which we are clever enough to formulate within its structure.

Political “science” however plays by a separate set of rules. There is often no way to irrefutably prove or disprove, agree or disagree with the claims and conclusions presented. There is little quantifiable truth and much subjectivity. This is not to discount the value of work in this field or others like it. The study of life and society as well as art, literature, history and other things unquantifiable certainly has value and has a place in our consciousness. I simply contend that it does not fall under the jurisdiction of science. It does not and cannot follow the rigorous requirements of reproducibility, testability and objective truth required of science.

Well, too often–as we have often discussed here–that which passes for “science,” really isn’t, and “ethics” isn’t science, but provides a badly needed check and balance to its pursuit.

But let’s not quibble. Hartsfield is exactly right.  These subjective fields are better considered part of  “the humanities.” Sure, they sometimes inform us about ourselves.  But political science isn’t really “science.”  Neither is sociology.  Indeed, psychology often isn’t science.  And those tilling these particular fiends frequently have an ideological ax to grind–which true science should never have (which, of course, isn’t to say that scientists shouldn’t investigate hypothoses–even heterodox approaches that make “consensus” scientists furious. They should just be willing to accept whatever their data show.)

Let’s leave science funding for truly scientific research.  And let’s stop pretending that everything that calls itself “science,” is actually akin to that powerful method of learning.

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