Monday, 4 December 2006

hard science is "easy" science

Language is sneaky. Words have connotations and origins of which we are unconscious. One such: “hard science.” Most people would probably assent that “hard science” means at least physics and chemistry. Most people would probably also agree that “hard science” does not include the “social sciences”—economics and sociology. Opinions vary on which other sciences to include where, and if pressed, people might press the sub-disciplines of a “single” branch of science into opposite camps (cellular biology versus population biology, say, or cognitive neuroscience versus psychoanalysis). There are reasons for the divide, I suppose. Hard science is supposed to be quantitative, while the other kind (and here the lurking connotations appear: do we really want to call population biology “soft”? Or “easy”?) is qualitative. But is it really? Actually, the Other sciences tend to be at least as highly mathematized as Hard science. Perhaps the relevant distinction is the firmness of the entities under investigation—electrons are easier to pin down than populations because electrons have definite behaviors which are essential to their electron-hood and populations have behaviors that are incidental to their being in a population. But doesn’t that make Hard science easier than Other science?

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