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What counts as a 'science'?
#1
Cross-posting the following thread by Pyrite on the old forum: 
http://s1.zetaboards.com/The_Coffee_Hous...8283409/1/

I'll just start by quoting the original post and four replies: 
Pyrite Wrote:So this afternoon my friend who studies politics told me that she thinks it's a science. Which is something I don't think I can agree to. So, I figured I'd put it to you lot. What do you think constitutes a science subject? I think we can all agree that physics, chemistry and biology are sciences, but would you include mathematics, and what about the so-called 'social sciences'. Discuss. :P
 
CJ Wrote:Interesting question :D

To get this started, I looked up 'science' on Dictionary.com. There are three definitions, as follows: 
Definition of 'Science Wrote:1. A branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences.

2. Systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.

3. Any of the branches of natural or physical science.
Based on those definitions, I don't think politics counts as a 'science'. Sure, politicians may use science (or misuse science!) as part of their work; however, that doesn't mean the work itself is scientific in nature.
As for what else is 'science': 
 
  • Like you, I don't think there's any dispute that physics, chemistry, and biology are scientific disciplines :P

  • Mathematics may or may not be a 'science'. Definition #2 suggests that it shouldn't be, because mathematical proofs don't deal with the physical or material world, nor do mathematicians operate by means of observation and experimentation. However, this would appear to contradict definition #1, which gives "the mathematical sciences" as an explicit example :P . Myself, I prefer to think of it the way that Roger Bacon did: "Mathematics is the gate and key to the sciences". (Thanks to Civ 5 for introducing me to that one :lol: !)

  • I think the social sciences, for the most part, still count as 'sciences': they aim to learn about the physical world through observation and experimentation. Psychology and economics definitely count as 'sciences' in my book. However, I'm not so sure about history and archaeology: while they're both wonderful disciplines, they may count as 'applications of science' rather than 'sciences' in their own right.

  • Going back to politics: we do have certain disciplines which are typically classed as 'political science' (for example, psephology). I think it's fair to classify these as 'scientific'; however, that isn't what most politicians do :P .
 
 
Shiny Star Wrote:I study Bsc Psychology at the moment. Although admittedly, it is a 'softer' science and not as objective as other sciences, I still consider it to be a science. We study human behaviour and find patterns, write lab reports with methods and procedures. The difference is it's on people. We have also looked at brain activity etc and mental disorders are classified. It's hard though, because where is the cut off point? I think sociology is not considered to be a science as it's on a societal level but there's still some debates about it. I guess at the end of the day it's a label.
 
Jarkko Wrote:I'd argue that hard linguistics (anything looking at the structure of language) is a science, because observation and experimentation (especially observation) are key to figuring out how languages work, and there is much discussion and theorising as to how language patterns in the brain, how it is acquired, etc.

There's absolutely no arguing that phonetics is one, because articulatory phonetics could also be called a branch of human anatomy (biology), acoustic phonetics could be called a branch of physics (being part of acoustics after all), and perceptual phonetics (and even phonology and morphosyntax) fit nicely into cognitive sciences, because they give us a look into parts of sensory cognition and the formation of ideas - integral parts of how the brain works.

Linguistics, though, is hard to pin down. Some say it's a social science. Some say it's one of the humanities. Some say parts of it could be considered proper science. It's quite interdisciplinary.
 
Pyrite Wrote:
CJ Wrote:2. Systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.
This is pretty much the definition I was assuming would be given. And looking at the following posts, it seems generally to be the definition everyone is applying.

I guess actually there are aspects of science in a lot of different fields.
Quote:We study human behaviour and find patterns, write lab reports with methods and procedures. The difference is it's on people.


Quote:I'd argue that hard linguistics (anything looking at the structure of language) is a science, because observation and experimentation (especially observation) are key to figuring out how languages work, and there is much discussion and theorising as to how language patterns in the brain, how it is acquired, etc.
Honestly, hadn't thought about these at all, really. It's curious to think that experimentation can actually extend from molecules all the way to human beings. (and probably further!) 

So, anyone else got anything else to add here :P ?
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#2
Anything that describes the physical world.
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#3
I like the ideas being tossed around here. I think Carl Sagan said it well during an interview with Charlie Rose where he said “Science is more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking; a way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility."

I agree with the sentiment that some of the fields mentioned above may not be sciences in their own right, but they certainly utilize the scientific method. When we create hypotheses, test them, and draw conclusions based on our observations, we are doing science.

To take Shiny Star's example of psychology, I still think it's perfectly valid to claim that noticeable patterns in human behavior can be observed and cataloged to be used as evidence for a scientific theory. I believe a similar argument could be made for Jarkko's mention of linguistics.

Even something as "objective" as physics can fall into this sort of gray area. For example, Newtonian physics continues to be astoundingly accurate at normal speeds (e.g., extremely small fractions of the speed of light), but has since been superseded by Einstein's Relativity. Does this make Newtonian Physics "wrong"? I argue not; it remains "correct" insofar as it is applied to well-defined parameters within the theory's constraints. Science is a human struggle to understand the world.
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#4
Great post - and I completely agree with it :D

And, yeah, there's definitely more to it than simple 'right' and 'wrong'. Newtonian mechanics may not be the whole picture, but that doesn't mean that there isn't any truth to it or that it isn't useful for 'everyday' objects.
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