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May 20 2014

Hard vs. Soft Science

Today over on WUWT, Steve Burnett writes eloquently and very forcefully on the ridiculous stance and attempts by those in the “soft sciences” like psychology, sociology, economics and similar fields to attempt to play equals with the hard sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, engineering).   The parts I liked the most:

In short philosophers, and sociologists of science, both soft science fields, haven’t been able to confirm the differences {between the hard and soft sciences}. They point to a lack of consensus in the hard sciences, controlled experiments and mathematical models. The analysis is about as meaningful as finding no difference between a peewee and professional basketball game because they both shoot rubberized orange balls at hoops. That is exactly the problem with the soft sciences, they can get the results they want by only evaluating the characteristics they choose.

Unfortunately soft science is spreading into the other domains. In my capstone course we had to watch the thoroughly debunked Gasland documentary. We heard about fracking fluids, well contamination and maybe just possibly earthquakes caused by the process. When I presented three studies that thoroughly destroyed the claims the professor dismissed them with a wave of his hand. We were required to take a course called energy and the environment, which is best described as green masturbation. When you present solar roads, indoor farming, renewables, and local agriculture, as a required engineering course without any sort of cost benefit analysis or numerical pretense what else can you call it?

This one drives me crazy.  My alma mater now offers a graduate program is sustainable development which is heavy on the technology and very light on the economics (or lack thereof).  These programs exist all over the place and industry is starting to absorb people who have been educated and have credentials but don’t understand that a lot of renewables are complete economic fallacies (see Germany or Ontario for consequences of overly aggressive adoption of Green Power).

Examining what makes humans, society or even the climate tick are noble endeavors. The failure to demand reproducible or falsifiable results, reject failed hypothesis, or allow for and defend work that is riddled with personal or political bias is what undermines these fields, it’s what makes them “soft”. More succinctly the problem with these fields isn’t entirely methodological, it’s cultural and it exists at every stage of training.

That sums it up pretty clearly for me.

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2 comments

  1. Cynical Bard

    In his book “The Deliberate Corruption of Climate Science”, Dr. Ball defines science as “the ability to predict”.
    If you really understand the science of a situation or process, you can predict the outcome of any test.

    In some cases we know that the science is pretty bad. In Sept 3103 Nature, 117 predictions of climate change were shown. 114 were completely wrong, and all biased in the same direction. Why would anyone believe that is not a systemic error, and completely unreliable?

    In recent correspondence with an individual in Natural Resources Canada, I learned that the entire justification for the use of ethanol in motor fuel is based on a mathematical model, which they have never attempted to validate.

    Why would they, when they have the result that justifies more power to the Government and costs to the taxpayers and consumers?

    We substitute what sounds good for what works. If it sounds good it must be true.
    But if it sounds to good to be true, it is .

  2. Cynical Bard

    Sorry Sept 2013, of Nature…………

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