Which one of these is the real soft science?

I continually hear about how psychology is suppose to be a ‘soft’ science. The biggest knob ends that express this view are usually physicists.

Are you kidding me?

Two words. THEORETICAL PHYSICS.

If ever there was a ‘soft’ science, this would be it.

Dark matter, dark energy, branes, bubbles, supersymmetry…..need I go on?

Have you observed these things? No. Is there any chance in the near future that you will observe these things? No. Can you actually prove with any degree of probability or falsify any of these things? No. Does that stop you appearing on every available documentary on the universe claiming that these things are fact rather than theory? ER, definitely no. Journey through the universe, Cosmos, The Planets, Evacuate Earth, I am pointing the finger at you.

And don’t get me started on Nat Geo’s Cosmos. Rogue planets? Are ye serious? Can ye see them? No. Does the sun reflect of them? No. Do they make a star wobble? No. So how do you know they exist except that they are one of Brannon Braga’s sci-fi fan wankeries?

Aaah, but we don’t have to! The wonders and magnificence of quantum theory, or its alternatives, can explain all. We just need a bigger telescope/collider/technological fanwankery and we’ll show you all that we are right.

Until you can resolve the problem of gravity, I ain’t interested.

Even the much touted Higgs Boson might not be the Higgs Boson….

Apart from the fact that physics as a science is the poorer for entertaining this bullshit, the Research Council responsible for astronomy and astrophysics has majorly slashed the funding of its grants because it used all its money to pay for that big fuck off tunnel.

I never actually met a physics student at uni who actually graduated, but I knew a few chemists and, later, a biochem PhD student. None of them actually learned about research methods or statistics at undergrad level and they ‘picked’ it up at postgraduate level informally. It was muggins here who analysed all their data for them, and I was still doing it for the biochem PhD student at the end of her second year.

Psychology is not a soft science. Yes, there are some airy fairy parts of it, but they tend to be recent additions that aren’t really psychology. Some of it is common sense, some of it is more intuitive than other sciences, and it is badly represented by twats with a psychology degree who think that it qualifies them to talk about everything and their mother’s toilet training habits in the media while acting in a professional capacity (yes, Emma Kenny, I’ma lookin at ye), but most of it has a good theoretical foundation, its applications are evidence based, and its made more impact in people’s everyday life than flippin theoretical physics. Psychology, I salute you.

EDIT. I should add that some of my memory of theoretical physics may be out of date or wrong (see, unlike theoretical physics, I can admit I might be wrong). But, like the majority of the population, I don’t have a background in physics, but this info has been gleaned from several years reading New Scientist. Badly written and incomprehensible New Scientist articles. Theoretical physics, your media profile sucks.

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6 thoughts on “Which one of these is the real soft science?

  1. Interesting post. What would you say the ‘airy fairy’ parts of Psychology are?
    I agree though – it’s interesting that people criticize psychology as a science, when it employs the same rigid scientific methods of biology, chemistry, and physics. Plus, as with all of these, there is some guess work involved because obviously, not everything is testable and we aren’t able to properly explain some of our findings within the limitations of our current technology/knowledge.
    Where would you say these ideas about psychology as a ‘soft’ subject come from? 🙂

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    • Thanks for your comments.

      I think the airy fairy parts depends on perspective. Some members of the public think that the social aspects are just common sense, others think evolutionary psychology is in search of observable evidence (which I agree with, the brain in a corpse degrades quickly so how can we make claims about inheriting behaviour and its association with certain brain areas when there is no archeological record), developmental psychology (parenting and child behaviour being common complaints: parents just ‘know’ this info). Mental health service users think that biopsychology is ridiculous and many people in general say that it is just modern day phrenology.

      I would argue (no surprise there then), however, that if something is not testable, it is probably not a ‘good’ theory as it cannot be falsified. But, agree, time can be a factor. Many people said this about repression but in the last decade there has been some advances in experimental correlates of repression although numerous psychologist continue to resist. The problem in this case was that no-one had really stripped the concept back to its basic predictions. Once this was done, we were able to test it.

      I think the idea of psychology as soft comes from its historical roots in philosophy rather than basic science. It has spend the last 50 years or so raging against this as can be seen by the proliferation of neuroscience and the biomedical model in psychology. We seem to think that if we can show that this neurotransmitter does this or this brain area does that, that it makes us a ‘proper’ science. But this is a fundamental error. Neuroscience is extremely atheoretical, and there is scant evidence for the biomedical model in psychological distress. We have become accomplices to a fundamentally flawed, and borrowed, science.

      It’s strange. One hundred years ago psychologists were interested in the big questions of life, and this was influenced by philosophy not neuroscience. We seem in modern times to have got stuck looking at the details and forgotten the bigger picture. And, of course, if you want to learn about hypothesis testing and probability, philosophy is the discipline to geek out to

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      • Wow, what an excellent answer! I agree entirely, especially with regard to your comments on neuroscience and the biomedical model in psychological distress. I find it infuriating that the wider public have been told the biomedical model is the cause of mental health problems in general, when there is so little good evidence, and despite the increasingly popular idea of neuroplasticity.

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      • The biomedical model really winds me up. It is overly concerned with questions to service users such as ‘do you hear voices’ but doesn’t believe there is any meaning in those voices so there are not worth communicating with or investigating. That is despite the Hearing Voiced Network establishing that 77% of there forum users believed that they could trace back their voices to something in their past. It gives the distinct impression that service users experience is worthless and meaningless because they have a “disease”.

        Some of the mental health charities are equally as complicit in peddling this rubbish. SANE and NAMI in the US give out literature as “mental health education” instructing the public that psychological disorders are exactly the same as physical diseases, as they think that if the public think this then there will be less stigmatisation. This disease approach does reduce the public’s blame of service users, but it also makes them think there are less reliable, and that they have something fundamentally wrong with them that can’t be fixed, all which increases stigmatisation. The public generally believe the opposite until the “education” comes along. The majority believe that psychological disorders are due to past trauma, life experience and social factors, such as poverty. So, the biomedical model actually teaches the public the wrong thing and increases stigma.

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