Questioning the ‘science’ in social science

Our schools, our markets, our media – all of them draw so much on what the social scientists have to say: about education, the economy, the audience. Prof. Gary Gutting calls into question the ‘science’ in social science in his article [see link below] that is as provocative as it is thought-provoking.

How Reliable Are the Social Sciences? –



2 thoughts on “Questioning the ‘science’ in social science

  1. There is no science in social science. Please let people be more compassionate by having them stop taking handouts. These would mean no more freeloaders.

  2. Thank you for responding to my post. So far as I can see, you have raised two very significant issues: [1] Is social science eligible to have pretensions to being a ‘science’? and [2] Is it good to teach a person to ‘fish’ or to keep giving them fish every day of their lives.

    The second, obviously, can be answered in a more straightforward manner. There are no two ways about what even the receiver of the donated fish would want. Pride and dignity are natural human aspirations, and no one would want the ‘handouts’ as you call them. I do not really see, however, how social science can stop the populist policies of governments. So far as I know, just to cite two examples:

    Amartya Sen asks for various ‘freedoms’ for people, among them the freedom to opt for a job of one’s choice. And towards this end, he has used his Nobel prize money to start the Pratichi Trust which is trying to make schooling in some areas of India and Bangla Desh a more enriching experiene for the under-privileged so that they may compete on equal footing for upward social economic and social mobililities

    Arturo Escobar has been arguing for giving greater credence to traditional knowledge systems and their keepers: the tribal societies, in essence. He considers them repositories of rare knowledge that could go a long way towards making sustainable societies a reality. There is a sense of high regard and respect intrinsic to this view, which somehow does not seem to gel with the ‘handout receiving freeloaders’ image you are seeking to portray.

    Now, the easy way to answer the first question would be to point out that ‘science’ essentially means ‘knowledge,’ as it comes from the Latin ‘scientia’ that has this meaning. And there can be as much a knowledge, and hence science, of society as there can be knowledge, and hence science, of Nature. But that is ducking the issue … I guess what you’re trying to say goes deeper. I guess what you’re trying to say is that social science lacks the ‘truth’, the ‘rationality’, the ‘rigour’ of natural science. This is a struggle that has been going on for ages – between sciences and within them. I would be doing a dis-service to science – in the sense of knowledge – if I try to squeeze in all those debates and discussions in a dismissive sentence or two. So, I rest my case.

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