"All science is either physics or stamp collecting."
— Ernest Rutherford
(who later won the Nobel Prize for chemistry
" Science Fiction
authors, trained as they are in the hard sciences, tend to take digs at the softer sciences in their works. The reasons for this vary, but the most common criticism is that it's much harder to perform repeatable experiments. Scientists strive towards empiricism and the "scientific method", and many humanities or social sciences are trying to study things that cannot easily be studied strictly and subjected to experimentation, which makes writers feel justified in considering them as "pseudoscience".
This happens outside of science fiction as well. Often, scientist characters in non-Science Fiction
shows will disrespect the softer sciences when they have to deal with them. In real life, common targets
are Psychology (see below), Psychiatry (often portrayed as the medical equivalent of the Church of Happyology
, which is ironic considering that church's own attitude towards it), Economics ("The Dismal Science"), Linguistics (except by some, c.f. Sheldon Cooper
), &c.. Some can have a grudging respect for economics and political science, the two that tell if they will get any money for rockets and particle accelerators, but psychology, sociology and the like are Acceptable Targets
Think of it as an interdisciplinary Take That
. How much the rivalry is Serious Business
, and how much friendly banter, depends on the people involved. It's still an influential conflict that not only has spawned new theories and schools, but became a full blown "war"
during the 90's. The standard comeback from soft scientists is that their subject is more "applicable" or more relevant to life and society at large (e.g.: as hit and miss as psychology can be, even biologists admit that neurological or even pharmacological solution to mood disorders should only be a last resort
). Another reaction is that these complaints come from those for whom science has been fetishized by, usually non-scientists, thus missing the point entirely and cheapening both.
A related phenomenon is "hard science" and business students criticizing subjects like Literary Criticism and Philosophy for being more Wild Mass Guessing
and having little utility in careers outside the academic world
. This overlooks actual, legitimate philosophies that adults can also make use of (like for example, studying logic and reasoning), and of course, how in Real Life
businesses prefer candidates who bring different perspectives and ways of thinking to their jobs.
Also see All Psychology Is Freudian
, which also contributes to how psychology became such a target - psychoanalysis is blatantly
unscientific navel-gazing, but because it was one of psychology's most vocal minorities
, the "psychologists sitting in couches charging 200 bucks to talk about your mom" stereotype became a Never Live It Down
. Modern types of psychology, such as behaviourism, cognitive science and neuroscience, are a lot harder yet just as practical. In this case, calling Freudians quacks would work, but Skinner's experiments have been repeatedly verified. However, the history of scams, the possible lack of ethics - see these experiments
, the Bedlam House
, and behaviourism's possibility of abuse
- and "pop psychology" in general still haven't liberated it from being an acceptable target.
Similarly, there are a number of quantitative-minded sociologists who use complex statistical methods that rival those of the hard sciences in their own research.
Compare and contrast Science Is Bad
and Science Is Wrong
. See MD Envy
and Not That Kind of Doctor
, which can be related.
Not related to erections in any way
and more specifically not related to the Sci Fi Ghetto
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- There's an old joke where the dean of a college complains how much the various science departments are costing the college. The chemistry department needs test tubes and bunsen burners, the physics department needs particle accelerators and Tesla coils, the astronomy department needs telescopes, etc.. He says, "Why can't they be more like the Mathematics classes? They only need paper and a wastebasket. And the Philosophy department is even cheaper; they don't even need the wastebasket!"
- Ironically, math could be considered "harder" (as in more theoretical, less empirical) than any of the other sciences.
- Q: What did the <insert choice of Butt Monkey field here> major say to the <insert any "practical" or "hard" science here> major?
A: "Would you like fries with that?"
Live Action Television
- Among other tunes Tom Lehrer performed in the 1997 performance on archive.org is "Sociology". The Take That flies both ways, though - he was satirizing both sociologists and people who frown on them, something that flies above the heads of Youtube commentators.
- This piece by physicist and musician Arthur Roberts is dripping with disdain for the weaker sciences. Many of his other songs also feature barbs at social sciences, albeit less prominently.
- The Content Warning at the bottom of every page reads, "Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)."
- More examples here, as well as here. And finally, the Alt Text here. (Social scientists tend to share Munroe's view of literary criticism.)
- Some of these are more serious than others. The one against anthropologists was intended to be in jest, but came across harsher than Munroe intended; the following day, he anthropologized.
- "Fuck Computational Linguistics," starting in strip 114. And he sticks to it in public, too.
- Discussed here.
- Munroe takes another swipe at Economics in his famous spoof of the Major General Song, "Every Major's Terrible": By dubbing Econ "Dismal Science", adherents exaggerate/the "dismal"'s fine, it's "science" where they patently prevaricate. Mind you, the hard sciences don't come out looking much better.
- Skin Horse, here.
- Schlock Mercenary:
- Heartily mocked in the author's note for this strip.
- In this strip Liz comments on how the trope attitude has resulted in her studies in memetics, linguistics, and sociology resulted in her landing a fast food job.
- Inverted in this Hark! A Vagrant strip. H. G. Wells seems a little hard on hard science.
- One Girl Genius strip involves a mad social scientist griping about the fact that the Sparks who go into the hard sciences get all the funding.
Scientist: I told the Baron, give me a thousand orphans, a hedge maze, and enough cheese, and I can...
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, otherwise noted for indulging heavily in this trope, lampooned Rutherford's statement by claiming that every physicist has a couple of years in grad school when they don't even know what questions they should be asking, followed by a decade, maybe a decade and a half of productive work, followed by spending the rest of their lives telling other scientists how deluded they are.
- The Sokal hoax was a Take That from a physics professor to postmodernist social studies academics, or more specifically, the tendency of po-mo theorists to pepper their writings with nonsensical scientific analogies to make their work sound more rigorous than it is. Sokal sent a paper of pure drivel which would embarrass a second year physics students, but wrote it so it agreed with the political and social views of the journal Social Text. Sokal's paper (in brief - the real paper contains more nonsense than can be discussed here) argued that a properly free mathematics would free us from the social constructs which are implied by our rigid, unyielding, dogmatic, anti-feminist, capitalist, and unjust theory of gravity. Of course, they did publish it of their own free will...
- Real scientists engage in this to varying degrees, though mostly it tends to be light-hearted ribbing between colleagues. Especially given that actually annoying the other fields means they won't be able to ask that department for help when something comes up in their work that they can't answer on their own.
- Nearly every academic discipline has this; it's hardly unique to the sciences. Philosophers are treated as Acceptable Targets by pretty much every discipline, including - maybe especially - philosophy itself. Economists likewise. And Sociologists, especially the more qualitatively-minded ones. And virtually every time someone in a more traditional academic discipline deigns to even mention Communications, it's in the form of a Take That. In all cases, these things can range anywhere from good-natured ribbing to genuine seething hatred. Many who are so hateful of other fields will however not be well regarded, no matter their skill in their own field.
- Richard Dawkins doesn't think much about theology and religion studies, dismissing the former as nonsense.
- Another example would be biologist and atheist blogger, P.Z. Myers, who defended Dawkins against criticisms that he hadn't read any theology through comparing these critics to courtiers of the Emperor who had no clothes . Also, pertinent is that Dawkins actually has a rather wide reading of theology (he often quotes major theologians and the major holy books off the top of his head in debates), despite being of the opinion that it is the study of non-existent things.
- In 2012, an atheist philospher from Belgium duped a theology conference with a Sokal-style hoax.
- Evolutionary psychology seems to be the go-to field (or approach) for many people who want social norms and mores explained, but dislike the nature of fields like sociology or social anthropology.
- Richard Feynman was infamous for this approach. An anecdote supposedly had him insult the Philosophy department at his university during a faculty speech, which resulted in the entire department walking out on him.
- Sometimes you don't even need scientists to get that. Just get some engineering/exact sciences (computing, math, physics) and humanities/social sciences (anthropology, history, psychology, communication studies) together and they'd probably taking shots at each other's areas. Not to mention paychecks...
- Conservative publicists sometimes approach this attitude, since they see modern academic teaching in literature, sociology etc. to be overcrept by left-winged philosophy, while science such as physics and mathematics remains perfectly objective and politically neutral.
- Institutionalized in the governance of the Iranian higher education system, where the government has repeatedly "crack[ed]down" on social science professors for spreading western and "insufficiently Islamic" ideas and ideologies. For similar reasons as above, the far more apolitical hard sciences don't attract that scrutiny.
- Even hard sciences become politicized under sufficiently autocratic regimes. The study of genetics in the Soviet Union was hamstrung by a strong preference for communist theorists even when they were incorrect, and Nazi Germany's research on atomic weapons was crippled by their antisemitism. (Many of the pioneers were Jewish, and the Nazis even referred to the entire field as "Jewish physics.")
- Graffiti seen on a toilet roll dispenser at the University of East Anglia: Sociology degrees. Please take as many as you need.
"How do you scare a bio major? Make him do a math problem."