Psychology, sociology, linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, history, economics, political science.
Biological sciences, earth sciences.
Read one way, this is how sciences are commonly ranked on a Mohs scale of scientific snobbery. Real sciences, hard sciences, are at the bottom. Soft, squishy, fake sciences are at the top.
Read another way, this is both an inverted history of science and a ranking of the complexity of measurement.
A History of Complexity
Physics was one of the first sciences to be studied scientifically and the first science in which many of the fundamentals were discovered. Why? Because physics, at least the parts that most people learn, has the simplest subjects to test. Kinetics are visible. Pressure can be felt. Wave interaction is already present in our environments, ready to be observed.
Chemistry was harder. We can’t see or feel the building blocks of matter. We can’t see the bonds that create matter with its own discrete properties from two or more unrelated elements. We can’t directly assess molarity. Chemistry had to build the tools to do the very basics, even as it determined what those basics were. That put it far behind physics.
Biological and earth sciences are more difficult yet. Not only do scientists have to study all the parts of complex systems in order to understand the systems, but they are also constrained in two important regards. They have to observe the system without changing it enough to make their observations invalid, and they have to exercise ethics in how they manipulate the system. These things can be done, but they require additional tool development, including the development of complex systems math, which makes for slower progress.
Then we come to our “squishy” sciences, the social sciences. All the difficulties of biological and earth sciences apply, only more so. These are studies of complex systems made up of complex systems. Observation of social phenomena is social phenomena itself. The ethics of personal and political interference are extremely touchy. The sheer number of variables that the math needs to be able to accommodate is intimidating.
Does that mean that the social sciences can’t develop the tools they need? No, no more than the biological sciences can’t. What it does mean is that developing these tools should be expected to take time. How long? I don’t know. How long did it take physics to figure out how to observe the universe free of the interference of our atmosphere?
The Forgotten History
One thing that hard-science snobs like to point to as evidence that the social sciences aren’t real science is the current influence of politics on the various fields. For example, in the current economic situation, people cite the influence of libertarianism on economics. Others have pointed to single-culture-centric definitions of mental normalcy.
Both are valid critiques of the state of the field, but they have no bearing on whether economics or psychology are sciences. Politics affect every kind of research. They always have, however pure someone might think their brand of science is. Cosmology has historically had some killer debates (literally) about theory, based on politics. It got over them with time. Do we judge genetics by eugenics or physics by the atom bomb?
The social sciences are very young, they seek to understand phenomena at several interrelated levels, and they face the additional challenge of having to ask the balls for permission before dropping them off the tower. This means that current results are of dubious universal applicability. It does not mean these are not “real” sciences.
Nor does it mean the people theorizing and testing with the limited tools at their disposal are not real scientists. Some of the people clinging to theories against all evidence may not be scientists, but the evidence against most theories is slim or mixed at this early stage of the game. It will take more work and more data from the empiricists to drive the irrational theorists out, just as it always has for every other science.
They’ll probably do it faster if they’re allowed and expected to sit with the big kids at the “science table” instead of being pushed away. They’ve earned more credit than they’re usually given on that score, even if they do have plenty of work left to do. And it can only help to steep the kiddies in each field in a culture of rigor.