Psychology is a “Soft” Science

For many, the contention encapsulated in this title is controversial; yet, for many others, like myself, it is simply a fact that psychology is a “soft” science, and facts cannot be controversial. To the first group, the statement that “facts cannot be controversial” is, itself, controversial; yet, for the second group, this statement is gospel.

Listening material for this read:

The differences between these opposing points of view are significant. The problem with psychology as a field is that there are adherents who believe that psychologists’ findings are more important than they are. The whole point of science is to observe effects and causes, causes and effects, to make the world more predictable. But soft sciences like psychology and economics are rarely useful in attaining these goals. The reasons for this are not the fault of psychologists or economists, and criticizing their fields is not an attack on the intellect or ethics of those who practice them. Instead, these criticisms seek simply to excavate the inherent problems with trying to make decisions in Scenario B based on observations from Scenario A, where there are almost infinite opportunities for slight variations in the scenarios that could make A and B incomparable.

A hard science, like algebra, is far more reliable than a soft science, like psychology, because hard sciences are able to boil down the scenarios to their basest forms, eliminating slight variations that make Scenario A incomparable to Scenario B. The problems discussed in the Atlantic piece inserted above hit on these problems. What the piece doesn’t talk about is how dangerous soft sciences are.

When economists use poorly-equated analogies to solve present problems, the course of conduct that a government or business takes (e.g. Federal Reserve raising interest rates or a business buying corrupted assets based on bad data) can have massive effects. But we know this about economics, and few people would take any economic theory as gospel. This truth is easily observable in our Congress. But with psychology, for some reason, there are those who follow the theories as if they are proven realities, when in fact they are not. Ever. This is true because psychology deals with a topic that is inherently complicated, and many of the subtle variables that go into the causes and effects of human behavior are not reliably observable.

Of course, the danger I mentioned above arises from the faith put into these practices, and the fact that the believers follow their psychologists into the behavioral battlefield blindly, without seeking to find the solutions to the problems.


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