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Letters: Social, yes, but science? No

July 14, 2012

Re "No respect in the academy," Opinion, July 12

What makes mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and geology true sciences are their objective and universal natures. Timothy D. Wilson focuses on the ability to conduct "controlled experiments," but scientific concepts like biological evolution that do not render themselves to much experimentation are still well established because they can systematically explain all the observations in the field.

The true criterion of science is lack of subjectivity, resulting in universally applicable facts — which are consistent with all future observations, whether or not "controlled experiments" are involved.

Scientific disciplines are not affected by political or cultural settings. Such cannot be said about sociology, psychology, philosophy and the like, and they should not be called science.

This is not to say that the humanities are less important. These fields produce important contributions to our civilization. However, not every scholar is a scientist, though every scientist is a scholar.

Ajay Kulshreshtha

Simi Valley

Social scientists are familiar with having to justify our existence. While listing the contributions to society made by the experimental social sciences, Wilson neglects field-based social sciences such as anthropology and qualitative methods based on in-depth studies of people in their everyday environments.

There's one place where both experimental and qualitative social science is in high demand: industry. It's fine to know the science behind, say, plant genetics or semiconductor materials. But translating the science into real-world applications means understanding how people interact with those applications in controlled settings and in the messy, complicated world out there.

In that pursuit, the hard scientists have to take a back seat to the experimental psychologists, the anthropologists and all the other social scientists.

Bill Maurer

Long Beach

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