It’s time to do away with the terms ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ science
previous forbes In my essay, I urge academic institutions, the private sector, and federal corporations to banish the term “minority” when referring to certain underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). I asked. I argued that the term was “microaggressive” and unintentionally minimized the group. This week, I heard some people refer to certain fields as “soft science,” sparking a similar spark of microaggression. Here’s why I argue not.
I know. This term has been around forever. As I’ve gotten older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve realized that longevity is often a measure of inertia to the status quo, rather than “right or wrong.” Traditionally, people have called physics, chemistry, astronomy, climatology, biology, etc. “hard” sciences. I’m an atmospheric scientist, so my field also falls into this category. My observation is that a field is considered a “difficult” science if it is highly mathematical, involves certain methodological approaches, or yields more reproducible results. Behavioral and social sciences, including sociology, human geography, psychology, or communication studies, have usually been called “soft” sciences.
Digging a little deeper into this, I found that others have argued that this “prehistoric ivory tower” framing should stop. It was titled as “How hard is hard science and how soft is soft science?” He uncovered many similarities in methodologies within disciplines, as well as how different methodologies complement each other. A key point in his last section argued that research in the social sciences can be more cumulative than the physical or natural sciences. My interactions with human geographers in the United States and colleagues in the emerging field of atmospheric science have led me to consume even that information in other ways. Less accumulation means less importance? There are mixed ways to conduct research and trends towards interdisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and interdisciplinary collaboration. Debate rages on what these terms actually mean, but one analogy frames the question: whether research or collaboration resembles a fruit salad, a fruit bowl, or a smoothie. increase.
I have 3 degrees in Meteorology/Physical Meteorology, but my major at the University of Georgia is Geography. When I left his NASA in 2005, options in the more traditional atmospheric sciences or meteorology departments were on the table. But more and more we were working with human geographers, psychologists, or communication specialists. Some of my most exciting academic achievements have come from outside my “meteorology or climate” silo. These studies are at the intersection of atmospheric science and topics such as risk, vulnerability, equity and communication.
For me, these crossroads are more reflective of the world we live in today. Expertise in meteorology and engineering is essential to the development of new models, radars, satellites, and the physical understanding of storm processes. Such knowledge has led to the generation of surprisingly accurate weather forecasts. Yes, very accurate predictions. People believe and perpetuate the myth that predictions are not accurate. Either they remember the rare bad predictions and not the more good ones, or they struggle with concepts like “probability of precipitation”. That said, weather forecasts may be perfect from a technical standpoint. But was it a perfect prediction if no individual or organization received the information, interpreted the format of the message, or acted on it? Despite being high, it is often the root of statements like “you came without warning”. For these reasons, social science and behavioral expertise is firmly entrenched (and growing) within the American Meteorological Society (AMS), the National Weather Association (NWA), or the National Weather Service. I believe that grassroots efforts like the Weather and Society* Integrated Studies (WAS*IS) group are the main catalysts in this field.
Now back to this discussion of “hard” and “soft” science. In his 2004 blog entry for Utah State University, he asked: The debate rages on. It chronicled the story of a student who wanted to transfer to the “hard science” department because she felt that the “hard science” department was more important. Don’t underestimate the psychological impact that “hard” and “soft” have on your students. This blog makes some valid points about certain scientists believing that “their science” is the only important or rigorous field and being blinded by prejudices. By the way, it’s not very scientific. Frankly, many meteorologists and climate scientists have faced such prejudices and arrogance from other disciplines, but I’ll save that discussion for a future essay.
I admit that this is likely to be a big ship. Online dictionaries even have entries for terms such as “soft science.” Here’s what I know. The intergenerational challenges facing society today, such as global pandemics, climate change, food insecurity, water supply, and energy generation, are not addressed in narrow spheres. And they certainly won’t be treated from an arrogant position either: humility and mutual respect for all disciplines is called for.