January 27, 2009

Hard and soft science

Massimo Pigliucci has an interesting post on the distinction between hard science (mathematical, confident, fast-paced) and soft science (qualitative, discursive, running in circles). The usual way to discuss the matter is to compare "fields." For example, Pigliucci compares particle physics and ecology. Each discipline studies different things and uses different methods, and the two disciplines evolve in different ways. But it is difficult to discern why exactly the two disciplines evolve differently. Is it because they study different things? Or is it because they use different methods?

Fortunately, we have the opportunity to compare disciplines that study the same subject matter using different methods. Classical economics, on one hand, and sociology, anthropology and ecological economics/resilience science, on the other, approach the same topic of human collective behavior using different methods. I leave the detailed comparison of the two approaches to others. For me it suffices to say that one is fun and the other is boring.

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