Hard and soft science
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Hard science and soft science are colloquial terms used to compare scientific fields on the basis of perceived methodological rigor and legitimacy. Roughly speaking, the natural sciences are considered "hard" while the social sciences are usually described as "soft". Hard science is sometimes used synonymously with exact science.
Precise definitions vary, but features often cited as characteristic of hard science include: producing testable predictions; performing physical controlled experiments; relying on quantifiable data and mathematical models; a high degree of accuracy and objectivity; and generally applying a purer form of the scientific method. A closely related idea (originating in the nineteenth century with Auguste Comte) is that scientific disciplines can be arranged into a hierarchy of hard-to-soft on the basis of factors such as rigor, "development" and whether they are "theoretical" or "applied", with physics and chemistry typically at the top, biology in an intermediate position and the social sciences at the bottom. It has been argued that the social sciences do not deserve the lack of respect for being soft, as they are also scientific. For example, psychology and economics make extensive use of controlled experiments and mathematical modeling respectively, but as social sciences they are usually described as soft.
Philosophers and sociologists of science attempting to identify measurable correlates of perceived disciplinary 'hardness' have been unable to account for the distinction using these systematic, theoretical characteristics. Instead, they have found that certain micro-scale social practices are more reliable predictors of whether a field is conventionally considered hard or soft. Harder sciences are not characterised by a greater degree of consensus or selectivity in accepting new results, but do make more extensive use of graphs. Soft sciences, meanwhile, are more prone to a rapid turnover of buzzwords.
Critics of the concept argue that soft sciences are implicitly considered to be less "legitimate" scientific fields, or simply not scientific at all. It has been argued that this partly is because, although they often study more complex phenomena than natural sciences, social science findings are more likely to intersect with everyday experience and are therefore more vulnerable to being dismissed as "obvious or insignificant". Being labelled a soft science can affect the perceived value of a discipline to society and the amount of funding available to it. In the 1980s mathematician Serge Lang's successfully blocked influential political scientist Samuel P. Huntington's admission to the US National Academy of Sciences on the allegation that his use of mathematics to quantify the relationship between factors such as "social frustration" (Lang asked Huntington if he possessed a "social-frustration meter") rendered his work "pseudoscience". During the late 2000s recessions, social science was disproportionately targeted for funding cuts compared to mathematics and natural science, and proposals were made for the United States' National Science Foundation to cease funding disciplines such as political science altogether. Both of these incidents prompted complaints about the distinction between hard and soft sciences.
See also 
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- Johnson, George; Laura Mansnerus (May 3, 1987). "Science Academy Rejects Harvard Political Scientist". New York Times. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
- Change, Kenneth; Warren Leary (September 25, 2005). "Serge Lang, 78, a Gadfly and Mathematical Theorist, Dies". New York Times. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
- Richardson, Hannah (26 October 2010). "Humanities to lose English universities teaching grant". BBC News. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
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- Lane, Charles (4 June 2012). "Congress should cut funding for political science research". The Washington Post. Retrieved 19 December 2012.