What is the Hardest Science?
9/4/13 / Matt Bruce
If biology, geology, and chemistry are hard sciences, then are other scientific disciplines soft or easy (or scrabbled)? Social scientists, especially in the natural resource realm, have long advocated for the legitimacy of their research, and they have struggled to define their endeavors under the hard science paradigm.
However, the gap between social and natural sciences appears to be closing. Biologists and foresters are beginning to understand that environmental conservation and natural resource production are inevitably tied to attitudes, values, and human behavior. With seven billion of us on the planet and counting, conservation decisions necessitate understanding and incorporating the social dimensions of environmental issues. Additionally, new social science research techniques such as GPS integration and online listening makes tracking human behavior more similar to wildlife biology than ever before.
For this reason, we applaud the authors of this paper, published in Contemporary Social Science, for encouraging social scientists to engage proactively and strategically with natural scientists. Marrying the two realms is challenging, especially considering the epistemological differences. Nevertheless, as we improve multi-disciplinary methodologies, we will unlock a tremendous world of new discoveries, and more importantly, new questions. Multi-disciplinary research that integrates natural and social science theory and data may be the hardest science of all.