Which are actual sciences?

Hi All,

On other boards I’ve seen creationists bashed for calling their crap ‘science’. Although I heartily agree with such bashing, that’s not what I’m on about here. I’ve heard mixed opinions as to whether the following are really sciences or not, and I’d like to hear your opinions.

  1. Computer science
  2. Medical science
  3. Political science
  4. Evolutionary psychology

I’m pretty sure political science ain’t, but I’ve yet to decide on the others. Or maybe “decide” isn’t the right word, maybe there’s a correct answer and I just don’t know it.

Maltese Chicken

IMNAS, but IMHO any discipline that follows the scientific method is a science. This would rule out #1 and #3 from your list. Computer science is (IMHO) more akin to mathematics (which I don’t consider to be a “science”).


I remember seeing a quote from someone semi-famous several years ago saying something along the lines of ‘it’s hard to define exactly whats science is, but almost anything that uses science in it’s name isn’t : Christian Science, Social science etc.’
Seems about right. The application of the scientific method occasionally isn’t sufficient to make a science, otherwise Christian Science would be a science, it uses scientific method occasionally. Scientific method must be consistently and rigorously applied. So medical science and medical psychiatry/psychology would probably be science, but political science and standard psychology always walk a fine line since they require huge speculative asssumptions to be drawn from data collected for that to be put into use.

Political science does at least pay lip service to the scientific method.

I won’t say they necessarily follow the method, though.

From what I have read of evolutionary psychology, it lacks the means to test hypothesizes. For example, how does one test that people like flowers because “people are intuitive botanists, and plants are a rich source of data” (Pinker, How the Mind Workspp377. Consequently, I do not consider it to be a science.

I would agree that Computer Science is really just math. Political science, IMO, is science inasmuch as sociology is science; there may not be a scientific method per se, but knowledge is gained through observation.

<Disclaimer: I have a masters degree in Political Science>

That being said, I would argue that political science is a science. It’s not experimental, but it does attempt to follow the scientific method, it establishes falsifiable theories, etc. Of course, modern political science has only existed for about 50 years, so its new at the entire thing.

In my opinion, a science is a body of knowledge that allows you to create models of an activity so that you can make significant and accurate predictions about the activity. So creation science is out; it fails to even acknowledge the known facts of what it purports to explain, much less make any valid predictions. Computer science (and other forms of engineering) are sciences; they are based on predicting how material objects will function. Medical science is the same; basically engineering of human beings. I’d leave political science and evolutionary psychology out; I’m unaware of any models in either field that reliably predicts significant occurrences.

<Disclaimer: for what its worth, I have a BS in Political Science>

Two points:

  1. I was required as part of my degree, to take a class, which covered scientific method, experimental design, and statistical analysis for political research. The catolog entry for the class (Introduction to Research Methods in Political Science) describes it as a “survey of analytical techniques in studying political behavior, political socialization, mass and elite behavior, personality, and politics.” The course catalog offers several other classes in quatnitative research methodology, especially at the graduate level. So political scientist are trained in and use scientific method.

  2. Some areas of “political science” (public policy for example), have a reasonable claim to being social-science, while others (political philosophy and international relations in particular) don’t. However, the social sciences lack the quantitative “hardness” of chemisty, physics, and math (or even biology) . The hard sciences can get those hard numbers, while the social sciences are as of yet unable to (thus the “physics envy” of the social sciences) . Whether the social sciences will ever achieve the level of accuracy of the sciences, I’ll leave as a Great Debate (or as a problem for the student to work out:)).

Science is anything mentioned in Star Trek. After all, they want to convince people that the technobabble they spew is REAL science :smiley:

Computer Science is definitely not (and I have a degree in it). It’s just a bunch of information about a form of technology.

It parasites off various engineering disciplines (Electrical/Engineering) and there is a discipline of Software Engineering (which is what a lot of Computer Science graduates are actually qualified in).

No matter how rich or voluminous the literature about moving coil galvanometers became, we’d never accept that there was such a thing as moving coil galvanometer science.

A bunch of glorified manufacturer’s manuals does not constitute a science.

Possible hijack: Why wouldn’t you consider mathematics a science?

Perhaps it should be called Computer Science Fiction. :D:D

Having a degree in it, I agree that very little of practical computer work is “scientific”. But there is plenty of theoretical computer work that is science: processor logic design, compiler design, algoritm design. You design some software, see how it performs, determine if it performed as well or worse as mathematical models predict, then try new modifications.

Of course, with today’s glut of computer power and storage capacity, optimizing speed and storage is not nearly as big a concern as it was 20-40 years ago.

That sounds like more of a mix of engineering and mathematics than science. I design circuitry and software, and then see how well it works- if I mis-judged, then I go back to the drawing board. To me this is engineering, not science, although I’m not immediately sure how to express the difference, since you could express a scientific experiment in the same terms.

I don’t consider math a science because (AFAIK) it doesn’t really follow the scientific method, because the method doesn’t really fit what mathematicians do. Or, maybe *pure[\i] math could be considered a science, as one mathematician discovers of proof of some conjecture, and others replicate it, while *applied[\i] math is more akin to engineering … I don’t know enough about the upper echelons of the math world to judge for sure.


I consider mathematics to be about as pure a science as there could be.

Given certain assumptions (the body of knowledge thus far), you come up with a theorem. Testing this theorem is proving it. You get an answer, yes or no. That is added to the body of knowledge. At any point, everything is perfectly quantifiable, and you can state with 100% certainty exactly what assumptions are being used. I don’t see what criteria it fails under. Replication is obviously irrelevant here.

And yes, I am speaking of theoretical mathematics, not applied mathematics.

Engineering is the process by which the results of science are made useful to man. (Paraphrase of Webster’s dictionary). The engineer applies the fruits of the scientist’s work to solve a problem, make the world a better place or earn some money. The scientist searches for objective truth about the world.(This is getting very heavy for a Friday afternoon). The engineer may apply the methods of science, but his objectives are completely different…all results are interesting to a scientist (at least in theory), the engineer only cares if his gizmo worked.

Apply that definition to the computer field, and it becomes apparent that although much engineering happens, very little science does, and very little of what’s taught in a computer science degree is science.

I think that a lot of computer professionals are more artist than scientist. The Computer Science programs at schools teach things like how to store and access data, the mathematics of 3D modeling, the theory of computer languages, Boolean logic, and other practical things. That’s all well and good, but there’s more to it than that. A well designed Web page was not designed by someone who only studied algorithms and file formats. Computer games are made by people with an eye for more than just the specs of the machine.

Computer games are created by a whole set of people. There are people that design the levels, people who do that art work. These people may or may not have the computer science background.

The US patent office will not let you write patents unless you have a science or engineering degree, Math degrees so not count. This probably has to do with the idea that math theorems are not patentable.

Scientists are generally thought to be researchers where engineer are developers. This seems to be echoed by the responses here.

There is a lot of computer research that I would consider science. However, the vast majority of computer science people do more development work.

Let me just step in for a moment in defense of psychology: True, psychology can only very rarely give hard numbers or absolute answers, but that’s due to the subject matter, not to the methods of studying it. Research psychologists do experiments, record their results, subject the data to statistical analysis, etc. Compare with astronomy, for instance (my background). Nobody disputes astronomy’s status as a “real” science, but we can’t even do experiments!

It has been a while since I read Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, but IIRC for a “Discipline” to be a “Science”, it takes more than a methodology (i.e., the Scientific Method)–there must be a unifying, universally accepted paradigm through which the results of the testing are interpreted.

Geology is a science because every geologist employs not only the scientific method, but also interprets the results in light of our paradigm, Actualism (aka Uniformitarianism).

Psychology is not quite there yet(*) because there is not unifying paradigm: you’ve got your Freudians, your Jungians, etc., etc.

In other words, it’s one thing to employ a Scientific Methodology–it’s another to interpret those data meaningfully.

(*) Not trying to insult any psychologists!