Since the Nato intrusion into our western border, print media, talk shows, social networks and (to the extent we have them here) think tanks have been debating the strategic challenge facing the country. In effect, it is a serious challenge to our social, political and economic thinking. Narratives spun around this thinking do not crop up suddenly. Nor is their replacement a quick fix. The understanding of the critical issues involved here requires a serious knowledge of the social science, something that has not been embedded in our academic culture. In 2005, the late Inayatullah, Rubina Saigol and this writer had edited a book, Social Sciences in Pakistan, essentially a lament on their poor state. Six years on, one does not see much difference. The 2000s witnessed a surge in higher education funding, but the low share of social sciences reflected their status further down the priority list. Out of the total number of PhD graduates from 2003-10, only 24 per cent were in social sciences. From 2006-10, only eight per cent of the overseas scholarships were in social sciences. Their share in postdoctoral fellowships is around 20 per cent. All this information, it may be noted, has been taken from the HEC reports.
There are many reasons for this state of affairs, but an important one is the way social science is viewed by the managers of higher education. The first chairman of the HEC, a scientist, did not think much of social sciences. The current chairman believes that social sciences are a soft science. He can’t be serious unless he is following the pseudo scientist thumb rule that all disciplines claiming to be science by name — social science, political science and computer science — are not science! Science is science, neither hard nor soft. Such pejoratives have been used to create scenes, but not as a matter of serious argument. Famously in 1986, Serge Lang, a Yale mathematician, challenged the nomination of Samuel Huntington for the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. Huntington, at that time, was the president of the American Political Science Association. Lang found Huntington’s computation, in one of his works, of overall correlation between frustration and instability in a sample of countries, as nonsensical. “Does he have a social-frustration meter?” Lang had asked. It was, however, taken as no more than a teaser by other scientists. Science, it was understood, was not just about exact measurement in a laboratory. It was about explanation and prediction. In this general sense, the so-called soft sciences can in reality be harder than the so-called hard sciences. What is called the boundary problem in the philosophy of science is not hard versus soft, but science versus non-science.
In an article published in the American Psychologist in 1987, Larry Hedges carried out an exemplary comparison to show that the results of social experimentation were no less consistent than physical experimentation. Thus, the hard sciences may not be as hard as they are made out to be and, the soft sciences may be no less hard. The point is that, the neglect of social sciences has grave social costs. The root cause of our present mess is the cumulative lack of a scientific understanding of our history, peoples and society. An emphasis on physical science can give you nuclear capability, but a lack of emphasis on social science increases the chances of its abuse.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2011.
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Economics is not a hard science but that does not make it any less important than Physics.
Root causes of our present mess a lack of scientific understanding of our "history, peoples and society".
What about economics?
Our knowledge on that score is quite good, the analysis empirically rigorous, but memories are short!
@Author:--please do not get disappointed if a book that you edited six years back has had no impact on our social fabric because you yourself have pointed out that serious knowledge of social sciences is not embedded in our academic culture.Six years is nothing,I can show you books written fifty or sixty years back and they have had no impact on our social thinking.If the crux of any knowledge is exactitude,to be called asocial science,we are at a loss in our society.talking of Ph.Ds here is just a hogwash.We have been spoon-fed so-much-long that we presently are unable to come out of the cradle-of-ignorance,so-much-so that we have come to like to be there.during journey of scientific knowledge which is from Heresy to Folklore to Fiction to Arts and to Science,our heretic gets faltered between art and science putting us in the quagmire of confusion and there we stay.AIDS err AID zindaa-baad.
Plz let me recall that human knowledge is devided into (1)Natural sciences like physics/chemistry etc.(2)Social sciences (of human society).The first ones are predictable while social sciences are not so. And terms hard science,soft science make no sense, then to differentiate the natural and social sciences as Sciences and non-sciences, too,does not sound positively.Social sciences are called so rightly though these are not as exact as natural sciences. But still these are sciences serving the noble cause of an organized human society.Physical scientists and social scientists, both have to live and work in society for their assigned role in unison and not in isolation.Who and how many adopt this or that discipline/sciences, depends upon market value of supply and demand. Men of Sc.& Tech. are more in demand in all human societies.Hence the HEC figures are rightly correct.Anyhow,your esteemed writer,Dr.Pervez Tahir, being an economist,a social scientist and there was a time, when Ecnomics was termed as Political Economy, as such he can feel elated to say that knowledge is power and the knowledge of politico-economy is most powerful due to which the weilders of social/political power actually control the lives of allincluding natural scientists, hence let us say that all well that ends on this 'soft note'