In today’s society, academic communities and the general public tend to hold hard sciences—biology, physics, and chemistry–in higher esteem than so-called soft sciences such as psychology and sociology. For instance, the U.S. House of Representatives decided to cancel funding to the National Science Foundation’s political science research in 2012. A Washington Post op-ed written by Charles Lane shortly afterwards strongly seconded the motion because, unlike hypotheses of hard sciences, “hypotheses about society usually cannot be proven or disproven by experimentation.” However, here is a counter-argument to make the case for working within the soft sciences.
Controlled Social Experimentation and Real World Benefits
Many social scientists perform precise, carefully controlled experiments, within and outside of labs, concerning the behavior of humans. Untold millions of people benefit from the observations of psychology, for example, when they seek therapy. Social workers, psychologists and sociologists address problems that plague society, such as child abuse or teen pregnancy. For example, interventions with real world applications are developed by research psychologists, and society then benefits by fewer incidents of child abuse and teen-aged pregnancy, for example.
The Experimental Method Can Show Program Success and Failure
Not every social program designed by soft scientists are effective, necessarily, though the same can be said of virtually all kinds of human efforts. In recent years, D.A.R.E. (a school-based anti-drug program); Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (aimed to lessen PTSD in those who have seen or been involved in traumatic events); and “Scared Straight” (intended to prevent teenagers from initiating criminal behavior) are well-known programs that do not work. Experimental studies have shown these programs were ineffective or even detrimental to those participating in them. Through the experimental method, social scientists were able to end these programs.
Making the Case for a Degree in the Soft Sciences
An undergraduate or graduate sociology degree, for example, benefits the student by steeping him or her in the experimental method. The student reads and extrapolates meaning from research in courses and study statistics. Later, he or she participates in the studies of others. The student learns to design experimental studies based upon derived hypotheses. The student learns critical thinking and then employs the experimental method to test this thinking.
Sociology Career Opportunities
A jobseeker with a bachelor’s degree in sociology may find employment opportunities in crime, law enforcement, corrections, community services, and organizations that focus on social problems. They may work in policy analysis, as a social policy analyst, or in education, as a sociology teacher. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment for those with sociology training will increase by fifteen percent through 2022, a slightly higher rate than the average eleven percent growth rate for all fields. Note that many of the best paid jobs for sociologists require a graduate degree in sociology.
If you are struggling to choose a major and love the human mind, the operations and organizations of societies, and want to make a positive impact on the lives of others, a degree in the soft sciences can provide the educational background to earn a fulfilling and stimulating career.