Social science = art?

Okay. . . I know that bioephemera is not the most compartmentalized, well-defined example of “science blogging.” Many of the subjects I blog about aren’t science at all – which begs the question, what exactly is “science”? In my defense, I’m not the only one that’s confused. Check out this story from today’s NYT Arts section:

Pentagon to Consult Academics on Security

Eager to embrace eggheads and ideas, the Pentagon has started an ambitious and unusual program to recruit social scientists and direct the nation’s brainpower to combating security threats like the Chinese military, Iraq, terrorism and religious fundamentalism.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has compared the initiative — named Minerva, after the Roman goddess of wisdom (and warriors) — to the government’s effort to pump up its intellectual capital during the cold war after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957.

Although the Pentagon regularly finances science and engineering research, systematic support for the social sciences and humanities has been rare. Minerva is the first systematic effort in this area since the Vietnam War, said Thomas G. Mahnken, deputy assistant secretary of defense for policy planning, whose office will be overseeing the project.

But if the uncustomary push to engage the nation’s evolutionary psychologists, demographers, sociologists, historians and anthropologists in security research — as well as the prospect of new financial support in lean times — has generated excitement among some scholars, it has also aroused opposition from others, who worry that the Defense Department and the academy are getting too cozy.

Why is this story placed in the Arts section, rather than Science or Technology. . . ? Apparently the combination of eggheads, ideas and a Roman goddess was just too out there. Either that, or the NYT is making some sort of subtly snarky comment on how the Pentagon/”hard” science has traditionally viewed social (“cozy”?) science. I’m not sure.

By the way, I’m posting this in Scienceblogs’ “Humanities & Social Science” channel. The existence of this channel implies kinship between the humanities and social sciences, more so than with the life or physical sciences, which have their own channels – but the ampersand insists on a distinction. It’s just not clear what distinction that might be. (Scienceblogs doesn’t have an “Arts” channel, or I’d just set all my posts to go directly there. It would be so easier than trying to decide what I’m actually talking about.)


  1. #1 Jan-Maarten
    June 18, 2008

    That’s funny! Why not, since no one seems to know what art is either (although I found many people will gladly offer their opinion on the subject).

    Here in the Netherlands, some academic departments have started employing resident artists, eager to get a fresh perspective on their activities.. which has mostly led to art illustrating scientific principles, rather producing than the ‘focused enigma’ you’d want art to be.

    I once threw a party for my old art friends, and my new science colleagues.. performances were performed, powerpoint lectures were given, fun and drinks were had by all. Though it didn’t lead to a greater mutual understanding, we sure engaged in happy confusion!

  2. #2 vanderleun
    June 18, 2008

    I’m always amused when I see the word “Social” dropped in front of the word “Science.”

  3. #3 John Ohab
    June 19, 2008

    Ha! This is ridiculous. Everyone knows that Neuroscience is the only real or important “science”.

  4. #5 Jan-Maarten
    June 20, 2008

    Personally, I like how the word ‘life’ multiplies ‘science’ into ‘sciences’.

  5. #6 James
    August 8, 2008

    It just had to happen! A new ‘one-upmanship’ game to play. All that is needed to play this new game is a hypothesis, or maybe even a theorem, about how the application of the scientific method to one particular area is so much more ‘scientific’ than another area where the scientific method is applied.

    I wonder, will an enterprising entrepreneur soon come out with a related ‘bored’ game?

  6. #7 Irradiatus
    August 8, 2008

    Personally, although I love the NYT and read it daily, I’ve always thought that their “science” category is far from advertised.

    Granted they often have good and important stories dealing with science. But more often than not, I find they mistake technology and medicine (the application of science) for actual hard science.

    Then again, your “what exactly is science?” is obviously valid. Science is just knowledge.

    “And knowledge is power…G.I.Joe…”

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