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December 17, 2018 

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CETERIS PARIBUS: A Latin term meaning that all other factors are held unchanged. The ceteris paribus assumption is used to isolate the effect one economic factor has on another. Without this assumption, it would be difficult to determine cause and effect in the economy. Relaxing the ceteris paribus assumption is the primary analytical technique used in the study of economics, especially when analyzing the market. Much like a chemist adds one chemical at a time to a mixture to determine the resulting reaction, an economist relaxes one ceteris paribus assumption at a time to observe the results.

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SOCIAL SCIENCE:

The scientific study of society--of human behavior and of social interactions. Economics is one of several social sciences. Others are sociology, political science, and anthropology. Economics is considered a social science because it seeks to explain how society deals with the scarcity problem.
Economics is one of several disciplines that apply the scientific method to the study of human behavior, a social science. The social part of this phrase means the study of society, human behavior, and social interactions. The science part means the use of the scientific method to describe and explain the world. Economics stands apart from other social sciences because it is the scientific study of human behavior related to the problem of scarcity.

Physical Science

Social science includes the modifying term social to distinguish it from a related term--physical science. Physical science is the scientific study of physical or natural phenomena that are largely unrelated to human behavior and social interactions.

Physical science, also termed natural or hard science, is concerned with the scientific study of such things as atoms, planets, wildlife, and continental drift and includes the disciplines of physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, and geology, among others. These sciences are what most often come to mind when the word science is used.

The Only Science?

In fact, some folks contend that physical sciences are the only disciplines that qualify as real sciences and that social sciences should be relegated to the same academic trash can as astrology and voodoo.

However, science is not "what" so much as "how." Physical sciences make use of the scientific method to describe and explain particular physical aspects of the world. Social sciences make use of the scientific method to describe and explain particular social aspects of the world. Both are valid areas of scientific inquiry.

No Science of Society?

Why then do social sciences lack the scientific esteem of physical sciences?
  • Experiments: Social sciences are not as easily studied using controlled laboratory experiments, as with chemistry and physics. The definitive tests needed to produce clear-cut scientific laws are often difficult to obtain. A chemist might be able to test a hypothesis in a matter of hours through a controlled experiment. An economist might have to wait years or even decades for the right mix of events needed to test a hypothesis.

  • Behavior: The study of human behavior can easily affect the behavior under study. That is, people are prone to act differently if they know they are being studied and by making use of the results of the study. Stars are unaware that they are being studied when viewed through a telescope hundreds of light years away. Consumers, however, are often aware that they are being studied when asked about their buying habits. Such awareness among humans can influence the results of a study.

  • Values: Social sciences are not free of subjective values and are often used as a basis to achieve political, cultural, or social goals. Social scientists are often just as interested in improving the world as in understanding it. As such, it can be difficult to separate the politically-charged subjective rhetoric from the objective scientific facts. What appears to be a scientific study might be little more than a smoke screen of political propaganda.

A Rebuttal

While each of these is a valid concern in any scientific study, they do not mean that social sciences are NOT science.

  • Experiments: The ability or inability to conduct controlled laboratory experiments is a part of any science. Astronomers cannot control the movement of stars and planets. Like economists, they too must wait for events to occur. Moreover, social scientists (including economists) have made effective use of controlled laboratory type experiments to develop scientific laws.

  • Behavior: Physical scientists are increasingly aware that they too can affect the physical phenomena studied. For example, shining light on a photon (which is the packet of energy that makes light) can affect the behavior and properties of the photon.

  • Values: Subjective values also enter into the physical sciences. Theories of astronomy generally build on a preconceived belief about the existence of a supreme being. Biological theories reflect the ongoing political debate between biblical creation and evolution.

A Young Science

Social sciences probably have less esteem in the scientific community in part because they are younger than the physical sciences. Many social scientific principles are still being developed and debated. Physical scientific principles have been around longer and have been tested more thoroughly. While the physical sciences can trace their roots to people like Galileo, who lived in the 1500s, economics goes back to Adam Smith of the late 1700s, psychology goes to Sigmund Freud of the 1800s, and other social sciences have similar limited time spans.

The scientific method takes time to verify hypotheses and to develop widely accepted theories. Physical sciences are more widely regarded as "hard" sciences, in part, because they have been in the game longer. Interestingly, economics is the oldest of the social sciences and is generally held in higher regard than others.

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Recommended Citation:

SOCIAL SCIENCE, AmosWEB Encyclonomic WEB*pedia, http://www.AmosWEB.com, AmosWEB LLC, 2000-2018. [Accessed: December 17, 2018].


Check Out These Related Terms...

     | physical science | science | economic science |


Or For A Little Background...

     | scientific method | economics | phenomenon | economic thinking | positive economics | verification |


And For Further Study...

     | political views | scarcity | seven economic rules | dismal science | economic analysis | normative economics | second rule of subjectivity | American Economic Association | American Association for the Advancement of Science |


Related Websites (Will Open in New Window)...

     | American Association for the Advancement of Science | American Economic Association | National Science Foundation |


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