Essentially what we shall be looking at here, are the doubts often raised as to the scientific status of social science research. These concerns are in two major areas thus:
- Those who believe that social issues are too subjective and too complex to be objective.
- The second group focuses their attack on the methodological approach of social science research.
The first group believes that the unpredictability of human behaviour in social context leaves much to be scientific and objective. A critical look at the focus of these critics show that they could have only done that largely due to ignorance as to the basis for determining what is scientific and what is not. Science is not largely findings of a particular field of study effort but the method applied. What therefore, legitimizes social science as a science is not the subject of their study- man as he interacts in a group- but the methodology used in the process of investigation. These methods fit into the generally acceptable scientific methods, which we have discussed earlier.
Further, there are basic underlying assumptions of social science which is also obtainable in the other scientific fields that makes the argument that social phenomena cannot be subjected to scientific investigation baseless. They are:
- Assumption of Classification of Similar kinds: This principle holds that what is true in one case, may be true in all other cases of similar circumstances. In other words, basic truth about social life can be generalized if the circumstances are similar.
- Assumption of Constancy: This principle proposes that certain observed social phenomena are constant enough to be studied.
- Assumption of Causality: This is otherwise known as the assumption of determinism. It is an assumption that believes that natural phenomenon are determined by certain antecedent events, so social sciences can study social phenomenon to identify these causality relationship as a basis for predicating future behaviour as in other sciences (Anikpo, 1986).
It is against this background that the claim as to the scientific status of social sciences is based.
The second group of critics hinges their contention on the methodological weakness of social science research. In particular, they contend that the concepts used in social sciences lack uniformity and clarity to be used for any kind of scientific measurement. This assertion is to some extent true. Physical science concepts like “motion”, “gravity”, etc., enjoy uniform meaning across a number of scientists using it. The same goes for biological sciences where concepts like ‘anemia’, ‘bacteria’, etc., share common meaning universally. This is not the case with social sciences, where concepts like ‘development’, ‘motivation’, ‘power’, etc., share varied meaning as there are scholars using them. This makes objective measurement using such terms across board quite a difficult task.
The defense given by social scientists in response to this criticism is that social science being the newest of all the scientific fields is still evolving. They contend that in a short while these concepts will acquire universal acceptable meaning. Each of the other branches of scientific studies passed this phase before reaching to convergence on the meaning of concepts used in their field.
Another misgiving by this group about the scientific status of social sciences is in the area of faulty measurements. They contend that unlike in Physical sciences where the researcher can control and manipulate his objects of study at will, this is not the case in social sciences. Humans which are the object of its study cannot be stereotyped nor controlled at will. Humans by their nature have the capacity to wriggle out from any form of control. What is more, it is observed that sometimes the presence of a researcher in a social situation can evoke a feigned behavioral response by those he is studying. All these go to make precise measurement difficult. The merit of the foregoing criticism notwithstanding, it is important to note that there is difference between the methodology and logic adopted and the specific technique used in a particular instance. While it may be difficult for social scientist to pigeon-hole man in a test tube in order to study it, they however apply the general scientific methods in their investigation, which is what legitimizes the techniques used in each instance to collect data.