Sunday, March 26, 2006

Soft science

Who uses it: Physicists, geologists, chemists, and other "hard scientists"
What it means: A disparaging term for any academic discipline or experiment that has scientific aspects, but does not meet the scientific method's requirement that experiments have verifiable and reproducible results. Anthropology, economics and psychology would all be considered "soft sciences."
How you can use it: To criticize sloppy work.

My sister Susan was shelving magazines the other day at the bookstore where she works (at one point, four members of our family were working in bookstores), and came across the current issue of Fate magazine. Her inventory list told her to shelve it as "speculative science," next to that other notorious soft-science rag, National Geographic. In the world of Barnes & Noble's periodicals, the werewolves of England and the tigers of Siberia are roughly equivalent.

Thank God for places like St. John's College, where kids are still learning the process of critical thinking. My friend Megan and I went up there last night to meet the Beas and see Our Chris in a production of Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things. It's a perfect play for college students, in many ways, because it asks the fundamental questions: who are we really? Are we different in relationships than out of them, and if so, why? What are we willing to do to stay connected, and what is our moral obligation to the people we're connecting with? Finally, how much license does an artist have to create at the expense of others? Chris was great, playing somewhat against type (a careless, handsome frat boy -- he is handsome, of course, but neither careless nor the fraternity type).

It's a beautiful day here in Washington, and my back is much better. If I get enough work done, maybe I'll head up to the National Zoo to see the baby panda. I think they have a Siberian tiger, too. But no werewolves.

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