On Social Sciences
11 Mar 2017
So, it’s kind of no secret that I am a computer science major, and I’ve mostly deal with natural sciences / engineering throughout my academic life for the past few years. There’s a trend I observed in my school in particular, and probably in the academic world in general. Natural sciences and Engineering majors are on the same side of this issue in general. Let’s call all of them STEM majors. STEM majors generally hate Social Sciences ones and vice versa. And in my school, both hate education-related majors #bogaziciegitimfakultesikapatilsin :)
I’m not claiming to be impartial or unbiased here, I don’t think that I could be even if I wanted to, and which side I’m on should be obvious at this point. Though recently, I’ve been exposed to enough humanities that I could try to write a bit about this old rivalry.
Problems specific to Turkey
First, there’s the problem kind of specific to Turkey (and countries with similar education systems, primarily in Eastern Asia). This applies to the rest of the world, but the effect is less pronounced. Turkish education system is very much dependent on competition between students and the university entrance system is even more so. The exam(s), commonly changing name, was/were called YGS/LYS in their last incarnation. You get sorted according to your exam score and you get into the university+department of your choice according to your placement in this ordering. The exam in question is overly stressful and the preparation tends to consume the entire senior year (or potentially more) of high school.
The thing is, you start getting divided into 3 major areas in the sophomore year of high school. Sayisal (sciences), primarily aimed at churning out STEM majors plus Medicine, Esit Agirlik (equal weight), for stuff like Psychology, Business, Economics and other stuff roughly in-between, and Sozel (humanities). How you are divided into those correlate very strongly with the academic success you had prior. STEM fields are generally more competitive than Humanities fields, and people aiming for STEM fields generally do the humanities parts in the university exam as well, while the converse is not necessarily true. For that reason; STEM people tend to view Humanities as “dumber” ever since high school. This kind of view might be somewhat universal as Sciences are generally regarded as “more difficult” than humanities fields. For humanities dosliking sciences, they might be developing some sort of inferiority complex due to the prevalence of such views. But for countries without this kind of distinction from high school onwards, students generally have less time to turn this feeling into genuine disdain for the other side. (That bit that I just wrote felt overly humanities focused for a CS major like me as I was writing it :) )
Differences in academic culture
Another thing is our average writing style. I noticed this difference in some group assignments we were doing. I had, up to that point, considered myself to be an awfully rambling writer, branching into relatively unrelated tangents. That is, until I noticed how humanities people write. Perhaps this is a “humanities student” thing not a “humanities professor” thing because brevity and understandability is a valuable thing in academic writing. But the thing is, in humanities-related writing, you can be over-succinct. When you are over-succinct, you can come out as too direct, too didactic, or just lacking rigor. In science related disciplines, there’s no such thing as over-brevity. The thing you’re writing needs to be understood, but also needs to be as short as possible. There’s just no room for any roundabout way of telling things.
Another thing is subjectivity. I was happily surprised that I got a perfect score from an assignment last week. I don’t think I had ever received a perfect score for anything in the last 5 years, really. This might be a bit different in fields like history where people can care more about objective facts, but in things like literary analysis, you get the score as long as you are within the bounds set by the professor, plus relevant to the topic. That is simply not true for STEM majors when you need to care for those two, but plus the objective ‘truth’ (which can be, and is, measured) of what you’re writing. I can also relate to ‘SJW’ progressive types and how they are apparently putting ‘feels before reals’. This is the obvious way forward when you are in an academic environment where the objective truth of what you’re writing doesn’t really matter as long as your arguments are logical and they make sense.
A look from the other side
And we come to the main gripe of humanities majors with regards to STEM fields, that they lack the academic rigor which they place a lot of value in, and just claim that those (especially engineering majors) are simply ‘job training programs’. I understand that from the parts I wrote earlier, being factually correct trumps (that is not a Donald Trump reference) others so much that students care much less about things not related to factual correctness, academic rigor obviously being one of them. Of course on non-student level the requirements for academic rigor is much higher, but as mentioned previously, this feud doesn’t work at all at higher levels.
To conclude, such a thing exists and there are reasons for it to exist. Whether the extent of the reasons justify the feud, that’s a whole another question and one that I personally wouldn’t like to tackle.