who’s more scientific? let the people decide!


The 2006 GSS is certainly shaping up to be one of the more interesting in a while. In addition to asking people questions about planetary motions, the good folk at NORC asked a representative sample of Americans what they thought the “scientificity” level of various disciplines was. Here’s the prompt:

Please look at Card B20. How scientific are each of the following fields? If you have not heard of a particular field, just say you haven’t heard of it.

[name of scientific field]. Is [name of scientific field] very scientific, pretty scientific, not too scientific, or not scientific at all?

This of course sets up a great pissing contest among representatives of each field. The results (shown below; columns are N, %, and cum. %) are not very surprising. Although two interesting things stand out. The most “scientific” field in the popular imagination is not Physics, but medicine, with about four fifths of population bowing to its pure scientific power. Clearly this is an informational and practical proximity effect, since people don’t usually come into contact with particle accelerators, but they do take pills every time something hurts. In this vein, both Medicine (80%) and Biology (70%) beat Physics (68%) in being thought of as very scientific (the percentages reported below do not use the GSS provided weights, so the exact number will change slightly is these are applied; however the pattern of results would probably remain the same).

Towards the bottom of the scientificity scale are the social sciences, with sociology thought to be the least likely to be “very scientific” (9%) and the most likely (no surprise to any sociologist reading this) to elicit the response: “haven’t heard of it!” (8.4%). While economics is close to twice as likely to be thought of as “very scientific” than sociology (16%), I’m sure this number is still to darn low for our physics-infatuated friends. Furthermore, we do slightly better in the proportion of the population that thinks of both disciplines as “pretty” scientific and actually do better in the “not too scientific” category. The most depressing part of these results is that even history beats sociology (it’s probably a statistical tie, but let me make my joke) in being thought of as very scientific. Clearly this is because there is no such things as The Sociology Channel. Thankfully, there are more people who think of history as “not very scientific” or “not scientific at all” than do the same for sociology.


Very sci 1,495 80.20 80.20
Pretty sci 305 16.36 96.57
Not sci 24 1.29 97.85
Not sci 5 0.27 98.12
HAVENT HRD 1 0.05 98.18
DON’T KNOW 30 1.61 99.79
NO ANSWER 4 0.21 100.00


Very sci 1,262 67.70 67.70
Pretty sci 394 21.14 88.84
Not sci 59 3.17 92.01
Not sci 15 0.80 92.81
HAVENT HRD 50 2.68 95.49
DON’T KNOW 80 4.29 99.79
NO ANSWER 4 0.21 100.00


Very sci 1,300 69.74 69.74
Pretty sci 447 23.98 93.72
Not sci 39 2.09 95.82
Not sci 14 0.75 96.57
HAVENT HRD 14 0.75 97.32
DON’T KNOW 46 2.47 99.79
NO ANSWER 4 0.21 100.00


Very sci 299 16.04 16.04
Pretty sci 648 34.76 50.80
Not sci 579 31.06 81.87
Not sci 243 13.04 94.90
HAVENT HRD 23 1.23 96.14
DON’T KNOW 68 3.65 99.79
NO ANSWER 4 0.21 100.00


Very sci 167 8.96 8.96
Pretty sci 736 39.48 48.44
Not sci 540 28.97 77.41
Not sci 150 8.05 85.46
HAVENT HRD 156 8.37 93.83
DON’T KNOW 110 5.90 99.73
NO ANSWER 5 0.27 100.00


Very sci 195 10.46 10.46
Pretty sci 389 20.87 31.33
Not sci 676 36.27 67.60
Not sci 539 28.92 96.51
HAVENT HRD 6 0.32 96.83
DON’T KNOW 55 2.95 99.79
NO ANSWER 4 0.21 100.00

Written by Omar

February 11, 2008 at 5:04 pm

Posted in fun, omar, research

9 Responses

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  1. I wonder how management science would do in a survey like this?



    February 11, 2008 at 6:24 pm

  2. You mean management is a science?



    February 11, 2008 at 7:01 pm

  3. I think the medicine result pretty much says it all…and pretty much shows why “the people” shouldn’t decide…if y’all only knew!!!



    February 11, 2008 at 7:38 pm

  4. How can you guys not notice the obvious? About 48% say soc is at least somewhat scientific. The equivalent for econ is 50%, not much different. The same for history is 30%. Sure, there may be intensity of belief differences, but the message is fairly clear:

    – life and physical are overwhelmingly viewed as scientific
    – the public is split on social sciences, even econ
    – a majority thinks that the humanities are not scientific

    Is that such a remarkable finding? Maybe the real story is the presence of “econ zealots” and “soc skeptics” who pump up the ends of the scale.



    February 11, 2008 at 9:23 pm

  5. But that end scale pumping is important. If you take the first two responses as a positive endorsement, then Econ gets 67%, Soc 57% and Herstory 42%, which pretty much ranks those social sciences in the same way that most deans do (although I agree that the differences in the public perceptions of Econ and Soc are much smaller that most [including me] would have expected).

    Is nobody else surprised that the biological sciences outdid Physics in this survey? The A-bomb? Einstein? Feynman? Has all of that been undone by Watson and Crick and DNA?



    February 11, 2008 at 11:09 pm

  6. 1. Concerning biology. Most people probably understand what biology is, while people know physics is science, but they don’t have a definition.

    2. “Herstory.” Someone’s gettin’ busted *real* bad at home tonight…



    February 11, 2008 at 11:18 pm

  7. I thought that was the PC spelling. Wasn’t there a historian harping about the death of sociology a while back?



    February 11, 2008 at 11:24 pm

  8. Sociology is the zombie of the social sciences. We keep croakin’, but we keep comin’ back.



    February 12, 2008 at 1:39 am

  9. […] More ad populum 12 02 2008 What could be more – credibility enhancing? – for academia than asking “a representative sample of Americans,” how scientific various disciplines are?  Oddly enough Medicine and Biology edged out Physics on the “scientificity” scale.  Omar has the details. […]


    More ad populum « mmbs blog

    February 13, 2008 at 5:38 am

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