Why do they call it “political science?” There’s nothing scientific about politics. Or how about “scientific” polling? An “unscientific” poll simply means the sample size wasn’t big enough, or the sampling was skewed – this should be called “statistically invalid or weak” instead. With statistics you can calculate probabilities (these are sometimes lame and may or may not be useful – it depends on the question) or you can ask questions about / look for patterns in a set of data. It’s still not science.
When I returned to community college as a botany major, after having been a dropout for some years, I went to the advising center to see what classes I had to take. I was horrified to see that biology made up only a fraction of the required courses – most of them were physics, math and a lot of chemistry. I complained to the adviser. She stared at me over the tops of her glasses and said, “Botany is part of biology. It’s one of the natural sciences – hard science. If you want a degree from the University of California, these are the classes you must pass.” I stopped whining – it was obvious there was no room for discussion or negotiation, and that I would simply annoy the adviser if I continued. The requirements were the requirements. In those days, California had the best universities in the world, and they didn’t get there by having low standards. (Poor California – it’s such a shame that so much has been lost since the dreaded Proposition 13, starting with libraries).
Science is one of the many ways we humans contemplate and explore the world around us. Many approaches are spiritual or artistic – these can be wonderful, but they’re not scientific. The constraints of science aren’t necessarily rigid, but they are rigorous. We assume there is such a thing as objective reality, while at the same time understanding we’ll never quite be able to get our arms around that reality and capture it fully. We can never know if our theories are true, but we can try to compare our theories with nature to estimate their accuracy. Over the centuries we have discovered regularities of nature we call laws – such things as gravity and the laws of thermodynamics. While the laws remain, our understanding of them has changed – new interpretations are built on top of older ones.
Economics is no more a “hard” science than politics, history or sociology. There are no laws of market forces – these are things invented by humans, even if the humans themselves are the products of natural laws. No amount of mathematical modeling (also not science) will make it so. The idea of “free” markets is one of those notions that can only come from one of two places – either from people who are stupid (maybe I should be charitable and just say they’re poorly educated) or people who are dishonest – trying to rip you off while telling you that your sorry fate is simply the outcome of an inexorable natural law. Equally offensive is the pitting of innovation against tradition, as suggested by some flat earth economists, as if the two were mutually exclusive. This is not only a false dichotomy, but it seems to me that it’s just the other way around – innovation arises from and builds upon tradition. My old college pal, Alexis, used to say, “Nobody springs fully-formed from the head of Zeus, but some people sure act like they did. Especially certain faculty.” And some economists, too.