creative commons image by tonrulkens

Sally Hillsman of the American Sociological Association makes a strong and timely case for sociology as a “STEM” discipline in the February issue of Footnotes. Though STEM is an acronym for “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,”  the social sciences have struggled to find a place at the STEM table.

In response, Professor Hillsman offers three compelling points:

1. Sociology is part of the national science community.

2. Sociology is a core part of applied science.

3. Sociology is a gateway to science for undergraduates.

Not every sociologist self-identifies as a scientist, though it is difficult for me to conceive of my research and teaching as anything but social science. Yet even friendly colleagues in the natural sciences seem surprised to learn that a sociologist like me spends time specifying and testing hypotheses, writing and reviewing National Science Foundation grants, attending the American Academy for the Advancement of Science meetings, and thinking about how my work might contribute to the systematic understanding of the (social) world.  By spreading the word about the great diversity of good work being done by our colleagues, I’d also like to think that our Society Pages project can play some role in raising the profile of the social sciences.

The most recent wave of social science legitimacy issues are likely a product of internal conflicts as well as external attacks, but it isn’t all doom and gloom. In our view, sociology offers a near-ideal setting for teaching and learning scientific thinking — the phenomena we study are immediately engaging and accessible, yet their complexity demands critical analysis and sophistication in conceptualization and method. What better setting for educating our students and publics about science?