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They are sometimes criticized for being less rigorous than other hard sciences and for not really following the scientific method, but this behaviour is usually notable of less-mainstream "schools" of social science disciplines. Sadly, it is because of the existence of these schools, coupled with the state of falsifiability for some of these disciplines which keeps many of them in a pre-scientific state, sometimes dangerously close to pseudoscience.
Regardless, there is great value in understanding, quantifying and predicting human behaviour and interaction, such that a lot of social science is actually applied with genuine benefit and recognized by peer review. In fact, one of the greatest strengths of the social sciences is the interdisciplinary nature of the various studies (social psychology, political economics, etc.), which can bring (hopefully) rational, reasonable and peer-reviewed insight from multiple disciplines together to explain human behavioural phenomena.
The difficulty thus lies in sorting out who or what is pseudoscientific in the social sciences. A good rule of thumb is that the wider the array of human behavior a concept, field, or theory attempts to explain, the less likely there is to be consensus on it. In psychology, for example, there is no disagreement on simple concepts like the existence of optical illusions (such as the Müller-Lyer illusion), but there are contentious debates over even the definition of more complex concepts such as "mental illness."
Anthropology is quite simply the study of humans. The discipline covers a wide area of study ranging from human literature to biological differences between different cultures. Due to this, what goes under the umbrella of anthropology can look like anything from hard science to a humanistic field. On one end of the spectrum is biological, or physical, anthropology which in some cases differs little from straight biology or ecology. On the other end, branches such as visual anthropology can resemble art history or media studies.
A particularly controversial social science, economics deals with the distribution, allocation and exchange of "wealth." What "wealth" is varies dramatically from person to person, but the general consensus among economists is "more is better." Economics further stands out from other social sciences due to its reliance on mathematics and statistics, followed by the conclusions derived from its various proofs and analyses. It is generally divided into micro-economics, which deals with elements of an economy (such as a firm, an individual person, etc.) and macro-economics, which deals with economies as a whole.
Lastly, economics seems to have some of the most polarized opinions within the discipline, especially with regards to the role and function of government, taxation, social welfare, regulation, international trade, globalization and more.
Geography is the study of locations on the surface of the Earth. Geography can be split down into natural and human geography, wherein the latter is more social science and the former very closely resembles geology.
Regardless, geography is used to understand the nature of the various locations of the world and how human interactions generally benefit/harm these locations/humans, and vice versa.
Psychology is the study of the human mind, which includes examining the physical brain, but more often than not examines human behaviour, thought process, emotion, perception and more. Following the cognitive revolution of the 1950s and '60s, cognitivism has become the dominant school within the field. Cognitive psychology has become part of the larger, emerging field of cognitive science, which integrates psychology with biology, neuroscience, philosophy of mind, anthropology, computer science (artificial intelligence), and linguistics.
Popular psychology usually focuses around behavioural disorders (formally the province of abnormal psychology), given that laypersons have relatively no understanding of psychology and the function of the human brain, not to mention certain biases towards what they think is "normal human behaviour," thus they think the sole function of the psychologist is to identify and correct this behaviour.
Sociology is the study of how humans function in groups. More specifically, it's a study that analyzes how humans interact socially and the various phenomena therein. Sociology is similar to anthropology in that the answer to how much it follows the scientific method can range from "strictly" to "not at all." The more strictly scientific areas of sociology often resemble something closer to anthropology, social psychology, or demography and statistics. On the other hand, the (usually much less) scientific areas of sociology such as social and critical theory are closer to political and moral philosophy.
It is extremely popular for wingnuts to conflate liberal attitudes with the discipline of sociology, especially considering that the founder of one of the three schools of thought in modern sociology was Karl Marx. This is further complicated when a lot of the conclusions generated by sociology seemingly take on a particularly left-wing bent, regardless of how well substantiated they are.
Political science concerns itself with the study of political systems, policies and international relations. It takes many of its cues and analytical tools from neighboring fields like economics and sociology, resulting in a strong interdisciplinary bent and a wide variety of theories, like political economy or constructivist approaches in IR. It's also sometimes dismissed by right-wingers as political science, because some researchers in the field think that Marx actually had something interesting to say, clearly designating them as left-wing lunatics dedicated to poisoning the minds of impressionable youths.
Social science, or humanities?
Some disciplines are sometimes classed as either humanities or social sciences, usually depending on the university:
- History – Areas of history relying more on statistical techniques (e.g. economic history) or hard sciences (e.g. environmental history) are sometimes considered social science. Fields like history of science often sit at the intersection of the sciences and humanities.
- Statistics – Often sits on the fence between mathematics and social science.
- Philosophy – Relevant philosophy may be integrated into the social sciences, e.g. philosophy of mind and psychology. Like history of science, philosophy of science is highly multi-disciplinary.
- Linguistics – May be considered either part of the social sciences or humanities.
- Anthropology, as well as its sub-discipline of archaeology, uses all three.
- It is generally recommended that you not bring these topics up in a room full of economists, as the resultant explosion may be catastrophic!