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Tim Robinson

The wonderful thing about modern science is that the theories it develops are tested every day. Insofar as the natural sciences are concerned these tests are carried out by test-pilots in the latest jet planes, by pharmaceutical companies developing new drugs, or by the designers of new computers. In the realm of social science, psychological theories are tested every day in laboratories and consulting rooms, political science is tested in the electorate and in the parliament, and economic theories are tested through development and assessment of economic policy. Unfortunately, application of the scientific method in the social sciences often results in inexact theories which have uncertain effects when they are applied in the real world. The presence of this uncertainty enables practitioners in the social sciences to overlay their findings and policy prescriptions with their own philosophical, religious and political leanings. The result is that arguments about scientific truth are much more widespread in the social sciences than in the natural sciences. Seldom do we hear arguments about whether the law of gravity is valid; yet we are continually exposed to competing theories about psychological motivation or the way in which the economy works. Disagreements about truth are motivated by individuals’ needs for self-realisation and are made possible by the inexactness of science – particularly social science.

Professor & Head of QUT's School of Economics and Finance, Tim Robinson