Economists, political scientists and sociologists have long suffered from an academic inferiority complex: physics envy. In a recent NY Times op-ed, Kevin Clarke and Primo follow this witty allusion to a Freudian concept with a more serious point: [Social scientists] often feel that their disciplines should be on a par with the “real” sciences and self-consciously model their work on them, using language (“theory,” “experiment,” “law”) evocative of physics and chemistry.
Another discipline recovering from physics envy is psychology which, to be fair, exhibits less symptoms today than 50 years ago. One reason being a diversification of psychology into many–some very large–sub-disciplines such as clinical, developmental, social, cognitive, evolutionary, genetic, biological. Many psychologists no longer belong to the same scientific organizations or share the same space on university campuses. There’s a second reason physics envy has diminished in psychology. Admiration of the cool detachment of physical sciences has been, is being, supplanted by more orientation to the biological sciences’ focus on adaptation over time of living organisms. For many psychologists this is a more agreeable frame given the dynamic nature of human cognition, emotion, and behavior. As the 20th century wound down, many psychologists diversified the research methods considered suited to study of humans.