August 08, 2006

The emerging science of snowclones

For some reason, a phrase has been stuck in my head recently: "the emerging science of ___" It all started when I blogged about the book by Leonard Sax, "Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences".

A Google search for {"emerging science of"} claims 180,000 hits, and the first 10 pages turn up emerging sciences of nanotechnology, spontaneous order, space weather, canopy ecology, the web, dietary components for health, very early detection of disease outbreaks, synchrony, artificial life, aspirin, conservation medicine, learning, body weight regulation, the internet, geometric integration, electromagnetic radiation, marine reserves, leadership, homeopathy, epigenomics, fructology, learnable intelligence, insecticide resistance, endocrine disruption, positive emotion, psychoacoustics, metabolomics, Asian American psychology, dam removal, wholeness, functional assessment, EMD (emergency dispatch), and (my favorite) forensic podiatry.

Exercise for the reader: what proportion of "emerging sciences" are in fact sciences? Certainly more than zero, but quite a bit less than one. I was hoping to be able to tell you that "the emerging science of linguistics" was absent from the net, but in fact there are a few hits. However, most of them deal with rather antique dates of emergence, such as 1820 or so:

Herder held that all thought (and consequently also a thinker’s mental life more generally) was essentially dependent on and bounded by the thinker’s capacity for linguistic expression; and that meanings consisted in word usages. Consequently, for Herder the route to discovering the nature of other peoples’ distinctive ways of thinking and meaning was through a careful examination of their distinctive languages and word usages. W. von Humboldt subsequently took over this position, making it his fundamental rationale for the emerging science of linguistics. He also developed it further by emphasizing, as Herder had not, that languages differ even at the very fundamental level of their grammatical structures.

Posted by Mark Liberman at August 8, 2006 04:21 AM