The hypothesised Hierarchy of the Sciences (henceforth HoS) is

reflected inmany social and organizational features of academic life.

When 222 scholars rated their perception of similarity between

academic disciplines, results showed a clustering along three main

dimensions: a ‘‘hard/soft’’ dimension, which roughly corresponded

to the HoS; a ‘‘pure/applied’’ dimension, which reflected the

orientation of the discipline towards practical application; and a

‘‘life/non-life’’ dimension [13]. These dimensions have been vali-

dated by many subsequent studies, which compared disciplines by

parameters including: average publication rate of scholars, level of

social connectedness, level of job satisfaction, professional commit-

ment, approaches to learning, goals of academic departments,

professional duties of department heads, financial reward structures

of academic departments, and even response rates to survey

questionnaires [14,15,16,17].


refs are:

13. Biglan A (1973) Characteristics of subject matter in different academic areas.

Journal of Applied Psychology 57: 195–203.


14. Smart JC, Elton CF (1982) Validation of the Biglan model. Research in Higher

Education 17: 213–229.


15. Malaney GD (1986) Differentiation in graduate-education. Research in Higher

Education 25: 82–96.


16. Stoecker JL (1993) The Biglan classification revisited. Research in Higher

Education 34: 451–464.


17. Laird TFN, Shoup R, Kuh GD, Schwarz MJ (2008) The effects of discipline on

deep approaches to student learning and college outcomes. Research in Higher

Education 49: 469–494.


Numerous studies have taken a direct approach, and have

attempted to compare the hardness of two or more disciplines,

usually psychology or sociology against one or more of the natural

sciences. These studies used a variety of proxy measures including:

ratio of theories to laws in introductory textbooks, number of

colleagues acknowledged in papers, publication cost of interrupt-

ing academic career for one year, proportion of under 35 s who

received above-average citations, concentration of citations in the

literature, rate of pauses in lectures given to undergraduates,

immediacy of citations, anticipation of one’s work by colleagues,

average age when receiving the Nobel prize, fraction of journals’

space occupied by graphs (called Fractional Graph Area, or FGA),

and others [17,18]. According to a recent review, some of these

measures are correlated to one-another and to the HoS [2]. One

parameter, FGA, even appears to capture the relative hardness of

sub-disciplines: in psychology, FGA is higher in journals rated as

‘‘harder’’ by psychologists, and also in journals specialised in

animal behaviour rather than human behaviour [19,20,21].


refs are:

19. Best LA, Smith LD, Stubbs DA (2001) Graph use in psychology and other

sciences. Behavioural Processes 54: 155–165.


20. Kubina RM, Kostewicz DE, Datchuk SM (2008) An initial survey of fractional

graph and table area in behavioral journals. Behavior Analyst 31: 61–66.


21. Smith LD, Best LA, Stubbs DA, Johnston J, Archibald AB (2000) Scientific

graphs and the hierarchy of the sciences: A Latourian survey of inscription

practices. Social Studies of Science 30: 73–94.


a very interesting metascience paper! refs are also interesting





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