In the last week I've encountered two expressions that bug me. Both have to do with classifying the sciences.
"The hard sciences."
In an e-mail, a philosopher pointed to the necessity of a curricular requirement for courses in "the hard sciences." No one younger than a certain age talks this way. No social scientist talks this way. And I've never heard a natural scientist talk this way, either. From the context, it seemed as though the philosopher was indicating math and physics. These are taken to be the sciences that aren't "soft." But why are those other areas of study called soft? Because they're easier? (They're not.) Because the object of study is less concrete? (But consider fluid dynamics.) Or because they aren't as male dominated? Plenty of people have made a case for the latter.
So the term "hard sciences" is at least disrespectful of the social sciences and possibly also disrespectful of women.
A more accurate division is into the "life" and "physical" sciences. Is that so hard?
"The human sciences."
I've seen this used twice in the philosophy of science book I've been reading. I think it's used to indicate the social sciences but I can't tell if it's also meant to capture some or all of the humanities and some or all of the biological sciences. Certainly, it's used in a context where the social sciences are more problematic than the natural sciences because they supposedly lack objectivity. But I've never heard anyone refer to their own work as being in "the human sciences," and I have no colleagues who identify themselves as "human scientists."
I can't explain why this term is used. I can only think that its purpose is to appear neutral while being subtly disparaging. Or maybe it's an old-fashioned term. I can imagine that some would use it so as to make an implicit reference to the Geisteswissenschaften--but in the philosophy of science I'm reading, that would be beside the point.
The use of terms like these by philosophers points, I think, to the distance between (some) philosophers and their colleagues elsewhere in the academy.