Hey, social scientists -- does "normal" have a scientific meaning that isn't a term of art in math or chemistry?

Wikipedia disambiguates the word to many things, but the only non-math/chem senses I can see that might remotely fall within the sphere of science are "social norms" and "normal behavior", neither of which appear to have precise descriptive definition (i.e. some objective way of determining whether someone's behavior falls within the definition or not).

Admittedly, I haven't read either article fully, but then again I'd probably want to go to the sources and read them, and at that point it seems like time to ask someone who is actually conversant with the, uh, norms in the field...

· · Web · 5 · 3 · 4

@woozle There's the normative-positive distinction, most especially in economics. I can never remember which is what without looking it up, but they're the is/ought distnction:

  • Positive: is
  • Normative: ought

The use in normal school (a/k/a "teaching college" in the US) refers to social norms, and comes from the French ecole normale.

What's the context in which the question arises?

@dredmorbius The context is, to bias your response as little as possible, in the context of a scientist saying whether homosexuality or transgenderness is "normal".

I can say who, and which direction they were going with it, if you'd like to know.

@dredmorbius Oh, and the person in question is speaking within their field of expertise.

(...and also is not my dad, for once.)

@woozle No need for more background.

Though it might be useful to note that the behaviour is observed widely in human and nonhuman populations. If not a majority variant, it is a notable, consistent, and persistent one, falling well within the penumbra of "normally enough observed that there is a considerable literature and understanding across numerous fields of study".

Note the possible confounding of "normal" and "moral" (or other shaded implications) which may be communicated, consciously/intentionally or otherwise.

@woozle The behaviour not extending to surgical reassignment, though animals are observed taking on genderfluid roles.

Hell, some change gender based on environment or (IIRC) by life stage. Or are multigender within individuals.

And that's before we get to trigender species.

@dredmorbius I stole some of what you wrote, hope that's ok.

I'm probably spending too much time on this, but I guess it's how I cope with the stress of being confronted with antiepistemia.


Norms, Normality, and Normativity

Sociologists distinguish between the terms norm, normal, and normative.

  • The norm refers to what is common or frequent. For example, celebrating Christmas is the norm in America.
  • Normal is opposed to abnormal. Even though celebrating Christmas is the norm, it is not abnormal to celebrate Hanukkah. To celebrate Hanukkah is perfectly normal.
  • In contrast to both of these, normative refers to a morally-endorsed ideal. Some Americans make a normative argument that Americans should celebrate Christmas because they believe (wrongly) that this is a Christian country. ...

If you've made it according to a carpenter's square, it's normal:

normal (adj.)
c. 1500, "typical, common;" 1640s, in geometry, "standing at a right angle, perpendicular," from Late Latin normalis "in conformity with rule, normal," in classical Latin "made according to a carpenter's square," from norma "rule, pattern," literally "carpenter's square," a word of unknown origin (see norm). Meaning "conforming to common standards or established order or usage, regular, usual" is attested from 1828 but probably is older than the record [Barnhart].

Meaning "heterosexual" is by 1914. As a noun meaning "usual state or condition," from 1890 (in geometry as "a perpendicular" from 1727). Sense of "a normal person or thing" is attested by 1894. Normal school "training college for teachers" (1835) is a translation of French école normale (1794), a creation of the French Republic; the notion is of "serving to set a standard." The U.S. city of Normal, Illinois, was named 1857 for the normal school established there.


@woozle If you would consider psychiatry a science (many do not), then "normal" would mean "not showing symptoms of a mental illness as defined in the DSM ." Of course, diagnosis is more of an art than a science, but the whole business is based in a sort of consensus as to what constitutes normal behavior and mental process. In statistics, "normal" would usually mean a trait that appears within one standard deviation of the mean value in a typical bell curve distribution.

@woozle There's Thomas Kuhn's normal science:

the regular work of scientists theorizing, observing, and experimenting within a settled paradigm or explanatory framework.[2] Regarding science as puzzle-solving,[3] Kuhn explained normal science as slowly accumulating detail in accord with established broad theory, without questioning or challenging the underlying assumptions of that theory. ...

Sign in to participate in the conversation

The social network of the future: No ads, no corporate surveillance, ethical design, and decentralization! Own your data with Mastodon!