A big difference between the natural and the social sciences, is that the former heavily rely upon experiments. Social scientists can only conduct experiments in a very limited fashion, instead social scientists have to rely on “natural” variation in society/societies.
The main advantage of experiments, is that we can repeat them. If some physicist claims to have conducted an experiment in which a particle moved faster than light, other physicists can do this experiment by themselves and look whether they get the same results. And probably even more important is that in an experiment we can isolate variables, by setting up a proper environment.
It’s obvious we can do experiments with actual societies. Established interests will do anything to prevent any change they believe might harmful to them. Or just plain fear of the unknown, will cause popular resistance to any kind of social reform. But because we can’t do social experiments, we do not know which political ideologies might work, or in which conditions a certain type of society is most suited. Instead politicians of different schools of thought rely upon their beliefs what is good for society.
Though we cannot perform experiments with existing societies, we could do this with new societies. But where can we create new societies? After all every single part of Earth is either claimed by states, or is inhabitable for humans. The regular reader of this site would know what our answer would be.
When space settlements are created, we could use this opportunity to give different space settlements different social systems. After some time we can compare these space settlements, and evaluate the results of the different sets of social rules. By comparing space settlements with a wide variety of social systems, we can learn lessons about social reforms, which we can apply to terrestrial societies. The idea of “using” space settlements as social laboratories is not new, it has been actually proposed by Gerard O’Neill in his book The High Frontier.
Space colonization might open up a whole new area of social science: experimental sociology.