The debate between these two schools of thought has increased over the last few weeks, e.g. here, here and here at Env Econ blog, on this blog, and at the Salon. Academics and students alike should be interested in these differences in order to increase their understanding of each subject.
However, what I would like to determine is whether either of these conforms to the umbrella of a "science". A common sense view of science is where a subject is objective, amoral, universal, and progressive. We can clearly see that from this perspective, that neither environmental and resource economics (ERE) or ecological economics (EE) fits in as a science.
Alternatively, one could take a diffused concept of science, where one should think of subjects (or even theories) as organised structures, which coincides with Imre Lakatos’ argument. He suggests that there is a ‘hard core’ of a subject which includes the basic assumptions underlying the program (e.g. neo-classical economics and the primacy of the market), which is then surrounded by a ‘protective belt’, which attributes refutation to other matters (e.g. market failure happens when we do not observe the "rules" of economics). Essentially, this 'protective belt' deflects criticism, which aligns itself more with ERE than EE. Therefore, ERE comprises of the negative heuristic (i.e. we cannot reject the idea of the market as a solution to economic problems), and the positive heuristic (i.e. where developments should be made, e.g. transaction costs, asymmetric info). Under this framework, EE might not be classed as a science since it does not have a set of definable core values or assumptions, whereas ERE fits nicely as a 'protective belt' around neoclassical economics.
However, Lakatos' approach is problematic since it is difficult to decide which program/subject is better, and is usually done ex ante.
On the other hand, one can examine science from the perspective of Thomas Kuhn. He suggested that a mature science is governed by a paradigm. In his eyes, the existence of a single paradigm distinguishes science from non-science, and where the paradigm is tacit rather than explicit. He believes that a normal science involves detailed attempts to improve the relationship between a paradigm and our experiences of the world. A definition of a paradigm includes two aspects: 1) constellation of group commitment system; and 2) one exemplary piece of research that we aspire to and is a benchmark that other researchers judge by. I would argue that ERE has both of these, but EE might fail on the second aspect. Does EE really have a defining paper/book that sets the ground for their research?
To summarise, it seems that the small differences between ERE and EE might prove to be fatal for categorising one as a science, and the other as a non-science from both a Lakatos and Kuhn perspective. Nevertheless, both subjects should be striving for falsification in order to overcome problems and to maintain the idea of scientific rationalism.