A Summary of Scientific Method

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In some cases data can be kept anonymous by not having the respondents put any identifying information on their questionnaires.


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In other cases the data cannot be anonymous because the researcher needs to keep track of which respondent contributed the data. In this case, one technique is to have each participant use a unique code number to identify his or her data, such as the last four digits of the student ID number. In this way the researcher can keep track of which person completed which questionnaire, but no one will be able to connect the data with the individual who contributed them.

Perhaps the most widespread ethical concern to the participants in behavioural research is the extent to which researchers employ deception. Deception may occur in an active way, such as when the researcher tells the participants that he or she is studying learning when in fact the experiment really concerns obedience to authority. In other cases the deception is more passive, such as when participants are not told about the hypothesis being studied or the potential use of the data being collected. Some researchers have argued that no deception should ever be used in any research Baumrind, They argue that participants should always be told the complete truth about the nature of the research they are in, and that when participants are deceived there will be negative consequences, such as the possibility that participants may arrive at other studies already expecting to be deceived.

Other psychologists defend the use of deception on the grounds that it is needed to get participants to act naturally and to enable the study of psychological phenomena that might not otherwise get investigated. They argue that it would be impossible to study topics such as altruism, aggression, obedience, and stereotyping without using deception because if participants were informed ahead of time what the study involved, this knowledge would certainly change their behaviour. Making decisions about the ethics of research involves weighing the costs and benefits of conducting versus not conducting a given research project.

The costs involve potential harm to the research participants and to the field, whereas the benefits include the potential for advancing knowledge about human behaviour and offering various advantages, some educational, to the individual participants. Most generally, the ethics of a given research project are determined through a cost-benefit analysis , in which the costs are compared with the benefits. If the potential costs of the research appear to outweigh any potential benefits that might come from it, then the research should not proceed.

Arriving at a cost-benefit ratio is not simple. For one thing, there is no way to know ahead of time what the effects of a given procedure will be on every person or animal who participates or what benefit to society the research is likely to produce. In addition, what is ethical is defined by the current state of thinking within society, and thus perceived costs and benefits change over time. The ERB must approve the procedures of all the research conducted at the institution before the research can begin. One important tool for ensuring that research is ethical is the use of informed consent.

A sample informed consent form is shown in Figure 3. The informed consent explains as much as possible about the true nature of the study, particularly everything that might be expected to influence willingness to participate, but it may in some cases withhold some information that allows the study to work. The informed consent form explains the research procedures and informs the participant of his or her rights during the investigation.

Informed consent should address the following issues:.

A Summary of Scientific Method | Peter Kosso | Springer

Because participating in research has the potential for producing long-term changes in the research participants, all participants should be fully debriefed immediately after their participation. Because animals make up an important part of the natural world, and because some research cannot be conducted using humans, animals are also participants in psychological research Figure 3. As with ethical decisions involving human participants, a set of basic principles has been developed that helps researchers make informed decisions about such research; a summary is shown below.

Because the use of animals in research involves a personal value, people naturally disagree about this practice. This argument is based on the assumption that because animals are living creatures just as humans are, no harm should ever be done to them. Most scientists, however, reject this view. They argue that such beliefs ignore the potential benefits that have come, and continue to come, from research with animals. For instance, drugs that can reduce the incidence of cancer or AIDS may first be tested on animals, and surgery that can save human lives may first be practised on animals.

Research on animals has also led to a better understanding of the physiological causes of depression, phobias, and stress, among other illnesses. In contrast to animal-rights activists, then, scientists believe that because there are many benefits that accrue from animal research, such research can and should continue as long as the humane treatment of the animals used in the research is guaranteed.

Figure 3.

Analysis of the scientific method.

Baumrind, D. Research using intentional deception: Ethical issues revisited. American Psychologist, 40 , — Canadian Psychological Association. Canadian code of ethics for psychologists third edition [PDF]. Kohlberg, L. Maccoby Ed. Milgram, S. Obedience to authority: An experimental view. Plous, S. Attitudes toward the use of animals in psychological research and education. Psychological Science, 7 , — Rosenthal, R. Science and ethics in conducting, analyzing, and reporting psychological research.

Psychological Science, 5 , — Ruble, D. Gender development. Damon Ed. Stangor, C. Mountain View, CA: Cengage. Thomas, G. The future of animal studies in psychology. American Psychologist, 47 , My name is [insert your name], and this research project is part of the requirement for a [insert your degree program] at [blank] University.

The scientific method

My credentials with [blank] university can be established by telephoning [insert name and number of supervisor]. This document constitutes an agreement to participate in my research project, the objective of which is to [insert research objectives and the sponsoring organization here]. The research will consist of [insert your methodology] and its foreseen to last [insert amount of time].

Another assumption was that the Soviet political policies would gain popular support if there was a belief that this policy was based on and was consistent with reliable scientific principles. And if science "plays a major role in shaping cultural The government officials also wanted to maintain and increase their own power, so self-interest was another motivating factor.

In the ISM diagram, three large arrows point toward "evaluation of theory" from the three evaluation factors, and three small arrows point back the other way. These small arrows show the feedback that occurs when a conclusion about theory status already has been reached based on some factors and, to minimize cognitive dissonance, there is a tendency to interpret other factors in a way that will support this conclusion. Therefore, each evaluation criterion is affected by feedback from the current status of the theory and from the other two criteria.

In the case of Lysenko there was an obvious, consciously planned interference with the operation of science.


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But cultural influence is usually not so obvious. A more subtle influence is exerted by the assumed ideas and values of a culture especially the culture of a scientific community because these assumptions, along with explicitly formulated ideas and values, form a foundation for the way scientists think when they generate and evaluate theories, and plan their research programs. The influence of these foundational ideas and values, on the process and content of science, is summarized at the top of the ISM diagram: "Scientific activities When scholars are thinking about cultural-personal factors and their influence in science, too often there is too much over-generalizing.

It's easy to get carried away into silly ideas, unless we remember that all of these cultural-personal factors vary in different areas of science and in communities within each area, and for different individuals, so the types and amounts of resulting influences on the process of science and the content of science vary widely. Among scholars who study science there is a wide range of views about the extent to which cultural factors influence the process and content of science.

Briefly summarized, my opinion is that an extreme emphasis on cultural influence is neither accurate nor educationally beneficial, and that even though there is a significant cultural influence on the process of science , usually but not always the content of science is not strongly affected by cultural factors. This is a relatively short section because I don't want to duplicate the many discussions of evaluation in Sections three types of evaluative inputs , 5 and 6 using evaluation to generate theories and experiments , 7 and 8 evaluation in research and thought styles , and 9 critical thinking.

This section will not review these concepts, but will discuss in more detail than elsewhere four topics: delayed decision, intrinsic and relative status, variable-strength conclusions and hypotheses, and conflicts between different evaluative criteria.

How the Scientific Method Works

A fourth option for a decision in addition to retain, revise, and reject is not shown in the ISM diagram: there can be a delay in responding, while other activities are being pursued. Sometimes there is no conscious effort to reach a conclusion because there is no need to decide. However, a decision and action may be required even though evaluation indicates that only a conclusion of "inconclusive" is warranted.

In this uncomfortable situation, a wise approach is to make the decision and do the action in a way that takes into account the uncertainties about whether or not the theory is true. If a conclusion is delayed and a theory is temporarily ignored while other options are pursued, and this theory is eventually revived for pursuit or acceptance, then in hindsight we can either say that during the delay the theory was being retained with no application or development or that it was being tentatively rejected with the option of possible reversal in the future.

But if this theory is never revived, then when it was ignored it was actually being rejected. And if science is viewed as a search for the best theory — whether "the best" is defined as the most plausible or the most useful — there is implied competition, so each theory also has a relative status. A change in the intrinsic status of one theory will affect the relative status of competitive theories.

In the ISM-diagram this feedback is indicated by a small arrow pointing from "alternative theories" to "status of theory relative to competitors.

What is the Scientific Method?

For example, before publication of the famous double helix paper in April , an honest scientist would admit that "we don't know the structure of DNA. In ISM the concept of "status" Hewson, is a reminder that the conclusion of theory evaluation is an educated estimate rather than certainty. This concept is useful because it allows a flexibility that doesn't force thinking into dichotomous yes-or-no channels.

Another stimulater of flexible, careful thinking is ISM's definition based on Giere, of a hypothesis as a claim that a system and a theory-based model are similar in specified respects and to a specified or implied degree of accuracy. With this definition, different hypotheses can be framed for the same model. The strongest hypothesis would claim an exact correspondence between all model-components and system-components, while a weaker hypothesis might claim only an approximate correspondence, or a correspondence exact or approximate for some components but not for all.


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If a theory is judged to be only moderately plausible, the uncompromising claims of a strong hypothesis will be rejected, even though scientists might accept the diluted claims of a weak hypothesis. Some of the tensions between different types of evaluation criteria are briefly outlined in this sub-section. The word "plausible" indicates that empirical adequacy by making correct predictions is not the only relevant constraint on theory generation.

To illustrate, Sober , p. When a theory is simplified which is usually considered a desirable conceptual factor the accuracy of its predictions may decrease which is undesirable according to empirical criteria. In this situation there may also be conflicts between the conceptual criteria that a theory should be complete by including all essential components and simple with no extraneous components , because usually there is inherent tension between completeness and simplicity.

There can also be conflict between explanatory adequacy and the positivist claim that a theory should not try to explain observations by postulating unobservable entities, actions or interactions. There are varying degrees of preference in different fields and by different scientists for unified theories with wide scope, relative to other criteria.

Interaction between empirical factors occurs when there is data from several sources. Scientists want a theory to agree with all known data, but to obtain agreement with one data source it may be necessary to sacrifice empirical adequacy with respect to another source. And there can be conflict between cultural-personal factors and other factors, as discussed in Section 3.