Features of Science: Objectivity and the Empirical Method; Replicability and Falsifiability; Theory Construction and Hypothesis Testing; Paradigms and Paradigm shifts

Features of Science (A Level Only)

Science is about ‘knowing’ rather than just ‘believing’.

Science is a means of finding out about our world i.e. gaining knowledge. However, most importantly, it aims to uncover facts that can be relied on. However, not all knowledge is scientific, for example, I know that Jane Austin wrote Pride and Prejudice, but this knowledge.

Objectivity and Empirical Methods:

The scientific approach emphasizes the importance of empirical evidence. This means that evidence is gained through objective observation, experimentation and measurement of behaviour. Objectivity is the key element. It means that events are not distorted by emotions and prejudices and are recorded as they actually happen.

Key Definitions – Objectivity and Subjectivity

If evidence is OBJECTIVE, this means that it has been obtained without reference to the observer. In other words, objectivity occurs when the researcher has been entirely unbiased in conducting their research so that the data collected is independent of the researcher and has not been affected by their own individual perspectives or opinions in any way. To increase objectivity in their research psychologists make sure that as far as possible, there is nothing in their research that is open to interpretation or bias. For example, they use standardised instructions, fully operationalised variables and physical measures such as reaction times that cannot be affected by the researcher’s own viewpoint. These types of measures ensure the researcher is not affecting the outcome of the study.

Evidence is SUBJECTIVE when it has been obtained with some sort of reference to the observer. In other words, subjectivity occurs when the researcher has been biased in conducting their research so that the data collected is not independent of the researcher. For example, a researcher conducting an interview might be affected by the emotions of the participant they are interviewing. If this affects (biases) their subsequent choice of questions or their interpretation of the participants’ responses then they are being subjective. Equally, if a researcher gathers their data and then only focuses on the results that support their theory and ignore the other results that may not be in line with their theory, this too, is a form of subjectivity and bias.

Replicability (A Level Only)

Another fundamental aspect of any scientific research is that researchers working in a particular field can check each other’s findings. Confidence in research findings is increased when investigations are replicated (repeated) in exactly the same way and the results are consistent (i.e. similar). If the investigation produces the same results when replicated over and over again in the same way, it is likely that it is reliable and this is important in science. This is because replication helps guard against scientific fraud and enables psychologists to check whether results were just a one-off (e.g. solely down to that particular sample used) or not. Which of the following research methods are easiest to replicate? Have a look at the table below for a summary of the research methods in terms of their replicability.

Reliability Table

Falsification

Falsification part of the verification (validation process) is the idea of falsifiability, where a scientific theory or hypothesis must be empirically tested to see if it is false. Replication is the accepted way of determining this. Some psychologists (e.g. Freud and the ID, EGO and Superego) can be criticised for developing theories that cannot be empirically tested. Popper 1935) proposed that no matter how many positive validations of a scientific theory, it doesn’t prove it as undeniably true. However, one example of falsification is enough to render a theory untrue. Popper sees falsifiability as being the determining line between what is and isn’t scientific.

The Scientific Process: Constructing A Theory – (A Level Only)

A good theory is one that can be empirically tested. Unless you can test a theory, there is no means of knowing if it is a good theory or poor theory or if it needs modification. A good theory should therefore produce a number of testable hypotheses, thus allowing for falsification. Popper proposed two scientific processes which allow psychologists to test theories and check for falsifiability.

The Method of Induction (to construct a theory)

Traditionally scientists have gathered data using empirical methods and then used the 2 complimentary processes of induction or deduction to develop theories. The scientific process starts with observations of phenomena in the world.

• The inductive model leads scientists to develop hypotheses first (before constructing a theory). Hypotheses are then tested possibly leading to new questions and new hypotheses. Eventually such data can be used to construct a theory.

Flow Chart – The Method of Induction

Method of Induction

The Method of Deduction: Constructing a Theory – (A Level Only)

The deductive model places theory construction at the beginning after making observations.

Flow Chart – Method of Deduction

Method of Deduction

Paradigms and Paradigm Shifts
A paradigm is a general theory or law that is accepted by the majority of scientists in a particular field of study (e.g. Psychology). Paradigms are often not fixed and in changing. With time, evidence will accumulate that suggests that a paradigm is less adequate than it was. Eventually, enough evidence will accumulate so that the current paradigm is replaced by another paradigm.