Research Methods Notes:

Philosophy of Science


The word science is derived from the Latin scio, meaning to know 
But how do we come to know?  What are some ways we acquire knowledge?

Reliance on authority is the oldest approach
Intuition and subjective experience (unique perceptions of things)
Logic and rational thought . . . is foundation of scientific process

Logical Positivism, which emphasizes observation (rather than
   intuition) as basis for rational explanations about our world

Which approaches are considered to be most (or least) scientific?
    Why?  Agree/Disagree?

Scientists study a huge variety of things:  medicine, chemistry, physics, biology, . . . and even psychology.
So, how do we know what is considered to be scientific?
 e.g., why is psychology a science, but astrology isn't?
 (or is psychology not really a "real science"?)
What you study doesn't determine whether it's scientific,
how you study it is the key
not the topic, but rather the methods used to study the topic
**that is why Psychology majors are required to take a class on research methods

Despite the seemingly endless array of scientific specialties, there is a set of common goals that run throughout all of science

Explanation (understanding)
Control (influence)
What do each of these four mean?  Why is each important?

These goals are, essentially, a description of a scientific attitude.

There are important assumptions that such an attitude makes --
thus we need to recognize and understand these assumptions:

Assumptions of the Scientific Attitude

1) Nature is ordered -- the world is not simply a series of random, unpredictable events

2) Determinism -- which is the belief that since nature is ordered, certain factors cause other factors

thus, theoretically it is possible to identify the causes of all natural events (including human behavior)

theoretically possible doesn't mean easy, or even practical, oftentimes

this assumption ruffles feathers of staunch free will advocates (which is why Skinner addressed it directly) . . . what do you think?

3) Empiricism -- which is belief that sensory experiences (i.e., direct observations) are a better foundation for knowledge than relying on intuition and subjective sources of information

4) Parsimony -- states that, all else being equal, the simpler of two explanations is best

**leads to emphasis on finding generalizable conclusions
5) Falsifiability -- was famously argued to be a cornerstone of science by Karl Popper
**means that it is possible to try to disprove a theory/explanation
**if can't directly test a theory, then it's not a scientific explanation
**if can test it, then the possibility exists that can disprove it
   (i.e., if it really is false, there is some way to show that's the case)

Copyright 1998
Dr. Patrick McCarthy