78. The scientific method, 7th October, 2010
Posted October 7, 2010on:
The scientific method
|A||‘Hypotheses,’ said Medawar in 1964, ‘are imaginative and inspirational in character’; they are ‘adventures of the mind’. He was arguing in favour of the position taken by Karl Popper in The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1972, 3rd edition) that the nature of scientific method is hypothetico-deductive and not, as is generally believed, inductive.|
|B||It is essential that you, as an intending researcher, understand the difference between these two interpretations of the research process so that you do not become discouraged or begin to suffer from a feeling of ‘cheating’ or not going about it the right way.|
|C||The myth of scientific method is that it is inductive: that the formulation of scientific theory starts with the basic, raw evidence of the senses – simple, unbiased, unprejudiced observation. Out of these sensory data – commonly referred to as ‘facts’ — generalisations will form. The myth is that from a disorderly array of factual information an orderly, relevant theory will somehow emerge. However, the starting point of induction is an impossible one.|
|D||There is no such thing as an unbiased observation. Every act of observation we make is a function of what we have seen or otherwise experienced in the past. All scientific work of an experimental or exploratory nature starts with some expectation about the outcome. This expectation is a hypothesis. Hypotheses provide the initiative and incentive for the inquiry and influence the method. It is in the light of an expectation that some observations are held to be relevant and some irrelevant, that one methodology is chosen and others discarded, that some experiments are conducted and others are not. Where is, your naive, pure and objective researcher now?|
|E||Hypotheses arise by guesswork, or by inspiration, but having been formulated they can and must be tested rigorously, using the appropriate methodology. If the predictions you make as a result of deducing certain consequences from your hypothesis are not shown to be correct then you discard or modify your hypothesis.