THE NATURE OF SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION
“Science” often means different things to different people. Some regard science in very positive terms; others view its contributions as extremely limited, especially when it comes to the social sciences. Many psychologists think of science only in the limited sense of quantitative, experimental or correlational research. This conception is consistentwith the logical positivist approach to science that has dominated psychology for most of its history, but it fails to capture the essence of scientific investigation in a broader, more fundamental sense. An understanding of this broader meaning of science and scientific investigation is necessary to put research on human behavior into an appropriate context.
The word “science” comes from theLatin Words “Scientia” (knowledge) and “scire” (to know). Webster’s unabridged dictionary (1979) defines science as:
Knowledge, often as opposed to intuition, belief, etc.;… systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation carried out in order to determine the nature or principles of what is being studied,… the systematized knowledge of nature and the physical world (p.1622, emphasis in the original).
Bronowski (1978) suggests that the basic purpose of science is “to describe the world in an orderly scheme or language which will help us look ahead… (and) as an aid to decision and action” (p.69). There are several ways in which this goal of systematic description can be accomplished “scientifically,” as suggested by Webster’s definition in which observation andstudy are placed on a par with experimentation.
Astronomy and anthropology, for example, are two respected sciences that rely more on observation and study than on experimentation per se. Hypothesis testing, which can be thought of as a form of experimentation, plays an important role in these sciences, but it certainly does not involve experimental manipulation in the normal sense. Thespecific methods and procedures best suited for scientific investigation depend on the nature of the problem being investigated, and in most instances, different methods are most appropriate for studying different aspects of the problems facing a particular area of research such as human cognition.
Often there is a tendency for people to focus on the products of scientific investigation (i.e., thebody of accumulated knowledge) rather than on the process of observation, study, and critical thinking that served to verify that knowledge. In the final analysis, it is the latter process of scientific thinking and investigation that is the hallmark of science. As Singer (1960) observes:
Science is the making of knowledge and is not knowledge as such. Science… has come to connote a process andnot a static body of doctrine… Scientific articles (and especially textbooks) commonly give a false impression. They are composed to convince the reader of the truth of certain views or to put him in possession of certain knowledge. In doing this, such works normally obscure the process by which the views were reached.” (pp. 114-115)
Thus, science is primarily a process (or set of procedures)for helping us verify the reliability of knowledge. For the most part, science is silent about how, where and why ideas originate, rather science is concerned with evaluating ideas once they have emerged. As Bronowski (1978) argues:
The scientific method is the method of all human enquiry, which differs…only in…that it is explicit and systematic (p. 121).
What, then, distinguishes scientificinvestigation from studies and discussions that are not scientific? Bronowski (1978) suggests that there are three core beliefs –he calls them “creative ideas” (p. 12) – that have been central to scientific thinking over the years. The first of these is the “idea” of order, that there is a systematic pattern to the universe and the creatures that inhabit it and that this orderliness is capable of...
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