September 10, 2012
Chapter #1 Notes: Behavioral Research and the Scientific Method
Why Study Research Methods and Data Analysis?
Traditionally reading, writing (‘riting), and arithmetic (‘rithmetic) are viewed as three R’s –
fundamentals of education – now “researching” is considered the fourth (HULT, 1996)
Researching in high school involves systematically searching for and retrieving information
In college science courses it’s different – it’s still a systematic approach to exploring a question
– it’s the scientific method
Varies from one research discipline to another (anthropology, biology, psychology)
Five reasons to know about scientific method if you’re not planning to become a researcher:
1) Our modern way of life closely related to science and technology, we enhance our
understanding of the full range of this influence by learning about logic and
evidence used by researchers to open up the world to scrutiny and explanation. i.e.
paintings more meaningful when we know something about processes and creative
ideas involved with its production. E.g., more meaningful to know that scientific poll
of voters found Candidate X ahead of Candidate Y by 4 percentage points with a 5%
margin of error… etc.
2) Not clearly understanding how researchers cast and address questions sometimes
costs us. People in positions such as teachers, politicians, doctors, lawyers etc., have
influence on our daily lives. Few people are aware of how researchers in various
fields go about creating and testing hypotheses and theories that alter our
understanding of the world. Understanding how this works can – studying
conceptual basis of various research methods and having opportunity to conduct an
empirical study and then to analyze and interpret it – will begin to sensitize us to
difference between well-grounded scientific conclusions and dubious claims
masquerading as generalizable facts – the latter is common.
3) To acquire information and skill that can be used later. You can use this in every day
life – such as when viewing a website, you can learn to better evaluate credibility on
this, what’s reported in the press, analyze numbers (statistical facts that are
erroneous). Can learn how to avoid seeing something that isn’t there and not seeing
something that is there (Type ½ errors.
4) Study and do research to learn about limits of particular studies and methods, not
only those used in behavioral research. This includes limits imposed by institutional
review boards for ethical purposes. Also covers techniques of how to overcome
5) Some students may find studying and doing behavioral research enjoyable and may
pursue a career in it.
Box 1.1 The Provisional Nature of Scientific Knowledge
All research is limited in some way no matter how carefully designed
Expansion of scientific knowledge is in a constant state of improvement
Philosophers and hsitorians of science speculate on the characteristics of this unending cycle of
development E.g., Thomas S. Kuhn: physicist turned scientific historian believes major advances in science
appear as “paradigm shifts” resulting from revolutionary insights into the physical world in
which we live
E.g., Karl Popper: Austrian-born British philosopher of science who compared progress in science
with Charles Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest”. He believes scientific knowledge
develops through a continuous process of empirically testing logical conjectures and eliminating
those inferences that fail to survive these rigorous trials.
All scientists agree that: scientific knowledge is relative and provisional
What Alternatives Are There to the Scientific Method?
Scientific method not the onl