The Nature and Role of Theory in Scientific Research Lecture by Dr. Charles R. Hildreth Palmer School of Library and Information Science September 7, 2006 The primary goal of science is to formulate and affirm theories that enhance our understanding of the social and natural worlds in which we live.” (CRH)
SCIENCE ? RESEARCH ?SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH ? (The Process/Method)SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE ?
SCIENCE AS DATA GATHERING ? Observe/Look About MeasureGather Empirical DataReport Data Findings(Does this sum it up?)
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH IS NOT:1. Not mere information gathering (At the library, in the encyclopedia, on the Internet)2. Not mere observation, however precise3. Not transporting known facts via a paper4. Not rummaging through files and archives for information5. Not a propaganda word to support unscientific claims
SCIENCE, A WAY OF KNOWING PreambleAll those involved with science teaching and learning should havea common, accurate view of the nature of science. Science ischaracterized by the systematic gathering of information throughvarious forms of direct and indirect observations and the testingof this information by methods including, but not limited to,experimentation. The principal product of science is knowledge inthe form of naturalistic concepts and the laws and theories relatedto those concepts. (www.nsta.org)
“THEORY” Popular Usage: - a vague and fuzzy sort of fact - a mere quess or hunch as to why something happens - tentative, uncertain, unprovenScientific Usage: - an explanation of a natural phenomenon built up logically from numerous testable observations and well-tested hypotheses - a well-established, broadly accepted complex of ideas that explain a particular phenomenon
WHAT SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH IS: (DISTINGUISHING FEATURES)“Research is the systematic process of collecting andanalyzing information (data) in order to increase ourunderstanding of the phenomenon about which we areconcerned or interested.” (Leedy & Ormrod, 2001)
Research originates with a question or problem.Research requires a clear articulation of a goal.Research follows a specific plan of procedure.Research divides the problem into sub-problems.Research is guided by the specific research problem, question, orhypothesis.Research accepts certain critical assumptions.Research requires the collection and interpretation of data in anattempt to resolve the problem that initiated the research.Research is, by its nature, cyclical, or helical.
THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD “Little Science” A Series of Logical Steps?1. State the problem2. Formulate the hypothesis3. Design the survey or experiment4. Make observations/collect data5. Interpret the data6. Draw conclusions7. Suggest additional research“The scientific method is really a series of intellectual steps. It isnot so much the actual techniques whereby the research isperformed as it is the thought process whereby hypotheses areformed, tested, and verified (or not verified).” (Sirkin, 1995)
RESEARCH AIMS & APPROACHESDescriptive ResearchExploratory/Inductive ResearchExplanatory ResearchEvaluation Research
RESEARCH AIMS & APPROACHESDescriptive Research The “What, Where, How often, How much” questions are typical. Data collected is usually quantitative data. Measurement, sampling, and accurate data reporting are key concerns here. Valid and reliable observational and measurement instruments and techniques are critical.Exploratory/Inductive Research “What is going on here?” Search for meaning in actions and activities. Attempts to dig deeper than surface facts, to discover possible interpretations or explanations. Key is investigating without being influenced by preconceptions or expectations. Frequently involves qualitative methods and qualitative data.
RESEARCH AIMS & APPROACHESExplanatory Research Aims to identify causes and effects of phenomena that will explain behavior or selected phenomena with a high degree of probability, and support predictions about this behavior or phenomena. To establish “causal connections” between variables, experiments and/or surveys, that is, quantitative methods, are used.Evaluation Research Like, explanatory research, deals with effects and their causes. But, typically investigates the implementation of and actual effects of social, political, or educational programs and policies.
RESEARCH & DATA COLLECTION METHODSQUANTITATIVE Surveys (questionnaires, polls, interviews) Experiments (laboratory, field) Monitoring, obtrusive and unobtrusive (computer logging, video) Historical research and data mining
RESEARCH & DATA COLLECTION METHODS QUALITATIVE Case studies Participant observation Intensive interviewing Focus group interviews Verbal protocol analysis Ethnography Phenomenological research Grounded theory research
KINDS OF SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE Empirical Data Facts Hypotheses Theories “Laws”
KEY DEFINITIONS-1 Hypothesis: “A hypothesis is a logical supposition, a reasonable guess, an educated conjecture. It provides a tentative explanation for a phenomenon under investigation.” (Leedy) “To scientists, the phrase "the theory of ..." signals a particularly well-tested idea. A hypothesis is an idea or suggestion that has been put forward to explain a set of observations.” (http://www2.slac.stanford.edu/vvc/theory/modeltheory.html)“A hypothesis is a tentative theory that has not yet been tested. Typically, a scientist devises a hypothesis and then sees if it "holds water" by testing it against available data. If the hypothesis does hold water, the scientist declares it to be a theory.” (http://home.xnet.com/~blatura/skep_1.html)“Hypothesis: This is an educated guess based upon observation. It is a rational explanation of a single event or phenomenon based upon what is observed, but which has not been proved. Most hypotheses can be supported or refuted by experimentation or continued observation.” (http://wilstar.com/theories.htm)
KEY DEFINITIONS-2Theory: “Over time, as particular hypotheses are supported by a growing body of data, they evolveinto theories. A theory is an organized body of concepts and principles intended to explain aparticular phenomenon.” “Today, any set of scientific ideas referred to as "the theory of ..." is a well-tested and well-established understanding of an underlying mechanism or process. Such a theory can neverbe proved to be complete and final -- that is why we no longer call it a "law."(http://www2.slac.stanford.edu/vvc/theory/modeltheory.html) “A theory is a scientific explanation of an observed phenomenon. Unlike laws, theoriesactually explain why things are the way they are. Theories are what science is for.”(http://www.geocities.com/Tokyo/Temple/9917/evolution/theory.html) “Well evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, notrungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the worlds data. Theories arestructures of ideas that explain and interpret facts.” (Stephen J. Gould)http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolution-fact.html
Theory (continued): “In popular usage, a theory is just a vague and fuzzy sort of fact. But to a scientist a theoryis a conceptual framework that explains existing facts and predicts new ones.”(http://home.xnet.com/~blatura/skep_1.html) “Theory: A theory is more like a scientific law than a hypothesis. A theory is anexplanation of a set of related observations or events based upon proven hypotheses andverified multiple times by detached groups of researchers. One scientist cannot create atheory; he can only create a hypothesis.” (http://wilstar.com/theories.htm) “An explanation for an observation or series of observations that is substantiated by aconsiderable body of evidence” (Krimsley, 1995). “… a law describes what nature doesunder certain conditions, and will predict what will happen as long as those conditions aremet. A theory explains how nature works.” (http://science.kennesaw.edu/~rmatson/Biol%203380/3380theory.html)
Wickipedia on “Theory” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory)In common usage a theory is often viewed as little more than a guess or a hypothesis. But in science and generally in academic usage, a theory is much more than that. A theory is an established paradigm that explains all or much of the data we have and offersvalid predictions that can be tested. In science, a theory is never considered fact or infallible, because we can never assume we know all there is to know. Instead, theories remain standing until they are disproven, at which point they are thrown out altogether or modified to fit the additional data.
Wickipedia on “Theory” (Cont.) Theories start out with empirical observations such as “sometimes water turns into ice.” At some point, there is a need or curiosity to find out why this is, which leads to a theoretical/scientific phase. In scientific theories, this then leads to research, in combination with auxiliary and other hypotheses (see scientific method), which may theneventually lead to a theory. Some scientific theories (such as the theory of gravity) are so widely accepted that they are often seen as laws. This, however, rests on a mistakenassumption of what theories and laws are. Theories and lawsare not rungs in a ladder of truth, but different sets of data. A law is a general statement based on observations.
KEY DEFINITIONS-3Laws: “A scientific law is a description of an observed phenomenon. Keplers Laws of PlanetaryMotion are a good example. Those laws describe the motions of planets. But they do notexplain why they are that way. If all scientists ever did was to formulate scientific laws,then the universe would be very well-described, but still unexplained and very mysterious.” (http://www.geocities.com/Tokyo/Temple/9917/evolution/theory.html) “Scientific Law: This is a statement of fact meant to explain, in concise terms, an action orset of actions. It is generally accepted to be true and universal, and can sometimes beexpressed in terms of a single mathematical equation. Scientific laws are similar tomathematical postulates. They don’t really need any complex external proofs; they areaccepted at face value based upon the fact that they have always been observed to be true.”(http://wilstar.com/theories.htm) “A set of observed regularities expressed in a concise verbal or mathematical statement.”(Krimsley, 1995). “Regardless of which definitions one uses to distinguish between a law and a theory,scientists would agree that a theory is NOT a "transitory law, a law in waiting". There isNO hierarchy being implied by scientists who use these words. That is, a law is neither"better than" nor "above" a theory. From this view, laws and theories "do" different thingsand have different roles to play in science.” (http://science.kennesaw.edu/~rmatson/Biol%203380/3380theory.html)
EXAMPLES OF SCIENTIFIC THEORIESNewtons theory of gravityNewton’s “laws” of motionThe theory of evolution by natural selectionEinsteins theory of gravityEinstein’s theories of general and specific relativityMendels law of inheritanceA chaos theoryPythagorass theoremEarly psychoanalytic theoryGeology: Plate TectonicsThe big bangThe Jungian theory of the unconscious mindGerm theory of diseaseRational choice theoryDeterrence theoryGenetic theories of intelligence or personality
ROLES OF THEORY IN SCIENCE Explanatory Predictive Generative Stimulate research Guide research Aid data interpretation “Theories do not provide the answers to the questions we pose as topics for research. Instead, theories suggest the areas on which we should focus and the propositions(hypotheses) we should consider for a test.” (Schutt, 2001) Falsifiability: Always tentative, never final, absoluteThe product of insight that produces questions more than
INDUCTIVE & DEDUCTIVE RESEARCH STRATEGIES (Diagram from Schutt, 2001, p. 39)
INDUCTIVE & DEDUCTIVE RESEARCH STRATEGIESResearch, explicitly or implicitly, attempts to connect theory withempirical data. This may involve starting with a theory-inspiredhypothesis and then testing it in empirical research such as anexperiment. This is the process of “deductive research.”Alternatively, the connection between theory and data may besuggested by careful observations followed by empiricalgeneralizations that lead to the development of a theory thatexplains characteristics or patterns observed in the data. This is theprocess of “inductive research.”