Princiiples of Scientific Method in Anthropology


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Concepts of Scientific Research; Hypotheses and Theory; Research Methodology; Testing Hypotheses

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Princiiples of Scientific Method in Anthropology

  1. 1. Principles of Scientific Method Its Applications to Anthropology
  2. 2. Principles of Anthropological Method <ul><li>There are tenets common to all anthropological research </li></ul><ul><li>Examples: Cultural Relativism (Various Definition) versus Ethnocentrism </li></ul><ul><li>There are also tenets basic to all scientific research </li></ul><ul><li>In this case, they involve careful data gathering and logical reasoning—in anthropology or in any other scientific discipline. </li></ul><ul><li>In that way, information should be reliable and reflect what actually happens, whether in the field or in the lab. </li></ul><ul><li>Let’s discuss these in turn. </li></ul>
  3. 3. Anthropological Method I: Fundamental Principles <ul><li>Holism: All aspects of a culture must be considered, especially their interconnections </li></ul><ul><li>Cross-Cultural Comparison : Comparison of similar cultural traits in two or more cultures </li></ul><ul><li>Cultural Relativism: Two Interpretations </li></ul><ul><li>Scientific detachment: One observes what is out there—even cannibalism--dispassionately </li></ul><ul><li>Noble savage complex: Involves acceptance of a culture according to its own standards—including cannibalism. </li></ul>
  4. 4. Anthropological Method II: Cultural Relativism <ul><li>Cultural Relativism: In either definition, involves judgment of a culture according to its own standards </li></ul><ul><li>Ethnocentrism: Belief in superiority of one’s own culture, such as the self-styled Aryans in this neo-Nazi rally in London </li></ul><ul><li>Ethical Relativism: The acceptance of any culture regardless of the harm of its practices, such as like this Chinese prison camp, tolerated in the name of “right to development”) </li></ul>
  5. 5. Anthropological Method III: Culture Relativism and Boundedness <ul><li>Ethics of Cultural Relativism: How can we berate these Dani for warfare when our own government started a war in Iraq? </li></ul><ul><li>Cultural Boundedness: The fact that our mental structure is culturally derived, often unconsciously </li></ul><ul><li>In Britain Muslims sued Burger King’s ice cream lid with its mage of a spinning ice cream cone (left) </li></ul><ul><li>They took it as an Arabic inscription for Allah (right) (Source: The Scotsman 9/17/05) </li></ul><ul><li>Plaintiff Quote: “How can you say it is a spinning swirl? If you spin it one way to the right you are offending Muslims.&quot; </li></ul>
  6. 6. Anthropological Method IV: Universalism <ul><li>Definition: Cultural Practices that occur worldwide </li></ul><ul><li>The incest tabu occurs everywhere (Egyptian brother-sister marriage, left is a rare exception ) </li></ul><ul><li>There are rules of etiquette everywhere </li></ul><ul><li>Reciprocity (gift exchange) occurs everywhere. </li></ul><ul><li>Trobriand islanders trade red necklace (suspended) for white armshells (on floor) in a kula ring </li></ul>
  7. 7. Principles of Science <ul><li>Science involves two principles: </li></ul><ul><li>Its practitioners seek principles that predict recurring events. </li></ul><ul><li>As scientific method, it also sets forth a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, obtaining new knowledge, and correcting or confirming previous knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>It is based on obtaining observable, empirical, and measurable evidence according to specific rules of reasoning </li></ul><ul><li>We look at some of the basic concepts of scientific method </li></ul>
  8. 8. Some Basic Terms of Science <ul><li>Hypothesis : An educated guess explaining some thing or event that is observed in the lab or field </li></ul><ul><li>Theory: A hypothesis confirmed by these observations </li></ul><ul><li>Induction entails identifying patterns of knowledge from field observations or lab experiments </li></ul><ul><li>Abduction entails formulating hypotheses from the knowledge inferred from observations or experiments </li></ul><ul><li>Deduction predicts what should occur based on confirmed body of facts, principles, or beliefs </li></ul>
  9. 9. Some Basic Terms of Scientific Research I <ul><li>Sample : Part of a population selected for research </li></ul><ul><li>Random sample: A sample in which everyone has a chance of being included </li></ul><ul><li>But random samples do not ensure that all groups, especially small ones, will be selected </li></ul><ul><li>Representative sample : A sample in which all groups are included for research </li></ul><ul><li>Universe: Total population from which the sample is drawn </li></ul>
  10. 10. Some Basic Terms of Scientific Research II <ul><li>Bias: Use of any technique that fails to elicit a random or representative sample </li></ul><ul><li>For example, is a sample of enrollees who use online registration a biased one? </li></ul><ul><li>Techniques: Procedures used to gather information (observations, interviews, but also the use of videos, CD recorders, GPS mapping devices, and so on ) </li></ul><ul><li>Method: Scientific justification for selection of a technique </li></ul><ul><li>Methodology: Overall plan that forms a coherent relation among the methods and the techniques they generate </li></ul>
  11. 11. How to Develop a Hypothesis: Induction and Deduction <ul><li>Here is a simplified circular design for formulating and testing hypotheses </li></ul><ul><li>See next slide for an explanation </li></ul>
  12. 12. The Phases of Scientific Method <ul><li>Phase 1: Observe Things/Events in Field </li></ul><ul><li>Phase 2: Develop an explanation (hypothesis) using the inductive process </li></ul><ul><li>Phase 3: Gather relevant data </li></ul><ul><li>Phase 4: Evaluate hypothesis with data. </li></ul><ul><li>Phase 5: Repeat procedure if a hypothesis is confirmed only in part or disconfirmed </li></ul>
  13. 13. A More Complex Test of Hypotheses
  14. 14. Formulating and Testing a Hypothesis <ul><li>The inductive/abductive process is shown in yellow </li></ul><ul><li>It involves recognition of a research problem by (a) field observation, (b) experimentation, and/or (c) theory development </li></ul><ul><li>Next comes consultation of existing sources </li></ul><ul><li>Then the scientist formulates a hypothesis </li></ul><ul><li>The expected outcomes are then specified if the hypothesis is confirmed </li></ul><ul><li>Finally, the observations and/or experiments are conducted to test the expected outcomes </li></ul>
  15. 15. Consequences of Each Outcome <ul><li>The hypothesis may be modified (red) or rejected (purple) </li></ul><ul><li>Further developments occur when the hypothesis is confirmed (purple) </li></ul><ul><li>The hypothesis becomes a theory if confirmed repeatedly </li></ul><ul><li>It becomes a unifying of theory if the theory is widely supported and applied </li></ul>
  16. 16. Scientific Method as Probabilistic <ul><li>Any theory can be tossed as new information comes in. </li></ul><ul><li>If a new hypothesis explains existing data better, then the old hypothesis make way for the new </li></ul><ul><li>Therefore, all theories are probabilistic and none can be stated with finality </li></ul>
  17. 17. A Six-Way Test of Hypotheses <ul><li>Background: James Lett is an anthropologist at Indian River Community College and member of the Committee for Skeptical Investigation. </li></ul><ul><li>He proposed a six-way test that goes by the acronym FiLCHeRS. </li></ul><ul><li>It stands for F alsifiability, L ogic, C omprehensiveness, H onesty, R eplication, and S ufficiency </li></ul><ul><li>The article “A Field Guide to Critical Thinking” is in your reader </li></ul>
  18. 18. Falsifiability <ul><li>Does not mean to cook or fudge the data </li></ul><ul><li>The hypothesis must be so stated that if unsupported it is rejected (or falsified) </li></ul><ul><li>Thus, it must specify the conditions under which it is rejected. </li></ul>
  19. 19. Unfalsifiable Propositions <ul><li>Propositions so broadly stated that they can never be rejected </li></ul><ul><li>Propositions with the multiple out, or what do you say to the Instant Creator? </li></ul><ul><li>Suppose I say that I created the World five minutes ago </li></ul><ul><li>And (if you don’t call the local nut house on your cell first) you reply that you’ve been here for years, let alone five minutes. </li></ul><ul><li>Then I reply “My creation included all your memories.” </li></ul><ul><li>I will have many ways to squirm out of this and any rebuttal—even though we all know this proposition is ridiculous </li></ul>
  20. 20. Logic <ul><li>As you know, there are two basic kinds of logic: inductive and deductive </li></ul><ul><li>Inductive: gathering enough facts to lead to a conclusion. </li></ul><ul><li>Deductive: Starting at a major premise and reasoning down to a minor premise then a conclusion. </li></ul><ul><li>Lett argues from the deductive. </li></ul>
  21. 21. Logic (Continued) <ul><li>Basic statement: Any argument offered as evidence in support of any claim must be both: </li></ul><ul><li>Valid: follow from accepted propositions of real life or of math, such as the postulate that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, and </li></ul><ul><li>Sound: that is, the proposition must be true </li></ul><ul><li>For further details, see your textbook (Ch. 2) or reader (Selection 2) </li></ul>
  22. 22. Comprehensiveness <ul><li>Evidence offered in support of any claim must be exhaustive </li></ul><ul><li>All relevant evidence must be considered </li></ul><ul><li>Opposite practice: Selective presentation of evidence that supports the claim </li></ul><ul><li>Example: political promises, courtroom tactics, even stockbroker “predictions” rely on selective use of the facts for support. </li></ul><ul><li>Remember George Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” claim about the Iraq invasion on May 1, 2003? Need I say more? </li></ul>
  23. 23. Honesty <ul><li>Evidence must be evaluated without either self-deception or intent to deceive </li></ul><ul><li>Examples of temptations toward dishonesty </li></ul><ul><li>Strong incentives such as funding to support pet theories </li></ul><ul><li>Basic fault of advocacy groups, politicians, and lawyers </li></ul><ul><li>Honesty could only lead to better hypotheses--i.e. to better explain facts </li></ul>
  24. 24. Replicability <ul><li>Positive results on one field study or lab experiment is not enough to verify a hypothesis. </li></ul><ul><li>To verify positive results, the experiment or field research must be repeated under identical conditions. </li></ul><ul><li>Lab experiments fit the demand for replication because the conditions and procedures can be controlled so that they duplicate the first experiment exactly. </li></ul>
  25. 25. Replicability and Anthropology <ul><li>In ethnographic field work, restudies conducted in communities studied in earlier years to verify conclusions from the previous study. </li></ul><ul><li>Restudies haven’t done well when it comes to replication </li></ul><ul><li>Lewis v. Redfield in Tepoztlan, Mexico, is one example. </li></ul><ul><li>Robert Redfield concluded in 1926 that Tepoztlan was a peaceful village </li></ul><ul><li>In 1943, Oscar Lewis demonstrated that there was fractious conflict between groups: the bosses versus the other villagers, the factions on both sides of the Mexican revolution (1910-1920) </li></ul><ul><li>For a summary in an article footnote, log on to:,M1 </li></ul>
  26. 26. Restudies and the Mead-Freeman Controversy <ul><li>In 1928, Margaret Mead wrote Coming of Age in Samoa , which claimed that teenagers engage in promiscuous sex and grew up without turmoil and rebelliousness </li></ul><ul><li>The book was a long-term best seller and a great influence on anthropology </li></ul><ul><li>In 1983, Derek Freeman wrote Margaret Mead and Samoa , a refutation of Mead’s conclusions and showing that the Samoans were indeed puritanical about sex. </li></ul><ul><li>The debate that followed is summed up in the following two You Tube links: and </li></ul><ul><li>I recommend you view all six of this series, Tales from the Jungle: Margaret Mead, all on YouTube. </li></ul>
  27. 27. Longitudinal Studies: A Partial Antidote <ul><li>Mead’s fieldwork lasted seven months </li></ul><ul><li>Most canons of fieldwork call for at least a year. </li></ul><ul><li>Revisits in communities over a long period of time have become standard </li></ul><ul><li>Example: Napoleon Chagnon was given false information about Yanomamo genealogy, which he didn’t discover until six months after he started his study. </li></ul><ul><li>He continued work among the Yanomamo from 1966 to the 1990s. </li></ul>
  28. 28. Sufficiency <ul><li>Evidence must be adequate to support any claim </li></ul><ul><li>Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and the burden of proof is on the claimant. </li></ul><ul><li>Expert testimony is never adequate (Would you buy Nike shoes because Michael Jordan says they’re the best? Or Hanes underwear?) </li></ul><ul><li>Even James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA, made a dubious claim that Africans were low in intelligence. </li></ul>
  29. 29. Welcome Back to the Real World <ul><li>The tests demand a perfect world </li></ul><ul><li>Real world: the field where ethnographic research is conducted is not a lab </li></ul><ul><li>Homo sapiens have the same hardware worldwide—brain, bipedalism, tool making and use capacities </li></ul><ul><li>But individuals and cultures vary </li></ul><ul><li>The compromise involves a combination of careful preparation and observation, but always being flexible when circumstances affecting fieldwork change. </li></ul>
  30. 30. Conclusion <ul><li>First aim: to develop generalizations that apply to all societies </li></ul><ul><li>Second aim: to explain the diversity of cultures </li></ul><ul><li>Research must therefore meet rigorous standards, such as Lett’s Six-Way Test </li></ul>