It is important to remember that science and philosophy are intertwined and are essential elements of human advancement, both contributing to the way we view the world. Scientific research, however, allows us to test hypotheses and lay solid foundations for future research and study.
No theory or hypothesis can ever be completely proved or disproved, but research enables us to make valid assumptions about the universe.
This stage is where you must make a statement of intent and develop a strong hypothesis. This must be testable, with aims of research being to prove or disprove this statement.
At this stage, you may express your personal opinion, favoring one side or the other. You must make a statement predicting what you expect the final answer to be.
You must, however, keep an open mind and understand that there is a chance that you may be wrong. Research is never about right or wrong but about arriving at an answer, which improves our knowledge of natural processes.
Determination of the Causes
This is often the 'business end' for many areas of scientific research and is where one of the predictions is tested, usually by manipulating and controlling variables. The idea is to generate numerical data that can determine the cause with one of the many statistical tests.
For example, a small-scale global warming study might study Antarctic ice cores to determine the historical levels of carbon dioxide throughout history. In this experiment, time would be the manipulated variable, showing how levels of the greenhouse gas have changed over time.
Of course, very little research gives such a black and white answer, but opens up new areas of potential study and allows scientists to focus on a specific direction.
After determining the causes, the next layer of the research process is to try to find possible explanations of 'Why?' and 'How?' things are happening.
For most areas, this stage involves sifting through and reviewing earlier studies about similar phenomena. Most research is built upon the work of previous researchers, so there should be a wealth of literature resources available.
If we look at a topical example, Global Warming is an area with which most of us are familiar and has been the subject of thousands of studies. Intuitively, most of us would state that humanity pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is responsible for a worldwide rise in temperatures.
The aims of research may be to establish 'What are the underlying causes and relationships between the different processes fueling this trend?' In most cases, it is necessary to review earlier research and try to separate the better quality sources from the inaccurate or poorly designed studies.
It is equally important to take into account any opposing points of view and accept that they may be equally valid. Explanation is about coming up with viable reasons and you must try to be as objective and unbiased as possible.
For example, in the case of global warming, there is an opposing view that temperature rises are natural and that the effect of human society is making little difference.
At this stage, personal opinion must be put aside and both sides of the debate must be given equal credence.
Whatever the final answer, it can be used to promote a healthy debate and discussion about the validity of the results.
The aims of research can then be fine-tuned, or may serve to open up new areas of interest. Either way, the store of human knowledge has been enriched and increased.
Bauer, H.H. (1994). Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press
Kuhn, T. (1996). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (3rd Ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press
Popper, K. (2002). The Logic of Scientific Discovery (2nd Ed.). London, UK: Routledge
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