Scientific research

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by Speakpigeon, Jan 2, 2019.

  1. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

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    What do you think are the essential characteristic(s) of scientific research? In other words, what makes it proper scientific research? In still other words, what distinguishes scientific research from other sorts of research?
    Thanks to keep to the point.
    EB
     
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  3. mathman Valued Senior Member

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    Short answer: possibility of falsification.
     
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  5. Write4U Valued Senior Member

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    Science (research) = the study and symbolic translation of natural universal values and functions.
    Applied science = the artificial application of natural universal values and functions, using the symbolics developed during observation.
     
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  7. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

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    ???
    Here is a dictionary definition of the word "research":
    So, I don't see anybody doing scientific research work paying much attention to the possibility of falsification. To falsify a theory, you need to have a theory to begin with. A theory can only be the end result of the process of research. I doubt that researchers could make any progress if they only tried to conceive of falsifiable theories.
    So, I can only interpret your answer as a misinterpretation of the question. I'm not asking here for a criterion of the validity of scientific theories. I did that in my other thread on science. This one is not about scientific theories, it's about scientific research.
    EB
     
  8. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    I'd have said rather the collection of data about the natural world, in the search for patterns enabling the construction, elaboration or testing of theories.
     
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  9. TheFrogger Valued Senior Member

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    The separation of variables to establish cause and effect. Also repeatable experimentation.
     
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  10. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

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    I think in a roundabout way this has already been covered, but I like the quote anyway: Richard P. Feynman Quotes. It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong.
     
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  11. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

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    Yes, I can broadly agree with that.
    First, I want to dispute the usefulness of the notion of "natural world" in this context.
    By natural world, I assume we all mean nature:
    There is a much broader term which is "reality". I don't see why we would have to restrict what we mean by scientific research by using this notion of the natural world. What would be wrong about saying that it is the collection of data about reality (or the real world) for all scientific research.
    Second, I don't think you could collect data about anything that doesn't exist, so specifying "data about the natural world" seems effectively redundant. Me, I think that as long as you collect data, you're on safe grounds. And that's not quibbling. I don't think anybody is going to stop a research he thinks is legitimate just because the data wouldn't be about the natural world.
    EB
     
  12. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

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    I can also broadly agree with that but I would use a less metaphysical terminology. I think establishing correlations, rather than cause and effect, should be good enough. I understand that Quantum Physics is a scientific theory and yet it doesn't seem to need the notion of cause and effect as far as I understand it.
    I also agree with that but experimentation is just a particular kind of observation, or as exchemist puts it, collection of data, if that amounts to the same thing. So, I would rather say "repeatable observation" or "repeatable collection of data".
    EB
     
  13. TheFrogger Valued Senior Member

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    How about repeatable results??
     
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  14. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    Understanding the word 'scientific', first off.

    Historically, I think that 'science' is derived from the Latin for 'knowledge'. So any complex or organized body of knowledge came to be thought of as being a 'science'. People spoke of the science of cooking. Theology was a science.

    Our modern usage seems to have arisen as a result of the 17th century "scientific revolution". So your question perhaps might be restated as, 'What sets modern post-17th century "science" apart from other forms of complex organized knowledge?'

    I'd be inclined to say a number of things, some of them perhaps historically contingent.

    They might include (but probably aren't limited to):

    First off, it's natural science. It addresses events in the physical world. That distinguishes it from theology.

    That naturalism leads to empiricism, to the expectation that scientific knowledge is to be obtained through the senses and not through revelation, private intuition or mysticism..

    And scientific knowledge in our new sense needs to be objective as opposed to subjective. Scientific knowledge has to be more than a matter of individual psychology, true-for-me-alone. It has to be true-for-everyone, true of the reality in which we all find ourselves. This is where the scientific repeatability and confirmation stuff seems to be most relevant. ('Why should I believe that? Well, look for yourself.')

    And just historically, modern science started with very simple physics, with the kind of events which lent themselves to abstraction in terms of very simple mathematical formulation. So in a way the rise of science was a matter of luck, in that Galileo and company addressed physical problems governed by very simple mathematical principles that the methods they had available could successfully deal with.

    Of course things have gotten tremendously more complicated since then...

    Mathematics has always been a bit of a problem case for natural science. Many people speak of 'mathematical science', but it isn't a natural science and it doesn't seem to be empirical. Its exact nature, epistemology and ontological status remain obscure and controversial. But mathematics remains a 'science by courtesy' one might say, probably because of indispensibility arguments.

    Biological science isn't really abstract and mathematized in the same way that theoretical physics is (though genomics is inching in the direction of computer science), but it's still indisputably a science. (Probably the most rapidly advancing science at the present time, given all the gene sequencing data flooding in.)

    And there's the so-called "social sciences". (I'm very doubtful about their scientific status.) These seem to have trouble eliminating subjectivity since they depend crucially on people's own subjective attitudes and their understanding of the situations in which they find themselves. So there's (arguably) an ineradicable element of hermeneutics and Verstehen to things like cultural anthropology, perhaps making them more akin to literary theory than to science.

    There's a lot of discussion in the literature about the unity of science. Is science defined by a single method or is it a grab-bag of methods, many specific to specialized sciences, that are used as situations warrant? What is the status of various sciences in relation to each other? Can a science like biology be reduced to chemistry and chemistry to physics? Or are there aspects of biology that are emergent somehow, elements that one wouldn't suspect and couldn't predict by consideration of particle physics alone (or whatever one thinks the most basic level of reality is)? (What is the relation of scientific explanation to that? If we explain something, have we reduced it to something else?)

    And of most interest to Sciforums, there's the demarcation problem. Is there some quality of modern science that sets it apart from all other human endeavors and arguably makes it much more authoritative? Can a clear line be drawn between 'science' and 'pseudoscience'?

    I'm inclined to say 'no'. My view of science, as suggested above, is rather fuzzy, indistinct and historically contingent. Ultimately, I perceive science as being common sense applied to physical reality, along with a big dose of mathematical abstraction (in physics' case) and lots of effort to keep things objective. That last is basically common sense too, it's simply people saying 'Why should I believe that'? and expecting reasons that will convince the person doing the asking as well as the person giving the answer.

    Which inevitably raises questions about expertise and authority in science. (The questions never end.)
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2019
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  15. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

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    A result seems to have a scientific value only to the extent that it is something actually observed, be they the result of an experiment, or the result of a calculation, etc. Science works a bit like the justice system. We want as many witnesses as we can but we also want at least one witness. No witness. No result. And scientific research can be carried out with just one witness.
    EB
     
  16. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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    Do you have any thoughts of your own on the question, that you'd like to share with us?
     
  17. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

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    Starting with the dictionary will always seem a good move to me.
    As you notice yourself, mathematics seems to be a science and doesn't seem to be about the natural world. So, "natural" appears to be irrelevant here.
    Again, most people think of mathematics as not an empirical science, so that should make empiricism irrelevant, too, at least for most people, assuming they would be rational people.
    Still, me, I think of mathematics as properly empirical, so I'm pleased to accept empirical as necessary to scientific research.
    Good to me, at least as you define here what is objective.
    However, you've moved from talking about scientist research, the topic at hand, to talking about scientific knowledge. That's obviously two very different things.
    Repeatability seems indeed necessary to the validation of any theory as a scientific one. However, we're talking here about scientific research, not scientific knowledge, and I don't see that Einstein wasn't doing proper scientific research with General Relativity well before the first actual observation confirming it in 1917, I think, and therefore well before any possibility of repetition. So, it has to be observable and repeatability of observation in principle rather than actual repetition.
    Well, that's indeed true for astronomy and physics, but again not true of mathematics, unless you want to discard mathematics as not a science at all, and then why not discard physics as well since it is relies on mathematics.
    More complicated measurement devices and apparatuses but also much more mathematics...
    You're being fluffy here.
    Still, I take mathematics to be an empirical science, so I'm not subjected to any abject contradiction myself.
    Yes, people who think of biology as not really a science would have a hard time justifying their opinion.
    Well, again, we're supposed to be talking of scientific research. Me, I don't have any qualms counting social sciences as proper scientific research.
    Clearly, different sciences need to develop specific methods that can be useful to them given their field of research. Yet, we still count all these different kinds of research using different methods and methodologies as sciences, which again begs the question of what defines scientific research.
    Well, that seems to be a problem only for people adopting criteria too narrow for distinguishing science from non-science. It's up to you to make up your mind about that and if you do, to argue it rationally...
    And the movement of each particle in a plasma, gas or liquid (and solid as well if you had all the time in the world to observed it) most probably depends on the movement of all other particles. So, understanding these so-called emergent properties is as much about understanding the movement of each particle as it is about understanding the movement of the whole. As long as you can't predict the whole, you can't predict what each particle is doing, and therefore can't be said to understand the actual movement even of simple particles. All you do is assume the basic model applies. Not quite observation and repeatability, then.
    Why should that be "modern" science? You haven't demonstrated modern scientific research is any different from what people did in ancient times, or indeed do today outside what you seem to regard as "modern science".
    But exactly how mathematical science gets to be objective, then, if objective is a criterion of science and mathematics is a science?
    Sure, but mathematicians don't seem to have significantly more problems about that than physicists, especially since Quantum Physics was first conceived of, or since "not even wrong" String Theory was first proposed. Remember, we're talking scientific research here, not scientific knowledge.
    EB
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2019
  18. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

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    Look at my previous post. That's how I "share my thoughts", if that can be good enough with you.
    EB
     
  19. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    I think this must be first time I have heard mathematics referred to as a science.

    I should have thought it was quite plainly not one, at any rate not according to the modern usage of "science" as short for "natural science". Most of mathematics is entirely abstract.
     
  20. Speakpigeon Valued Senior Member

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    It has always been commonly regarded as a science.
    The word mathematics comes from Ancient Greek μάθημα, meaning "that which is learnt", "what one gets to know", hence also "study" and "science".
    Aristotle defined mathematics as "the science of quantity", and this definition prevailed until the 18th century.
    Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777–1855) referred to mathematics as "the Queen of the Sciences".
    Benjamin Peirce (1809–1880) called mathematics "the science that draws necessary conclusions".
    Marcus du Sautoy has called mathematics "the Queen of Science ... the main driving force behind scientific discovery".
    And I don't see anything essential that scientists are doing that mathematicians aren't.

    If you have an opinion on what is properly science, please address the OP:
    What do you think are the essential characteristic(s) of scientific research? In other words, what makes it proper scientific research? In still other words, what distinguishes scientific research from other sorts of research?
    EB
     
  21. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    See post 5.
     
  22. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

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    It could be a crux.
     
  23. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    Well, to me "science" refers, unless otherwise specified, to "natural science", which is the study of nature, according to certain methodology, loosely referred to as the "scientific method".

    Mathematics is something else: an essentially abstract system of quantitive application of logic.
     
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