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The “Scientific Method”

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					The “Scientific Method”
      Malcolm Crowe
      15 March 2004
                    Why?
   MSc should “demonstrate sustained
    rational argument”
   “Scientific method” is a frequently
    cited model for rational argument
    • Really a style of discourse
    • Famous and still controversial
   This lecture will give some history
    • And present conventions 2000+
              References
   Gjertsen, D: Science and Philosophy
    (Penguin 1989)
   Whewell, W (1840): Philosophy of
    the Inductive Sciences (Thoemmes
    1999)
   Feyerabend, P (1975): Against
    method (Verso 1988)
Scientific Method Birth to Death
   The likely story (Plato, 360BC)
   Hypothesis (Bacon 1620, Descartes 1644)
   Reid (1785) Explanation not enough
   Hypothetico-deductive (Whewell 1840)
   Modernism (Popper 1934)
   Failure of modernism:
    • Scientific diversity (marine biology, strings)
    • Mathematics collapses (Russell 1902)
    • The Bohr-Einstein debate (1948)
   Postmodernism (Rorty 1981)
         Induction and Deduction
   Aristotle (330 BC) dialectics .. induction
    and deduction
    • deduction from premises to results
    • induction to find premises (but how?)
   Great scientific disasters: Lavoisier
    (1789), Kelvin
    •   eliminative induction (Bacon 1605)
    •   resolution and composition (Mill 1843)
    •   complex methods did not help much
    •   blind application of induction fails
    Hypothetico-Deductive Method
   Plato (Timaeus) look for a likely story
    • with observed state a natural outcome
   F Bacon (1620) scientific approach
    • “places all wits .. nearly on a level”
    • though techniques may require mastery
    • science advances by rational argument
   Descartes (1644) hypothesis:
    • story that explains many observations
   Whewell (1840) requires prediction
    • and some luck: results must be new
          Einstein (1915) Theory of Relativity
              Scientific Theories
   are systems of hypotheses
    • satisfying set of causal explanations
   need revision if predictions fail
    • Popper (1934) “falsification”
          incorrect appeal to mathematical logic
   theories are not disproved
    • but qualified by more successful ones
   sometimes facts are discarded too
               Postmodernism
   Postmodernism suspicious of
    • grand narratives, universal methods
    • absolute realities or objective truths
   So just present your ideas rationally
    • obey normal conventions of subject
    • don’t fudge the data too much
    • don’t block the line of inquiry
   Importance of academic community
    • What community are you writing for?
    • Rorty (1991) solidarity
              Practice today
   Convincing investigation
   Hypotheses from anywhere
    • similarity to previous successful ones
    • should account for existing data
   Should make usable predictions
    • look for better hypotheses if not
   At least write it up this way round
    • even if you got the data first
    • critics say that cheating is necessary
                Objectivity
   Rorty (1980) merely a compliment
    • no method of absolute truth
   Try to avoid personal opinion
    • offer a road anyone can follow
    • experiments in principle repeatable
    • arguments acceptable in community
   Kierkegaard (1840) Focus on results
    • subjective writing focuses on process
           Project Guidelines
   Use hypothetico-deductive method
    • requires no justification
    • will please examiners
   In qualitative research use questions
   Recall or make use of prior work
    • hypothesis/questions should use this
   Conclusions should hint at prediction
      Questions to ask yourself
   Have I covered all the angles?
   Why these particular examples?
   Why these interviewees?
   Are all the suspects included?
   Is this induction or deduction?
   How could my hypothesis be
    disproved?