Unit 2.6 The nature of objectivity in social sciences

Unit 2.6 The nature of objectivity in social sciences

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The nature of objectivity in social sciences
Research in social science and its contribution to society
Natural scientists are connected with research in areas such as biology, chemistry, geology and
physics, where areas of predictability are generally more secure than in the areas we often
associate with the social sciences, such as economics, politics, psychology and sociology. There
are similarities. Both natural scientists and social scientists depend, to a greater or lesser degree,
on gathering data. Both may use quantitative methods to produce primary data -- perhaps
weighing and measuring for the natural scientist, and compiling questionnaires and surveys, or
analysing census data, for the social scientist. Often, not least in connection with Alevel study,
natural sciences are seen as being more demanding and rigorous while social sciences are
dismissed as being easy.
Scientists conduct experiments and repeat them several times. However, although psychologists
may conduct limited experiments, social scientists also have to rely on forms of evidence produced
by qualitative methods that emphasise personal experiences and interpretation. The evidence might
take the form of historical records, reports or participant observation. The findings and conclusions
of social scientists are likely to be more tentative than those of natural scientists. Social science
research, mostly involving work with people, is often less precise, even if approached scientifically,
than, say, research in chemistry or physics, although some areas of social science, such as
"branches of economics, have adopted a more quantitative methodology.
Just as we might have the image of a scientist based on the stereotype of an eccentric in a white
coat who almost lives in a laboratory, we think of social scientists as being:
longhaired, leftwing academics whose main objective is to use some limited
social science research to support their particular ideological outlook
pseudoscientists who spend a considerable amount of time in determining
something that most people might argue is fairly obvious from the outset
people seeking a degree of respectability for their subject by using specialist
vocabulary that is so reliant on jargon that it is unintelligible to almost everyone
In reality, if their work is to be accepted and valued, social scientists have to approach their work in
a way that means they can be trusted and respected. Central to this goal is the question of how far
work in the social sciences can really be value free -- the product of an objective rather than a

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This can be very difficult because social scientists are likely to work with
people. People have values. Social scientists are people. They have values too.
Key terms
quantitative methods: methods based on the use and analysis of numerical data. An experiment
using these methods normally involves a number of cases with only a few variables such methods
may be useful in helping to describe social phenomena on a larger scale.…read more

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Since it began in 1801, the census has been carried out every 10 years with the exception of 1941,
which coincided with the destruction and disruption brought about by the Second World War. The
census is a major statistical exercise that requires much detailed and meticulous planning and
provides essential information on population changes, particularly in relation to public service needs
such as education, health and housing.
Planning for the 2011 census began in 2002.…read more

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The reactions of those studied, and sometimes photographed, in
Worktown were not always favourable.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, Mass Observation was used by the Ministry of
Information to gauge public opinion and monitor the effectiveness of the government's public
information campaigns. The work of Mass Observation continued after the war ended. In 1981 the
Mass Observation Archive, located at the University of Sussex, began a new project to study
everyday life.…read more

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We often have an image of natural scientists, working perhaps alone in laboratories,
dedicated to advancing knowledge in their chosen field of science such as chemistry or
They are less likely to deal with research involving people, so there is less likelihood of
variations in behaviour that may affect research results.
Scientists may seek to use standardised measuring tools or instruments commonly used
and agreed on by colleagues working in the same field.…read more

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Both natural and social scientists rely on gathering data, although this may take different
forms, with social scientists more likely to use questionnaires or historical records and
personal interviews.
To gain credibility for their research, social scientists must be rigorous in their approach to
research even if their methods are sometimes different.
Because research in social science involves studies of people and their behaviour, the
results of research may be less precise and more tentative because more variables are
involved.…read more

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Not all research has been successful, but this illustrates the value of research. One of the
biggest failures was the drug Contergan (better known as Thalidomide), which was launched
in Germany in the late 1950s after tests were carried out on animals. Warnings about this
antisickness drug taken by pregnant women first came from obstetrician Dr William McBride
in 1961. Eventually it was responsible for 10,000 birth deformities.…read more

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Some subjects of research combine social and applied science. Both transport and the
environment may fall into this category.
There may be differences in research methods between social and natural scientists but this does
not mean that social scientists are necessarily any less rigorous than natural scientists. However,
they may need to take into account more variables and are more often called on to take into
account the vagaries of human behaviour.…read more


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