Features of science and the scientific process

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Features of science and the scientific process

A major feature of science is that it aims to be objective, in that it strives to carry out research and collect data that accurately represent a phenomenon in a way that is not affected by personal or cultural biases. Objectivity is ensured by carrying out research in such a way that the results are observable and measurable. This is reflected clearly in the work of the early behaviourists, who aimed to make psychology more scientific by rejecting the idea of studying unobservable mental processes. However, it could be argued that objectivity is difficult in psychology, as psychologists who study people are people themselves, so researchers inevitably approach a study with some preconceptions, and much of what guides behaviour is internal and so not directly observable. Scientific research should also be replicable i.e. it should be possible for someone else to repeat an experiment in exactly the same way to see if his or her findings are similar.

In order to qualify as scientific, Allport (1947) claims that theories should aim to do three things: understand, predict and control.  One way in which they can promote understanding is by being able to provide an explanation for an observed phenomenon. However, they should also be able to organise information in a consistent way, through experimentation and observation, so that it can be used to generate laws and principles. This is a feature of established sciences such as physics and chemistry, and one that has been adopted by psychologists who take a scientific approach to the subject. They should also aim to be parsimonious i.e. to provide the greatest degree of explanation in the simplest possible way.

For a theory to be useful, it should be possible to use it to derive predictions, i.e. testable hypotheses that can be used to either to support or to refute it. Popper (1969) suggests that research that is scientific should be constructed in such a way that hypotheses being tested are falsifiable, in that it should be potentially possible to test whether a hypothesis can be proved wrong. If we test the same hypothesis on many occasions and the results consistently support it, this doesn’t prove that the hypothesis is correct. For example, to test the hypothesis that “all swans are white”, white swan after white swan could be observed, but it would always be possible that a


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