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Characteristics and Ethics of Research

By Ms. Emma Oketch Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies University of Nairobi

The Scientific Approach


Social science is the study of society: its formulation, structures, relationships, and its end. It is what we can perceive in terms of matter in the society. Science is a true body of knowledge. It is an objective investigation of empirical phenomena. Science means stable knowledge (scientific laws and principles)

What is Science
Science always seeks more permanent knowledge i.e. more true knowledge because propositions may be expanded, modified, enriched, or discarded(on the basis of its methodology). What is scientific now may be considered unscientific in future. To be scientific at any stage it has to be stable. Without stability there is no accuracy, no necessity and no science. Scientific laws change because matter changes. Matter is what we perceive through our senses (touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight).

What is Science
To get stable knowledge we must rise above matter to discover general patterns, laws and principles. The scientific approach is the pursuit of truth determined by logical considerations. The scientific approach relies on empirical evidence, relevant concepts, objective considerations, ethics, predictions, public methodology, and formulating theories. Science is united by its methodology.

Approaches to Knowledge
Knowledge has been acquired in different ways and the distinction is in the way each vests: 1. credibility in the producer of the knowledge (who says so) 2. the procedure by which the knowledge is produced (how do you know) and 3. in the effect of that knowledge (what difference does it make) There are three levels of wisdom: natural wisdom (common sense, spontaneous knowledge, instinct), learned wisdom (taught, through experience) and then supernatural wisdom.

Approaches to Knowledge
We can thus distinguish modes of acquiring knowledge as: 1. Authoritarian mode: Knowledge is looked for by referring to those who are socially or politically defined as qualified knowledge producers (oracles, spiritual leaders, individuals). The manner is which you solicit the authority affects the nature of the response but not ones confidence in the knowledge producer. A large number of refutations are needed to delegitimize the authority.

Approaches to Knowledge
2. Mystical mode: Knowledge obtained from supernaturally knowledgeable people (divines, gods, mediums) It is similar to the authoritarian mode but it depends on supernatural signs and the psycho physical state of the knowledge consumer. The confidence in the knowledge producer decreases as the refutations increase or as education advances in the society

Approaches to Knowledge
3. Rationalistic mode: logic- totality of knowledge can be acquired through strict adherence to the forms and rules of logic. Aristotle has explored the structure of knowledge and the truth through reason. Underlying assumption is that the human mind can understand things independently of the observable phenomena, forms of knowledge exist prior to our experiences. Through this mode you distinguish between scientific propositions and unsound thinking. Logic in social science is thus an instrument to order our thinking about social phenomena.

The scientific approach is grounded on a set of fundamental assumptions. They are a prerequisite for the conduct of the scientific discourse. If you understand the assumptions then you can understand the scientific approach and its claim of superiority over other approaches. 1. Nature is orderly- there is recognizable order and regularity in the natural world and events dont occur randomly. Laws of nature describe what is happening. 2. We can know nature through our senses and faculties 3. All natural phenomena have natural causes- until science accounts for causality it rejects the argument that there is a supernatural reason. It thus directs research towards regularities and order that underlie nature.

Conceptual Foundations of Empirical Research/ Assumptions of Science

Conceptual Foundations of Empirical Research/ Assumptions of Science


4. Knowledge is superior to ignorance- knowledge can be pursued for its own sake and to improve human conditions. We can not know everything and scientific knowledge is tentative and changing. Things we do not know at present we may know in future and things we know now may be discarded tomorrow. 5. Truth in science is relative to the evidence, the methods and theories being employed. 6. Nothing is self evident- claims of truth must be demonstrated objectively. Tradition, beliefs and common sense must not be exclusively relied on in the verification of scientific knowledge 7. Knowledge is derived from empirical acquisition of experience, perceptions and observations.

Aims of Science
The aim is to produce an accumulating body of reliable knowledge to help us: 1. Explain provide an answer to the why question. This can be deductive- deduced from a universal law- law of gravity or probabilistic/inductive- makes use of generalizations that express tendencies 2. Understand- leads to discovery 3. Predict- making a correct prediction is considered the first quality if identifying what science is. If one knows something is true he is in a position to predict(where prediction is not possible there is no knowledge)

Scientific Method
The scientific method is thus a system of explicit rules and procedures upon which research is based . The rules and procedures constantly improve. It enables communication, criticism, and replication. There must be logical reasoning and analysis and objective evidence.

Ethics of Research
Social scientists are observers as well as participants in the research process Research is not conducted in isolation Ethical issues arise form the kind of problems social scientists investigate i.e. 1. The research problem-genetic engineering 2. The research setting- hospitals, LDCs 3. Research design- use of experiments 4. Data collection methods- covert 5. Data collected- personal information Researchers face an ethical dilemma of pursuing knowledge vs. rights of respondents

Ethics involves the study of right and wrong conduct. Plato held that proper conduct led to harmony. 1. Researchers may also use utilitarian approach in tying to balance the costs and benefits trying to make maximum profits. 2. Use of deception- Others misreport results or falsify data. 3. Questions have been raised about the ethical nature of research especially where research on treatments involves humans being given a placebo and others the real drug. (Angell 1997). During World War 11 the Nazi used a lot of human subjects in bizarre experiments. After the end of WW11 the Nuremberg code was created to guide ethical principals when using humans as subjects in research (Consent is needed, quality of results tested, results should be based on animal experiments, should avoid physical and psychological suffering, the researchers must be qualified, and should terminate it if things go wrong etc)

Ethics of Research

Ethics of Research
4. Informed consent and confidentiality- informed consent, inducements to participants, sharing data, minimizing invasiveness, providing information, anonymity, honouring commitments etc. 5. Responsibility and compliance with the lawprofessional codes, research planning, responsibility, compliance with law, institutional approval, research responsibility 6. Plagiarism -Ethical questions when dealing with other researchers include plagiarism (Lafollette, 1992) also fairness and objectivity must be realised when dealing with peer review research.

Ethics of Research
6. Fraud -The researcher has to deal carefully with the society. The main problem here involves fraud(corruption, looting of research funds, falsifying data to gain recognition, (See Broad and Wade 1982, Miller and Herson 1992) One famous case was Sir Cyril Burt(Intelligence versus environment) waste of resources in trivial research 7. The research also faces a conflict between private and public interests. For example makers of wine may sponsor research on the benefits of wine on the heart but this is a private interest to gain profit but in terms of public interests it may raise the cases of drunkenness etc

Ethics of Research
In terms of public interest some research that may seem for the public may have some ethical concerns e.g. Project Camelot studied the causes of revolutions in the third world in order to avoid them. However the study involved the military and was untaken by the USA hence raising charges of espionage and lack of sovereignty (See Horowitz 1973). 8. Politicizing research- politicising research on HIV at the expense of prostrate cancer etc (See Epstein 1997) or over researching in certain areas

Three major challenges emerge for African Scientists


Ethical Challenges - Who decides what is to be researched and how it is to be researched? Why, how and what to study, by whom and for what purposes? Can research findings be used for social or political purposes Do governments have a right to control research that is done in the state Epistemological Challenges What are the western conceptual building blocs of social science Vis a viz African concept? There is the danger of being confined to ethnocentricism, confusion over the role of culture, and whether Africa is a laboratory for research. Methodological Issues what methods and techniques should be employed by African scientists? Should we borrow, modify or invent our own techniques.