In the preceding sections, we described science as knowledge acquired through a scientific method. So what exactly is the “scientific method”? Scientific method refers to a standardized set of techniques for building scientific knowledge, such as how to make valid observations, how to interpret results, and how to generalize those results. The scientific method allows researchers to independently and impartially test preexisting theories and prior findings, and subject them to open debate, modifications, or enhancements. The scientific method must satisfy four key characteristics:
- Logical: Scientific inferences must be based on logical principles of reasoning.
- Confirmable: Inferences derived must match with observed evidence.
- Repeatable: Other scientists should be able to independently replicate or repeat a scientific study and obtain similar, if not identical, results.
- Scrutinizable: The procedures used and the inferences derived must withstand critical scrutiny (peer review) by other scientists.
Any branch of inquiry that does not allow the scientific method to test its basic laws or theories cannot be called “science.” For instance, theology (the study of religion) is not science because theological ideas (such as the presence of God) cannot be tested by independent observers using a logical, confirmable, repeatable, and scrutinizable. Similarly, arts, music, literature, humanities, and law are also not considered science, even though they are creative and worthwhile endeavors in their own right.
The scientific method, as applied to social sciences, includes a variety of research approaches, tools, and techniques, for collecting and analyzing qualitative or quantitative data. These methods include laboratory experiments, field surveys, case research, ethnographic research, action research, and so forth. Much of this book is devoted to learning about these different methods. However, recognize that the scientific method operates primarily at the empirical level of research, i.e., how to make observations and analyze these observations. Very little of this method is directly pertinent to the theoretical level, which is really the more challenging part of scientific research.