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1.3: The Scientific Method in Practice

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    The field of sociology developed in the 1800s. Auguste Comte defined sociology as “the study of society.” His goal, coined positivism, centered on social reform with the aim of improving society. Comte’s work developed from his observations of the social world. His research founded the field of sociology through the application of the scientific method to collect empirical data on society. In essence, sociology became the scientific study of social patterns (Griffiths, Keirns, Strayer, Cody-Rydzewsk, Scaramuzzo, Sadler, Vyain, Byer, and Jones 2015).

    Since its inception, the scientific method is viewed as the way to answer questions about human social life. However, at the turn of the 20th century, some sociologists began to question the social research application of the scientific method. Instead, social researchers began to incorporate an interpretive approach to the field of sociology termed antipositivism. This interpretive framework implies numeric and statistical data gathered using a scientific method does not provide a deep understanding of the intent behind the thinking and behavioral patterns of people. As a result, sociologists today often examine statistical data and interpret or decode personal narratives in social research to identify patterns and draw conclusions about human social life. Sociologists use social research to create theories and identify solutions or interventions for change.

    The research process is a method for gathering facts. The purpose of social research is to investigate and provide insight into how human societies function (Griffiths et al. 2015). Social research includes the scientific method and empirical evidence resulting in an interpretive perspective based on theoretical foundation. Theories are perspectives or viewpoints. Without empirical evidence or facts, theories are simply ideas or things believed to be true but not proven.


    Figure 1. Visual Representation of the Interpretive Perspective. Attribution: Copyright Vera Kennedy, West Hills College Lemoore, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

    The scientific method provides parameters for social research. The scientific method involves careful data collection, theory development, hypothesis formulation and testing (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). By using the scientific method, sociologists ensure validity and reliability of research findings and results. Validity ensures the research study is measuring what it is intended to measure. Reliability means that if someone else copies the same research process design and plan, they get consistent findings or results as the original research study. The scientific method establishes the margins and boundaries for objective and accurate research (Griffiths et al. 2015). Using a scientific research design or plan is a recipe for other researchers to test and substantiate someone’s work and findings.

    Table 1. A Comparison of the Scientific Method in Basic and Applied Sociology. Attribution: Copyright Vera Kennedy, West Hills College Lemoore, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license

    In basic sociology, the scientific method serves as a guide in research design and includes these steps:

    1. Identify a research topic or issue to study
    2. Develop a research question to examine or explore
    3. Create a hypothesis or make a prediction about the anticipated findings and results
    4. Complete a literature review of other research on the question or topic of study
    5. Design a research method and approach for collecting data or information
    6. Gather and collect data
    7. Analyze and interpret data
    8. Report findings and results

    In applied sociology, the scientific method serves as a guide in research design and in the identification of solutions or interventions and includes these steps:

    1. Identify a social problem to address
    2. Formulate a research question
    3. Describe level of analysis and theoretical approach
    4. Research interventions, programs, etc.
    5. Develop a hypothesis
    6. Identify intervention
    7. Implement intervention
    8. Evaluate and analyze results

    Client-centered services requires sociological practitioners to find and build on facts to construct and understand an issue or condition of an individual, group, or organization (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). In applied sociology, the scientific method incorporates steps for gathering facts and insights about social patterns and interventions. The primary differences between the scientific method approach in basic and applied sociology are the topics and conditions practitioners research and study. Findings of scientific investigation in applied sociology help inform an understanding of a condition or issue and selection of strategies, solutions, or interventions for change (Bruhn and Rebach 2007). The goal in using the scientific method in applied sociology is to identify solutions or interventions to use and implement derived from theoretical foundation.

    This page titled 1.3: The Scientific Method in Practice is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Vera Kennedy.