D.Gile, December 8, 2004
about the world is partly experiential, i.e. obtained through direct sensory
experience (what we see, what we hear, what we smell, etc.) and ulterior
cognitive processing (the brain has to make sense of the sensory experience),
and partly inherited, i.e. received from other people's statements, written
or spoken (what we read and what we hear). Our perception of both 'reality'
around us and other people's statements is distorted and limited by our
sensory and cognitive limitations (we cannot see or hear everything, and
there are limitations to the amount of information we can process), and by
affective bias (essentially our likes and dislikes, personal ambitions,
limitations have been recognized from early times on. The so-called scientific method presented in many textbooks on
research methods is a set of norms underlying research methods and rules for
research criticism designed to push back such limitations to the best
possible extent. These norms include
- Science is systematic: it
looks at its object of study systematically, ideally leaving no stone
- Science is careful: it
checks the evidence which is collected as well as the rationale
followed, it systematically tests theories, and it avoids drawing
conclusions and making claims when one or the other have weaknesses.
- Science is logical: the
basis of its rationale in every study is Cartesian logic.
- Science aspires to be objective:
it recognizes that personal bias is in the way of every scientist's
attempts to explore the world, and therefore tries to reduce such
personal bias or eliminate it whenever possible, partly through
awareness-raising, and partly through procedures.
- Science is critical:
criticism is one way for members of the scientific community to help
each other, as it is often easier to see the flaws and make constructive
suggestions to correct them in another researcher's work than in one's
- Science is collective:
every scientist draws upon the work of other members of the community in
terms of evidence, theories and methods, and every scientist contributes
to the community by offering his/her own input on evidence, theories and
- Science is communicative:
in order for the collective building of science to occur, scientists
communicate the results of their work in both oral papers and
- Science is explicit: when
communication his/her input to other members of the community, a
scientist reports his work explicitly, so that they can understand what
s/he has done and build upon it and/or help him/her by criticizing it.
In particular, s/he backs up assertions with explicit evidence, be it in
the form of data or in the form of references to findings by other
of scientific progress as a whole depends to a large extent on the individual
scientists' compliance with these norms.
Note: This text introduces norms of science as it is defined by the
so-called scientific method generally invoked in empirical disciplines, both
natural and behavioural. I do not claim that these norms are universal, that
science cannot be defined otherwise, or that research not in line with them
is “unscientific” in any absolute sense of the word.