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Research Methods

2) What is Science?

What is a science?

‘Science’ is finding out more about the world, through observation and testing. There are several key features of a science, and without all these something cannot be considered scientific:

Empiricism – Information is based upon research and findings.
Objectivity – Scientists should remove their opinions and beliefs from the research, so the results are not biased
Replicability – If an experiment is valid and scientific you should be able to do the same experiment again and get similar results.
Control – For a test to be scientific only one variable should change, with the others remaining the same to reduce confounding variables

The Scientific Process

There are two models describing the ways in which science can be carried out, induction and deduction.
Induction – This means a scientist makes an observation, create a theory around this observation, and then go away and conduct research to prove or disprove this theory.
Deduction – This means a scientist creates a theory, and then search for evidence to prove or disprove it. This fits with Karl Popper’s hypothetico-deductive model. In this model Popper said that theories should be made first, and then ‘falsified’. This means instead of looking to prove a theory you should look for evidence to disprove it.

So is Psychology a science?

Being a ‘science’ is a desirable thing. It means your research is valid and reliable, something that psychologists obviously want to achieve. But is psychology a science?

Similar goals to science – psychology has the same goals as science, for example validity and falsification, so in this respect it is a science
Uses the scientific method – To a certain extent psychologists use, or at least at to use, the same methods as other scientists, this suggests it is a science. However, because humans aren’t predictable like chemicals there are always going to be huge issues, such as confounding variables and ethics, which mean that psychology doesn’t have a fully ‘ scientific method.
Kuhn’s view – Thomas Kuhn said all sciences have a set paradigm, which all the separate paradigms unify under. However, psychology has many different paradigms (the cognitive, psychodynamic, biological approaches for example), so Kuhn said it can’t be a science.

It is clear that the goals of psychology are similar to those of science. However, there are a lot of reasons why psychology shouldn’t be classed as a science, perhaps a more fitting title is a ‘pseudo-science’, or ‘nearly science’.
But many psychologists feel that not being a science is a good thing, Laing said that it is important that every case in psychology is treated differently, whereas in science generalises, which might not be a suitable to psychology.


About Sam Cook

A blog set up to help A Level students revise Sociology


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