In Defence of the Scientific Method

By | 2017-11-09T05:19:51+00:00 June 29th, 2015|Blog|0 Comments

I recently listened to a podcast interview with Dr Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist and Director of the Gazzaley Lab at UC San Francisco. While the work of Dr Gazzaley is both interesting and practical, the real take away for me from the podcast was to reconfirm my commitment to the scientific method. This is not to be mistaken for a belief in science, which throughout recent years I have become more and more disillusioned with. Rather, it is to avoid any notion of chucking the baby out with the bathwater and make clear the distinction between the flawed practice of science and the body of techniques that comprise the scientific method.

The scientific method dates back to the 17th century and involves the systematic observation, measurement and experimentation, and the formulation, testing and modification of hypotheses (cf.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method). While not wishing to go into the history of the development of the scientific method, the applications of these principles have since been the basis for societal development. The refinement of this thinking, by the likes of Karl Popper, together with a multi-disciplinary approach with the appropriate use of logic and mathematics, is central in our search for truth (using the term loosely).

The problem is that the discipline of science is continually letting itself down. It allows itself to be compromised, therefore tarnishing the scientific method in the process. This issue has been discussed extensively in this blog. A recent article in the Times Higher Education added to the growing body of work questioning the usefulness of published scientific research.

The failure of science to live up to its own ideal allows detractors to question the scientific approach and replace this with opinion, faith and case studies of an n=1 to be the new standard of knowledge. This is such a terrible shame as it detracts from one of the true breakthroughs in the human story.

The message of this blog is simple. The practice of science in modern society deserves to be questioned and the failure is systematic from universities (refer to previous post) through to publications (refer to previous post). This failure is, in the main, a by-product of the commercialisation of all things science. However, rather than being the fault of the scientific method, it is the scientific method that provides a lens by which these failures can be seen most clearly.

Having been involved in building a business in I/O psychology, I understand the role and requirement of marketing. Understanding this is a key part of partner and staff induction. If I/O psychology is going to progress however our discipline must still adhere as much as possible to the scientist/practitioner model (refer to previous post), guided by adherence to the scientific method.

Humanity owes a lot to the scientific method. We must never allow this to be forgotten during the critique of the current practice of science. The method must be given the respect it deserves. To paraphrase Dr Gazzaley, this means that to be based in science is not our benchmark. Adherence to the scientific method with rigour and objectivity, noting all limitations, is the litmus test by which we need to measure ourselves as I/O practitioners.

About the Author:

Paul Englert

Dr. Paul Englert is a co-founder of OPRA and Managing Director of OPRA in Asia Pacific. Since 1997 Paul’s professional career has had a single focus. That is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of organisations through the appropriate application of Industrial/Organisational (I/O) Psychology.

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