SOCIOLOGY AS SCIENCE
Science is knowledge but every kind of knowledge is not science. Science is a method for the discovery of uniformities in this universe through the process of observation and re-observation; the results are organized, systematized, and made part of the body of knowledge. In this way science is a logical system that bases knowledge on direct, systematic observation. Following this method creates scientific knowledge, which rests on empirical evidence, that is, information that we can verify with our senses.
Goals of Science
The goals of science can be:
- To explain why something happens.
- To make generalizations. Discovery of uniformities/principles/laws.
- Look for patterns in the phenomenon under observation, or recurring characteristics.
- To predict. To specify what will happen in the future in the light of current knowledge.
For the attainment of the stipulated goals the procedure followed is to collect information through sensory experiences. Hence we call it observations and there is repetition of observations.
Researcher would like to be positive about his findings. Therefore he would like to be definite, factual, and positively sure. Hence the researcher would develop clear observational criteria i.e. measuring indicators for adequate explanations. This approach is called Positivism. Auguste Comte coined the term â€˜positivismâ€™, which means knowledge based on sensory experience.
Characteristics of Scientific Method
- Empirical The focus of attention is that phenomenon which is observable by using five senses by the human beings. If one person has observed others can also make that observation which implies that it is repeatable as well as testable.
- Verifiable Observations made by any one researcher could be open to confirmation or refutation by other observers. Others could also use their sensory experiences for the verification of the previous findings. The replicability of the phenomenon is essential for repeating the observation. In this way the intuitions and revelations are out of this process because these are having been the privileges of special individuals.
- Cumulative The knowledge created by this method keeps on growing. The researchers try to develop linkages between their findings and the findings of previous researchers. The new findings may support the previous researches, refute them, or may modify but certainly there is an addition to the existing body of knowledge. The new researchers need not start from scratch, rather they have a rich reservoir of knowledge at their disposal and they try to further build on it.
- Self-Correcting Possibility of error is always there but the good thing is its identification and correction. The research findings are shared with other professionals in seminars, conferences, and by printing these in professional journals. The comments are received and errors, if any, are corrected. Even the scientists are not categorical in their statements. They would usually make a statement as is supported by the evidence available at the time. Hence the statement is open to challenge by the availability of new evidence.
- Deterministic Through scientific method the scientists try to explain why things happen? There could be number of factors producing a particular effect but the researchers try to find out the contribution of each factor as well as of different combinations of the same factors. In this way he tries to identify the factor or combination of factors that produce the maximum effect. In this
way he tries to locate the minimum number of causal factors that explain the variation in the effect. This is the principle of parsimony. Such an exercise is an effort to determine cause-andeffect relationship.
- Ethical and ideological neutrality Researchers are human beings who have values, beliefs, ideologies, and norms. Effort is made that the personal values, beliefs, and ideologies do not contaminate the research findings. If these influence then the purity of the information is adulterated and the predictions made by the scientists will not hold true. Hence the scientific work should objective and unbiased. Since the human beings are studying the human beings to what extent they can be unbiased?
- Statistical Generalization Statistics is a device for comparing what is observed and what is logically expected. They are subjecting information to statistical analysis.
- Rationalism The collected facts have to be interpreted with arguments. Therefore the scientists try to employ rigorous rule of logic in their research work.
Any knowledge that is created by applying scientific method is to be called as science. Sociology uses scientific method for the understanding, identifying the patterns, and predicting the human behavior. Therefore, sociology is science of human social life.