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A reminder about empirical science

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A reminder about empirical science
PRINCIPLES OF ‘SCIENCE’:
A REMINDER
Daniel Gile
[email protected]
www.cirinandgile.com
D. Gile principles CSA
1
Speaker’s bias
- Initial training in mathematics
- Also training in sociology
(empirical studies orientation)
- No training in humanities 
- Observation of research practice as an interpreter in
scientific conferences
- Teaching research methods in mixed environments
(students of Japanese, T&I and terminology students)
- Analysis of research in humanities through contact
with translation research
D. Gile principles CSA
2
Science: a reminder (1)
Our knowledge about the World/representation of the
World comes from:
- Experiential knowledge
(direct experience through sensory experience and its
analysis)
- Inherited knowledge
(what we learn from others)
- What our brain does with the information
D. Gile principles CSA
3
Science: a reminder (2)
The acquisition of data and their processing by the brain
are chronically constrained by:
- Sensory limitations
- Cognitive limitations
- Emotional interference
(which tends inter alia to make us see what we want
to/expect to see and disregard what we would not like
to see/do not expect)
D. Gile principles CSA
4
Science: a reminder (3)
Recognizing these limitations,
philosophers and scientists
have been developing for centuries
what came to be known as the ‘Scientific Approach’
in order to push them back as far as possible
(but it is not expected they can be eradicated)
D. Gile principles CSA
5
Science: a reminder (4)
SA was first used in natural sciences,
it was also imported into social sciences and into some
human sciences, e.g. history
in a form which I will call
“Canonical Scientific Approach” (CSA)
because of its prescriptive, idealized form
(not reflected 100% in the actual practice of science)
Some of its norms (in particular writing norms) are
found in many disciplines of human sciences as well
On the whole, it is found in empirical disciplines rather
than in theoretical disciplines
D. Gile principles CSA
6
Norms and methods
CSA can be represented through:
- Conceptual Norms
- Social norms and institutions to enforce their
implementation (academic hierarchy, peer
reviewing…)
Social norms and institutions are very similar in CSA
and in non-CSA academic disciplines
- Technical research methods
- Writing norms
D. Gile principles CSA
7
CSA Conceptual norms (1)
‘Science’ is supposed to be
Skeptical
(due to its awareness of human limitations in exploring
reality),
and therefore‘rigorous’,
more specifically:
- Systematic
- Cautious
- As objective as possible
- Logical
(Logic being an ‘objective’ tool for testing truth)
- Critical
(looking for potential flaws and weaknesses to fight them)
D. Gile principles CSA
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CSA Conceptual norms (2)
‘Science’ is supposed to be
Descriptive, explanatory and if possible predictive –
not prescriptive
(but as citizens, scientists can take prescriptive positions)
‘Collective’
- Communicative
(hence the importance of publications)
- Critical
(in a ‘collective’ sense)
- Explicit when reporting research
D. Gile principles CSA
9
CSA Conceptual norms (3)
In concrete terms, CSA scholars:
- Systematically conduct empirical testing of their ideas
and theories
- Systematically provide data as evidence to back up
claims
- Are explicit about their materials, methods and factual
and/or logical grounds for their claims
- Make a clear distinction between documented facts and
speculative thoughts (but speculation as such is not
prohibited)
D. Gile principles CSA
10
Implications (1)
CSA scholars always ask themselves
(or are supposed to do so):
Have I used all my resources (knowledge, knowhow, data)
- To acquire as much relevant data as possible?
- To observe and ‘measure’ whatever I observed and
measured as rigorously and objectively as possible?
- To consider all possible interpretations of the data I have as
opposed to just one, my favorite?
- To make sure my inferences are justified?
- To make sure that in my writing, I make a clear distinction
between what I claim to know and what I believe?
- …….
D. Gile principles CSA
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Implications (2)
For instance:
- Have I read all relevant publications to which I have
access?
- Have I made sure I really understand them?
- Have I made sure I have not let myself be influenced by my
favorite theory and neglected other potential explanations
for a phenomenon I have observed?
- Is the sample I have chosen a representative one?
- Have I made sure I do not overgeneralize?
- Have I made sure, when making inferences, that I am using
all the available data instead of just those that corroborate
my ideas?
- …….
D. Gile principles CSA
12
Weaknesses and limitations
More generally:
CSA scientists systematically attempt to identify weaknesses
and limitations in their work (and in other people’s work)…
not for the purpose of criticizing, but for the purpose of
improving whatever can be improved
In so doing, they know that there will always be limitations
and weaknesses in scientific work,
(that their theories may be wrong, that their data may be
biased, that their analyses may be flawed in spite of their
best efforts)
but expect that these will be pushed back in their own future
work and in other scientists’ future work
D. Gile principles CSA
13
‘Scientific’ vs ‘Non-scientific’
More generally:
For many CSA scientists, any activity which does not comply
with these norms is not ‘scientific’.
They refer to academic activity which does not comply with
CSA as ‘philosophy’, ‘literature’…, anything but “science”
The position defended here is that such activity can be
classified as science or research. It will be given the (too)
general name of Human Sciences Approaches (HSA),
knowing that :
- This is vague and encompasses multiple, different
approaches
- Some Human (and social) sciences do follow CSA
D. Gile principles CSA
14
THE CSA CYCLE (Popperian model)
OBSERVATION
↓
THEORY
↓
(EMPIRICAL) TESTING
↓
NEW/IMPROVED THEORY
↓
(EMPIRICAL) TESTING
↓
...
D. Gile principles CSA
15
The CSA CYCLE (perhaps more realistic)
OBSERVATION
↓
THEORY
↓
(EMPIRICAL) TESTING + SOCIAL FORCES
↓
NEW/IMPROVED THEORY
↓
(EMPIRICAL) TESTING + SOCIAL FORCES
↓
...
[ Inter alia: Kuhn’s theories of scientific (r)evolution ]
D. Gile principles CSA
16
THEORIES and TESTING in CSA
THEORIES are considered PROVISIONAL
MODELS/EXPLANATIONS of REALITY
Not ‘final’ explanations/accounts of Reality
They are TESTED SYSTEMATICALLY,
With the EXPECTATION (IN PRINCIPLE!) THAT
… TESTS will INDUCE CHANGES in the THEORY
and IMPROVE it
D. Gile principles CSA
17
CSA is based on EMPIRICAL RESEARCH
D. Gile principles CSA
18
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT CSA (1)
1. CSA is not essentially quantitative
CSA is based on empirical research and stays close to observable
evidence in its inferences. The evidence can be qualitative.
Many questions which CSA seeks to answer are qualitative, and
often, numbers are only a tool to help researchers decide
whether a qualitative feature is present or not.
2. CSA is not to be equated with experimental research
(in which special conditions are set up for the sake of research).
It can just as well be naturalistic
(in which phenomena are studied as they occur in nature)
*
D. Gile principles CSA
19
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT CSA (2)
3. Speculation is not a dirty word in CSA
Speculation (about the reason for something, the consequence of
something, a link between two things etc.) is very much part
of CSA and a powerful engine for investigation. But it is
identified as such (as opposed to claims) and systematically
leads to empirical tests whenever possible (which is not the
case in some approaches found in the human sciences)
4. CSA is not confined to the “hard sciences”
(which are not necessarily harder than some “soft sciences”)
It can be found in some human sciences, such as history or
archaelogy
D. Gile principles CSA
20
HUMAN SCIENCES APPROACHES (HSA)
Very common in TS due to scholars’ background
- Mostly conceptual analysis – Essays
- Can be empirical – in a wide sense
(with examples, not representative samples in the
statistical sense of the word, i.e. samples designed to
represent the same features as the population)
- Can include personal interpretation of phenomena,
statements, actions without necessarily
considering/testing alternatives
D. Gile principles CSA
21
THE HSA CYCLE
OBSERVATION or IDEAS/THEORIES
↓
DISCUSSION
↓
NEW/IMPROVED (?) THEORIES
↓
…DISCUSSION
↓
NO EMPIRICAL TESTING
BUT EMPIRICAL FINDINGS FROM OTHER SCHOLARS’
STUDIES CAN BE TAKEN ON BOARD IN THE
DISCUSSION
D. Gile principles CSA
22
D. Gile principles CSA
23
HSA vs. CSA
- HSA is less cautious
(No strong requirement that samples be representative
No testing requirement before claims are made)
- Less stringent objectivity requirement
- Less stringent factual explicitness requirement
(but more stringent conceptual definitions requirement)
Authors can make claims without explicating their tentative
nature (as speculation), without testing them, without
trying to provide factual evidence systematically.
So not fully compliant with fundamental CSA norms, often
clashes with them
D. Gile principles CSA
24
HSA INFERIOR/SUPERIOR TO CSA?
Perhaps less reliable
but
- Faster
(reflection can progress w/o waiting for data and tests)
- Some theories cannot be tested or tested well
(when it is difficult to find valid measurable
indicators, when there is high variability…)
HSA do provide a way for exploring phenomena
collectively and critically.
…so it does not make sense to say HSA or CSA is “inferior”
in absolute terms
D. Gile principles CSA
25
CSA vs. HSA and other types of exploration of
reality
- No claim that CSA is better than HSA
- No claim that CSA is better than direct experience,
intuition and other ways of exploring the world
- Non-scientific exploration often leads to faster and
more extensive knowledge acquisition
- No special value to “Science”
- But CSA corresponds to a specific approach and
behavior, partly different from HSA
D. Gile principles CSA
26
Typical objectives of CSA vs. HSA studies
-
-
CSA
Explore/find out about something
Test a theory
Develop a method to explore stng/test stng, develop
a theory
…
HSA
Think about a phenomenon (its meaning, relations
with other phenomena,…)
Develop a theory
Analyze a theory
Compare theories
Develop conceptual classifications
…
D. Gile principles CSA
27
WHY DIFFERENTIATE CSA FROM HSA? (1)
Criticized in CSA, accepted in HSA:
- “Unsubstantiated claims”
- “Personal, subjective conclusions”
- “Interpretation of phenomena without considering
alternative explanations”
- “Theories without intent to test them”
- “Classifications with no apparent purpose”
- “Prescriptive & judgmental attitudes”
- “Not quite comprehensive/accurate representation of
facts”
- “Biased selection of examples”
D. Gile principles CSA
28
WHY DIFFERENTIATE CSA FROM HSA? (2)
Criticized in HSA, acceptable in CSA:
- “Concepts defined operationally are not defined well
enough conceptually”
- “Focus too narrow (failure to address more relevant
aspects for practical or methodoloogical reasons), so
exploration incomplete”
- “Focus too narrow, focuses on one theory only
whereas there are many…”
- “Pointless accumulation of data”
- “Research with no social relevance”
D. Gile principles CSA
29
WHY DIFFERENTIATE CSA FROM HSA? (3)
Note that many texts in TS are extra-paradigmatic
-
Didactic texts,
Prescriptive texts with little theory,
Analyses with little theory,
Descriptions with no research context…
But doctoral work is generally required to
contribute to “research”
and will be judged paradigmatically
So need to know which set of norms to follow
D. Gile principles CSA
30
IS THERE A MIDDLE WAY BETWEEN CSA HSA
OR RESEARCH WHICH SATISFIES BOTH ?
Cannot think of a conceptual reason why good CSA
should not be able to meet HSA criteria if its
theoretical component is strong enough…
But have never seen TS theses or dissertations which
meet all the requirements
Experience shows that is difficult enough to meet one
set of requirements
Especially when no hands-on training in CSA is
provided
D. Gile principles CSA
31
FURTHER WISE (?) THOUGHTS (1)
1. Denying the existence of CSA and HSA in TS is
counterproductive
2. In TS, the co-existence of CSA and HSA is a good thing,
because of cross-fertilization possibilities
3. It is important to (try to) allay the fears that
fundamentally, one threatens the other… but also to make
sure that both have some space to live in and develop
4. It is important for TS scholars from both sets of
approaches to understand the differences between them to
foster better appreciation of each other’s work and
prevent damaging misunderstandings
D. Gile principles CSA
32
FURTHER WISE (?) THOUGHTS (2)
5. To become a good CSA researcher, it is not enough to get
acquainted with research methods through reading or to
learn how to use statistics packages. The type of skeptical,
rigorous thinking which is required needs hands-on,
supervised training (perhaps shorter training time
required for mathematicians and lawyers?)
6. I believe in the virtues of CSA training for all, including
those wishing to conduct HSA research, as this could help
them be more rigorous.
HSA training for all?
7. CSA training through critical reading exercises, research
design exercises, simple empirical studies exercises
D. Gile principles CSA
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