ObjectivityRead the item below and then discuss together the questions that follow:

Sociologists may wish to study what are seen as the relevant issues of a particular time; they are likely to react to what are seen as the social or political issues of the day.

Similarly, research in the natural sciences may often be commissioned by government or large business organisations. The values determining what is researched may therefore reflect the wishes and interests of others, rather than the sociologist or natural scientist.

In common with sociologists, natural scientists may well be influenced by the prevailing views of their colleagues. All will be keen to publish research; promotion, grants and academic status will depend on this. Some may be encouraged to cheat by the fact that their methods and findings are unlikely to be replicated; nor are their original data likely to be checked.

An article in the ‘New Scientist’ magazine in June 2008 reported a survey of 2,212 natural scientists at 605 institutions funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) in Rockville, Maryland. Nine per cent said they had witnessed misconduct, mainly fabrication of results or plagiarism (passing off other people’s work as one’s own). The researchers warned that these figures are likely to be the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

Other researchers have reported that they have been asked to ‘check’ their findings and to re-run tests until they get the ‘correct’ result. Researchers who protest may face criticism by colleagues or even the sack.

  1. What implications does the item above have for Weber’s argument about values as a guide to research?
  2. Why might some natural or social scientists be tempted to falsify some of their findings?
  3. Read about Popper and Kuhn on pages 265-267. Now answer the following:
  4. How might the level of cheating be limited by the adoption of Popper’s falsification approach?
  5. In what way does the passage above illustrate Kuhn’s concept of ‘normal science’?