Explore the way people 'know' information without using a scientific methodology. Have you ever fallen for nonscientific research and then presented it as fact?
Nonscientific and Scientific Research
Those of you who are familiar with research might be scratching your heads right now, because the words 'nonscientific research' seem oxymoronic. But historically, this oxymoron has actually been used more than the scientific research model. Scientific research is a logically stepped process used for investigating and acquiring or expanding our understanding. The findings of scientific research can be reproduced and demonstrated to be consistent.
Nonscientific research is acquiring knowledge and truths about the world using techniques that do not follow the scientific method. For instance, Plato was a large proponent of some of these, and Freud's theories use several of them as well. Let's look at several of the more oft-used nonscientific methods to see what pitfalls are out there.
Tradition is knowledge and understanding that is believed to be true because it has been traditionally accepted. No one has stopped to say, 'Hey, wait a minute. That's not right.' For instance, how much of your brain do you use? If you say 'only 10%,' then you have fallen victim to a common fallacy passed through tradition. We actually use 100% of our brain and nearly all the time.
Personal experience is information or understanding derived from experiencing something firsthand. There doesn't seem to be a problem with this at first, but it is actually incredibly flawed because experience is subjective and not reproducible.
For instance, dreams seem to predict the future. Everyone has had the déjà vu experience of having dreamt something before, but does that mean you have prophetic dreams? Not really. Most likely, you had a dream that was similar to the event and your mind just filled in the blanks to make it seem like it all happened before.
Intuitive knowledge comes from understanding and believing in an idea based on a gut instinct or through personal insight. This is the 'I know it because I know it' category of knowledge, where someone cannot offer a good reason for something, but they just know it to be true.
For instance, eyewitnesses to a crime appear more accurate when they are more confident. This is false and has been found time and again by researchers. Confidence has nothing to do with a person's accuracy when recalling something in the past. But, many people rely on what they feel is the right answer, and someone who is confident must be right!
Logic is the application of thought and reasoning to come to a conclusion. But, much like personal experience, the process is flawed by a person's limited viewpoint. You cannot think about something you don't already know.
Logic tells us only the psychopathic 1% of the population will kill another person if asked to do so by an authority figure. This is a favorite study of mine. Milgram asked experts to use their logic to come to a conclusion, and they predicted less than 1% of participants would kill someone. Milgram's study found that 65% of subjects would kill someone. Logic cannot predict things that do not make logical sense. In addition, logic does not contribute additional information. It merely reworks what is already known.
Authority is accepting information from a figure in power. Sometimes this is a legitimate way to obtain knowledge and information. For instance, your psychology professor may be an expert on memory or how to design an experiment. If they are an authority on the information, then it is a good place to get the information from. The problem is when people receive information from people in an authoritative position, rather than a person who is an authority on the subject. What's the difference? A police officer is a person in an authoritative position; a neuropsychologist is a person who is an authority on neuropsychology.
Another example is, 'I have heard that turkey has tryptophan, and that is what makes you sleepy during Thanksgiving.' Many people have heard this before, and some people have read it online. The Internet has become an authority, and many people fail to vet where they gather their information from. For example, it is true that turkey does have the neurotransmitter tryptophan, which can make a person sleepy. But, a turkey has an insufficient amount of neurotransmitter to affect a full-grown human. The sleepiness after a Thanksgiving meal is more likely caused by a glut of good food.
The scientific method is a logically stepped process used for investigating and acquiring or expanding our understanding. Nonscientific methods rely on tradition, personal experience, intuition, logic and authority to arrive at conclusions. Most of these are no longer accepted in the scientific community, but they were once extremely popular and used by many famous historical figures.
After this lesson, you will be able to:
- Differentiate between scientific and nonscientific research methods
- Describe the nonscientific methods of tradition, personal experience, intuition, logic and authority
- Explain the difference in being an authority on a subject and being in an authoritative position
Comparing and Contrasting Nonscientific and Scientific Research
This exercise will give you further practice differentiating between scientific research and the different types of nonscientific research.
Scenarios and Questions
1. Daniel decided to test one of his hypotheses about how temperature is affecting the growth of his new plants. In order to do so, he performed experiments where he stored the plants at different temperatures and observed how they reacted. Daniel recorded his observations and determined that a mild temperature was best for this specific plant. Did Daniel use scientific methodology or nonscientific methodology?
2. In the past, Deborah has taken many vacations to Florida. During her last trip, she was bitten by many mosquitoes. When Deborah's family decided to take an impromptu trip to Florida during spring break, she insisted that her husband stop to get bug spray on the way because she believed she would get bitten again. What type of non-scientific research is this related to: intuition, personal experience, or logic?
3. Taylor was hiking with his friends in a remote area of Colorado. He was getting ready to cross a small hanging bridge over a ravine when he got the feeling that something wasn't right. He decided to return to the beginning of the hike instead of continuing across the bridge. Hours later the bridge snapped and a hiker plummeted into the river below. What type of nonscientific research is this related to: intuition, personal experience, or logic?
Discussion and Solutions
1. Daniel used scientific methodology as he tested his hypothesis by performing an experiment. He recorded his observations and formed a conclusion based on the results of his experiment. In this instance, he was following the scientific method.
2. This scenario represents personal experience. Deborah may not be bitten by a mosquito during this trip, so it isn't necessarily a fact, or guaranteed, to happen. However, since she has previously been bitten by mosquitoes, she bases her decisions on these experiences.
3. This scenario represents intuition. John had a "gut feeling" that the bridge was not safe and decided to turn back. There was no reason or scientific support for him turning around, but rather his instincts.