4: What is the scientific method?
This chapter explains that the scientific method is a procedure for the systematic observation and measurement of studies or experiments designed to test research hypotheses. It then outlines each of the seven steps of the scientific method used throughout the book. It also notes the importance of having a research attitude, that is, a desire to advance policing by exploring different approaches, asking questions, evaluating data and information, challenging tradition, and being open to new ideas. In the process of doing this, the chapter discusses topics such as research ethics, the preponderance of evidence, and science as a self-correcting activity.
Glossary terms in this chapter
Scientific method: The scientific method is a procedure for the systematic observation and measurement of studies or experiments designed to test research hypotheses.
Research attitude: A research attitude is a desire to advance policing by exploring different approaches, asking questions, evaluating data and information, challenging tradition, and being open to new ideas and the merits of testing different experiences.
Culture of curiosity: A policing culture that accepts some doubt and a willingness to question the current orthodoxy of policing.
Hypothesis: A hypothesis is not a general question about the area, but a clear, falsifiable statement about what you think might be going on. Being falsifiable means that the idea can be reasonably tested and found either true or false.
Research ethics: Research ethics are the values, norms and institutional arrangements that are the fundamental values of research practice, and they regulate and guide scientific work based on the general ethics of morality in science and the community.
Preponderance of evidence: An indication of whether the weight of evidence would leave one to conclude that a fact or theory is more likely than not.
Systematic review: A type of ‘study of studies’ that addresses a specific question in a systematic and reproducible way, by identifying and appraising all of the literature around the topic area.
Additional information and links
An outline of the scientific method
There is an reasonable summary video here about the scientific process, once you can get past the idea of ticks landing on you and taking a bite. It even includes a discussion of confirmation bias, one of the significant problems with human acceptance of evidence (if it contradicts their expectations or wishes).
It is also worth not getting hung up on the exact model of the scientific method. For example, some people have six steps to the scientific method, while others have five, and you can find other models with seven steps. As long as the core tenets of using data and observation, allied with logical thought and reason, are used to draw conclusions about the world, then you are probably on the correct track. And of course, I lean towards a seven step model as you find in my chapter ;-)
The Cold Fusion story is arguably the classic example of scientific error and hubris. Box 4.3 is the book outlines the case study, and this video from Scientific American is a trailer for a video about the kerfuffle, but even though only a trailer, it provides some indication of the furor that was caused by the claims of Pons and Fleischmann in 1989.
This video from Yale University provides a deeper background into research ethics than you will find in the EBP: The Basics book, which is not surprising given the book is a short introductory text. This video goes into greater depth around what is called the Belmont Report. It is an overview of the report from one of it's authors, Yale School of Medicine Professor Robert Levine.
Reducing Crime podcast episode
One aspect of the scientific method that is sometimes ignored, is value of keeping yourself honest. Also, as I know many readers are likely to be from America, it is good to hear researchers and police scholars from other countries. So here is a chat between me and Dutch researcher Stijn Ruiter discussed research pre-registration, randomization and a bunch of other sciency methods stuff. We also have a beer or two.
Stijn Ruiter (#52)
Stijn Ruiter is a Dutch sociologist who specializes in environmental criminology and why crime happens where it does. Since 2009, he has worked at the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement. We chat about translating policing research across national boundaries, and in particular his role as research program leader for a new initiative – what works in policing – towards evidence-based policing in the Netherlands.