Adonis Diaries

Whay’s that concept of Human Factors in design? (continue)

Posted on: October 9, 2008

Article #29, December 1st, 2005

“How objective and scientific are research?”

Would you please give me a minute to set the foundations first? Friend, allow me just a side explanation on experimentation.  Psychologists, sociologists and marketing graduates are trained to apply various experimentation methods and not just cause and effects designs.  There are many statistical packages oriented to providing dimensions and models to the set of data dumped into the experiment so that a preliminary understanding of the system behavior is comprehended qualitatively.

Every applied science has gone through many qualitative models or schemas, using various qualitative methods, before attempting to quantify their models. However, many chairmen of engineering departments, especially those who have no understanding of the disciple of Human Factors or were never exposed to designing experiments, have a conception that this field is mostly qualitative in nature and would ask me to concentrate in my courses on the quantitative aspects such as the environmental factors of lighting, noise, heat and any topic that requires computation or has well defined physics equations.

We have three concepts in the title: objectivity, scientific and research that are related in people’s mind as connoting the same concept.  However, the opposite meanings for these concepts are hard to come by without philosophical divergences or assumptions.  If we define science as a set of historical paradigms, a set of concepts, truths, facts and methods that most of them keep changing as new technologies and new methodologies enlarge the boundaries of knowledge then you might be more inclined to discuss notions with a freer mind.

Could subjectivity be accepted as the opposite of objectivity without agreeing on a number of axioms and assumptions that are not tenable in many cases?  Any agreement in the meanings of objectivity in scientific research procedures and results are basically consensual among the professionals in a discipline, for a period, until the advent of a new paradigm that changes the meaning or orientation of the previous consensus among the professionals.

Could opinions, personal experiences, recalled facts or events not be accepted in the domain of research even if they could be found in written documents but not thoroughly investigated by a researcher?  So what if you refer to an accredited research article and then it turned out that the article was fraught with errors, misleading facts with borderline results and untenable interpretations?  Would the research be thrown in the dust bin as unscientific or non objective and thus not worth further investigations?

Research in Physics, Chemistry and engineering deal with objects and are related to studying the behavior of the physical nature; these kind of research can arrive to well establish mathematical models because the factors are countable, could be well controlled in experimental settings and the variability in errors are connected to the technology of the measuring instruments once the procedure is well defined and established according to experimental standards.  It is when research has to deal with the variability in the human nature such as in psychology, psychometric, sociology, marketing, business management and econometrics that the notions of objectivity, research and science become complex and confusing.

The main problem is to boldly discriminate among research and admit that not every research is necessarily scientific or objective and that a research has an intrinsic value if the investigator is candid about the purpose and nature of his research.  We need to admit that every research is subjective in nature because it is the responsibility of the investigator to select his topic, his intentions, his structured theory, references, fund providers, the hypotheses, the design, the methodology, the sample size, the populations, the data collection techniques, the statistical package, emphasis on either error type I or error type II, the interpretation of results and so on. 

By admitting prior subjective environment to a research endeavor then we can proffer the qualitative term of objectivity to the research only and only when the investigators provide full rationales to every subjective choices in the research process.

Every step in the research process is a variation on an accepted paradigm at one point in the history of science and the mixing of paradigms with no conscious realization of the mixing process should set a warning alarm on the validity of the research and the many pitfalls it is running through. 

Acknowledging the role of subjectivity in the methodology, the data and its interpretation could open the way for more accurate and flexible judgments as to the extent of objectivity and scientific tendencies of the research.

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adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2008
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