Problems of Scientific Research
It is common to identify science with experimental research; however, in recent years, there have been important changes in approaching the problems to be investigated and how to carry out the study. These transformations pose new problems for scientific research, some of which we will discuss in this article.
Failure to Delimit Sciences
The first problem concerns the delimitation of the sciences. Advances in natural phenomena’ knowledge make the old boundaries between the different disciplines that make up the so-called sciences increasingly fragile. In addition to the above, the increased recognition, and acceptance, that the phenomena of nature do not develop in isolation or alien to the different forms of life, including men’s social lives. Thus, for many researchers today, it is necessary to speak of frontier sciences to identify disciplines whose object and method cannot separate the natural from the social. Many problems considered typical of nature have come to be treated as social problems. For example, today, almost no one accepts that the disease is without a purely biological fact. Not even the immune response, whose study has led to the development of one of the most modern specialties in biology, can be considered apart from men’s social experience. Some researchers even consider the immune response as an excellent indicator of the living conditions of a population.
Certainly, this problem would not arise if scientific research were reduced to their procedures or the study of isolated processes, which would undoubtedly be a distorted and partial vision of what scientific research is currently. On the contrary, it is found that as one goes from the particular, isolated fact, to the study of more complex processes, from the theoretical construction to the application, it is more difficult to delimit the scientific research. Indeed, the realm of the social sciences is frequently “invaded.” But this problem not only affects the delimitation of the object of study but also greatly influences the replicability of scientific observations, which has traditionally been the most solid basis for the objectivity of these sciences. Thus, for example, a vaccine may act very well in a population of experimental animals and a selected human population.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to predict whether it will act adequately in a specific human population with its ecological and social environment. That is why field tests in different populations are essential to accept a new product, biological, for preventive or therapeutic purposes.
Inability to Identify Purpose of Science in Research
Another problem, which is closely related to the previous one, is the purpose of science in the research process. How scientific research is organized and the reasons for its development is directly related to the application of scientific knowledge to the solution of specific problems, be these identified by the researcher himself, by the scientific community, or by society as a whole. To highlight this problem, take a look at the fads which researchers adhere from time to time, and that not only means being present on the most active side of scientific research but also obtain the necessary resources to investigate. Nowadays, then, if someone works in an area of scientific research, however pure it may seem, in reality, they do it in the context of its applicability. The development of the most powerful branches of modern biology, genetics, and immunology, has been due mainly to the need to find answers to problems such as Cancer or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
Poor Design of Many Studies
A third problem that has arisen in the scientific research is the fashion of methodology. Given the changes mentioned above, it has coincided with the need to develop new methodological approaches. The scientific research has traditionally been identified with the experimental method, considered the scientific method par excellence. However, because it is not always possible to experiment, and there is a need to observe the processes more comprehensively, various non-experimental research models have emerged. In a way, the approach of Claude Bernard has been taken up with more awareness, that experimentation itself is just a form of observation, a controlled observation that obeys scientific reasoning.
Broken Peer Review System
As the fashion for methodology has spread in the sciences, a very dangerous phenomenon has arisen, called the “standardization” of scientific research. The fact has already transcended the field of practice; now, for example, to publish an article or obtain resources for research, it is necessary to adhere to the vogue’s methodological norms. The problem is greater if it is taken into account that the majority of models popularized by modern methodology are hypothetical deductive models based on the assumption that reality can only be known in probabilistic terms and by successive approximations. The systematic way they are presented, the apparent comfort that they provide to the researcher, and the possibility of analyzing these models using computer algorithms have contributed to this tendency to prevail and grow overwhelmingly. The result is a standardized scientific production in which only the noun changes, a kind of scientific grammar.
Faced with this problem, a great question arises: Is the clinical way of researching and producing knowledge? No. Once the crucial aspect of any investigation has been resolved, which is the delimitation of the problem, what follows is a complex process difficult to standardize—knowledge, creativity, intuition, and chance play at different rates. Scientific research is a creative process, not in the sense of creating reality but in creating the necessary means to discover it. That will depend a lot on each researcher’s conceptual and ideological apparatus.
Aspontaneity of Research
Another one of the main problems that science has, or rather the perception that many of us have of it, is that it is an activity that can be planned. Many scientists believe that you can declare that you will spend so many millions of dollars on developing drought-resistant corn or producing the AIDS vaccine, and the result will inevitably come, just by spending enough money and work. However, in reality, a researcher can decide what to investigate and dream what he would like to discover, but he can never know for sure what he will find. The history of science is full of examples of discoveries produced by chance. And in everyday practice, researchers continually have to improvise in the face of unexpected data and chance findings that can lead to totally different results than what they were originally looking for, and that is sometimes much more important. As if it were a commercial endeavor, judging scientific research with efficient criteria is a great injustice. In science, many possible routes need to be explored at random to find the optimal option for moving forward. You have to buy a lot of tickets, constantly, to win from time to time.
Over Quantification of Phenomena
Finally, a fifth problem facing scientific research today is the tendency to quantify phenomena or consider that only quantification is scientific because it is objective and abstract. This orientation and the adoption of modern methodology models have contributed to making scientific research more technical, but they have also impoverished it. In many cases, the facts are forced to assimilate them into a numerical expression that, in essence, is not possible. It is forgotten that perhaps the most important function of mathematics is the economy of thought; without this, it means the impoverishment of reality for the researcher’s comfort. An illustration of this approach’s risks to events is the use of statistical computing packages (SPSS) for data analysis. Once a variable is transformed into a number, the statistical program cannot discriminate whether the number expresses a quality or a quantity, nor does it ask whether it is lawful to correlate arbitrary magnitudes. If you are not careful, the result will be a poor description of reality amid a set of ill-founded hypotheses.
There are currently important sectors of the scientific community that have reacted against the absolutization of this current, raising the need to describe the facts in more detail and with the researcher’s criteria. For example, value is being given to case studies, non-probabilistic sampling, exploratory analyzes, and the historical study of phenomena.
While these problems mentioned above are not the only current ones in scientific research, they are enough to understand what is happening. Researchers must critically evaluate and assimilate the new trends, taking care not to mechanically follow fashion, which, if in the frivolous environment, does not bother the scientist; it can mean loss and delay.