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All students need basic scientific skills and such basic knowledge is helpful to anyone who is involved in scientific studies and results, either privately or professionally.
A scientific paper is always a product that has its goal and should fulfil its purpose. This applies to every term paper at a university, as well as to presentations, project work and final theses. For this reason, learning to write scientific papers will be helpful in studies and professional practice, so that new knowledge can be created through research.
Science is when someone creates new knowledge scientifically!
Therefore, the principles and basics of scientific work cannot be reduced to the formalities of structuring and citation or to research and writing techniques, but rather to a consistently reearch attitude and approach: whoever follows the approach of this book will no longer „write about something“, but want to investigate something – and this with the passion of a researcher.
The first edition of this compilation of the basics of scientific research (2015) was published as a production of the Veganomics Institute to illustrate that even a scientific occupation with the vegan way of life always requires the respective scientific foundations and research results.
Furthermore, the principles of science also apply to other problems and solution goals of individuals and society, which is the reason why this book has been designed to be useful to everyone and to also serves as a companion book to our online course at the URL http://forschenlernen.jetzt (German) / http://learn2research.net (English) – it works as a transcription of all video lessons and follows them in its chapter structure and all headlines.
Berlin (Germany), July 2018
Prof. Dr. Martin Gertler
What is science? It is easier to answer than the question, in which cases can be spoken of science at all, i.e. when science is approached scientifically and corresponding results are achieved.
Nevertheless, definitions should not be missing in this first chapter – they are indispensable too for scientific work.
Science should be understood in the context of this basic course as an activity of scientific work. Following Balzert et al.
is science about an orderly approach with the aim of gaining new insights and knowledge as well as solving practical problems;
concrete exploitation intentions are not a precondition for this;
one ties to existing scientific knowledge and knows the current state of the art;
its findings are published, which must be comprehensible and verifiable for others;
scientific methods and recognized quality criteria are observed (cf. Balzert et al. 2011: 7 f.).
So when can we talk about science? Well, in any case – and here the brand is now set right at the beginning and with all emphasis – only when someone creates new knowledge with science.
To some ears, this may sound like a corny joke, but let us actually state this as a principle: only if we start – on the basis of existing knowledge and with the realization that what is available is not yet sufficient for the specific problem – with the aim of generating the new knowledge required in research, then we will work scientifically.
Anyone who pursues science is therefore looking for a new insight that has been lacking so far. According to the German Science Council, research is a „practice of its own kind, a practice of knowledge that first follows the logic of the search for truth“ (Wissenschaftsrat 2011: 11).
A scientist strives to obtain results that honestly answer his previously well-defined questions or help to solve problems that have previously been comprehensibly analysed, but he does not do so without first carefully checking what answers or solutions have already been offered to his question; and in any case he incorporates these existing knowledge stocks into his research. If these stocks are already sufficient for the knowledge objective, the research project will be regarded as unnecessary and abandoned.
Therefore it is always necessary to inform oneself at the beginning about the already given, current conditions of the science to the concrete question and to consider also possibly already existing opposing positions to the own solution idea.
The goal of knowledge in mind
This includes collecting information for every scientific project, as well as structuring and making operationalisable the already available data and knowledge. However, such a compilation alone is no longer considered sufficient for a research project, even if it is necessary in the course of a research project – a research project needs a beneficial knowledge goal.
Such an objective can lead to the formation of hypotheses, a theoretical sketch or the review of hypotheses or theories with a view to their applicability, thus preparing drafts or even concepts and strategies for their implementation through scientific procedures.
The fields of science can be distinguished by type and orientation:
Formal and Structural Sciences – Mathematics and Computer Science
Humanities – Philosophy, Theology and Cultural Studies
Engineering – Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, etc.
Natural Sciences – Biology, Chemistry and Physics
Social sciences – comprise those fields of science that deal with the interrelationships of human coexistence and related actions and behaviours
For all of them, they are researching for the deepening and broadening of basic knowledge and for new findings for applicable solutions.
Although they have developed and apply clearly distinguishable methods, they share the fundamental approach of creating new knowledge on the basis of existing knowledge in a systematic, comprehensible and verifiable manner.
Differences to other solutions
This distinguishes the disciplines of science from other solutions that we know from our everyday life – for example from intuition, from mere practical experience and from trial and error. Without previously proven knowledge that has been methodically and scientifically developed and tested, no one can set out on the path of scientific knowledge gain.
This also opens up the meaning of studying at a university. Those who only want to graduate in order to get a reasonably well paid job have not correctly set their own goal. Employers expect university graduates not only to know the customs of their scientific discipline, but even to be able to apply them, which means systematically generating the new knowledge that is needed in the practical environment of the company in a scientifically manner, i.e. methodically and taking existing knowledge into account.
This applies fundamentally, but also at every moment: When a professional question and challenge comes up, university graduates proceed scientifically – not purely intuitively, relying on practical experience or simply trying it out.
Therefore, this basic knowledge for conduct scientific working is indispensable and important for all of them.
On April 1, 2015, someone at „gutefrage.net“ wanted to know: „When will scientific work be used?“ In reply, there appeared briefly and just within a few minutes this: „It will be used in research“ (cf. KoraChany 2015).
Figure 1: Question and answer at gutefrage.net
(Source: Screenshot of a question by KoraChany 2015)
The reverse conclusion to this correct answer is: If scientific workis to be carried out, research isnecessary, so it cannot be a mere essay.
In this respect, scientific work should be defined as research work, so that the practice to be found at some universities is also contradicted, scientific work may „be produced according to scientific quality criteria, but cannot make a substantial contribution to research“ (Balzert et al. 2011: 54).
However, the authors themselves ruled out this possibility a short time later by stating that a question should not be dealt with as part of a scientific work without relevance for their own scientific discipline (cf. Balzert et al. 2011: 63; cf. also the scientific quality criterion „relevance“ there: 32 ff.).
The Science Council also underlines that good research is distinguished by relevance (cf. Science Council 2011: 11), whereby relevance is only mentioned in science if a research contribution is actually created.
From many years of practical experience at universities it can be concluded that every scientific work always requires a clear problem, objective and research question in order to be able to achieve a result, otherwise no scientific work arises.
Here, scientificity is thus not understood as reduced to formal matters – such as structure, citations, directories etc. And since every researcher is required to bring in the existing findings of his own field of science, he adds his new knowledge there and thus makes a research contribution, however high or low this may be assessed by others.
The former director of the Max Planck Institute in Munich, Hans-Peter Dürr, made it clear in an exciting interview about his approach and results, how just someones own approach determines his results.
Figure 2: Interview with Hans-Peter Dürr
(Source: Screenshot from Gertler 1997b)
Dürr said in his statement that he wanted to indicate that the reality of the natural scientist is one that appears to him as such, but that it is not the actual reality of nature.
He used the parable of a fisherman who had come to two „basic laws of fishing“ on the basis of his personal experience of years of fishing: firstly, all fish were larger than five centimetres, and secondly, all fish had gills.
The fisherman simply calls both of these basic laws, since these facts have proved so true with every catch that he can assume that this will always be the case in the future.
Then the fisherman met with the philosopher, who told him that the five-centimeter statement was certainly not a fundamental law: the mesh size of the net had rather determined that smaller fish could not be caught. But the fisherman was not impressed, because what he could not catch with his net was simply not fish for him.
He, Hans-Peter Dürr, transfers this image to the natural sciences, which again and again claimed that they had found something and that what they found was a characteristic of nature – and not rather a characteristic that nature reveals to them through their measuring methods and so on. (cf. Hans-Peter Dürr in Gertler 1997b from 22:30 until 24:22)
In this case, it was the mesh size of the net that determined what could be caught and thus declared and examined as fish. The method of measurement and its possibilities have noticeable consequences for the result, and to a significant degree – the parable made this clear.
More generally, we always examine with criteria measuring and judging that actually predetermine our results; what we have not measured or analyzed is not available to us as a result – and it may be precisely these results, often data, that we need to explain or solve a problem.
And another thing: on the basis of the data we have obtained, we are quickly tempted to make general statements, and then the laws of logic such as: Since this is – as is perhaps often the case – a fundamental problem on which we now have data and could come up with a solution, we could draw one or two general conclusions from it.
Can we really? No. Scepticism is the order of the day – and this is exactly what Hans-Peter Dürr encouraged us to do, because his fisherman had invented that universally valid „basic law of fishing“, according to which fish are always at least five centimeters long simply because of the mesh size of his net, whereas the fisherman's neighbour and competitor might throw out a net whose mesh is eight centimeters long; his „basic law“ would then mean that fish are always at least eight centimeters long? (Reading tip: Dürr 2011)
When the scientist Hans-Peter Dürr has the history of the fishing net and its meshes in mind, he is as a physicist at work, measuring and determining his result based on the data – right down to the natural law.
Other sciences have different approaches: in the humanities, for example, logic, plausibility and understanding are among the necessary tools of the scientist's trade; in the social sciences, for example, contextual knowledge is gained and deepened statistically and empirically.
And if the methods of their own discipline are sometimes not sufficient for them, scientists also go beyond their own borders and conduct interdisciplinary research; in the course of their project they then incorporate phases in which they make useful use of instruments from other disciplines. For example, empirical methods of social science are often also used by other disciplines to support the formation of hypotheses or theories or to test the suitability and validity of a thesis for everyday use. (Reading tip: Jungert 2010)
Earlier, Hans-Peter Dürr had already made clear in his parable of the fishing net what paradigm the sciences determine: they search for truth and all too willingly want to make binding statements about it – which is not only in the nature of the researcher, but often also results from the expectations of his clients.
It suggests that we take a closer look at this claim – and do so in a thoroughly critical manner.
We will talk to the psychotherapist and constructivist Paul Watzlawick about the theoretical demands that Sir Karl Raimund Popper has given us on the path of scientific work and we will encounter other paradigms of science with which we must be familiar.
Paul Watzlawick in an interview at his former workplace at the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California in 1997, had already pointed out that in his subject, psychotherapy, it is still assumed that there is a „real reality“ which the so-called mentally normal and thus above all the therapists are aware of, whereas the so-called mentally ill people have a distorted view of this reality.
This view has long been abolished in other branches of science and is simply no longer tenable, he said.
Figure 3: Interview with Paul Watzlawick
(Source: Screenshot of Gertler 1997c)
In today's epistemology, it is the task of science to develop procedures that are effective for a very specific purpose:“This may very well mean that in five years' time this current, best way of dealing with the problem will already be replaced by a better way“ (Watzlawick in Gertler 1997c).
This epistemological view also suggests not wanting to achieve general and timelessly valid findings, but to concentrate on the concrete and current purpose of the solution of a possibly even locally limited existing problem of knowledge and to really limit oneself to it.
If we want to follow Paul Watzlawick's view and get involved in possible questions of veganomics for example, thus the vegan economy in the narrower and broader sense, we'll no longer ask: How can farmers grow bio-vegan in order to achieve economic returns and not go bankrupt? or: What is the difference between managing a vegan and a conventional supermarket?
We must get away from general attempts to respond, because in fact they are as good as never possible and true – we must instead focus on attempts to solve very specific and limited challenges.
Doesn't scientific work then always stick to detail? What can I learn from it and take with me if I am allowed only to repeatedly find out the factors and criteria for individually valid results?
The answer to this may be: We do not learn any solution steps that can always be repeated in terms of content, when working scientifically, but we learn the procedures for identifying possible solutions per se.
For organic vegans farmers who have to survive economically over a long period of time, we do not provide panaceas, but rather have to find out in depth the determining factors of their specific problem in order to be able to find a suitable solution for them.And the prospective manager of a vegan supermarket is not helped by a basic manager's manual, but only by the ability to analyse the competitive situation, the sources of supply, the target groups and their presence in a defined area, and so on – and all that has to be trained in scientific practice.
Paul Watzlawick has given us the idea that it is the task of science to develop procedures that are effective for a specific purpose; the more and the more often we ourselves develop such procedures as solutions, the better we will be trained in developing scientific solutions.
This is precisely why we always need our own practice of scientific work, as it is realized in the university environment through appropriate assignments in homework, project work and final theses.
Sir Karl Raimund Popper has made significant contributions to epistemological and scientific theory, criticising a common notion of science according to which conclusions for scientific theories are generalised on the basis of concrete observations.