“It might be this, it should be that…” uncertainty and doubt in day-to-day research practice

European Journal for Philosophy of Science 9 (2):1-21 (2019)
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Abstract

This paper examines how scientists conceptualize their research methodologies. Do scientists raise concerns about vague criteria and genuine uncertainties in experimental practice? If so, what sorts of issues do they identify as problematic? Do scientists acknowledge the presence of value judgments in scientific research, and do they reflect on the relation between epistemic and non-epistemic criteria for decisionmaking? We present findings from an analysis of qualitative interviews with 63 scientific researchers who talk about their views on good research practice. We argue that analysts of science should care about scientists’ conceptualizations of the criteria and of the practical judgments that scientific inquiry involves. While scientists’ accounts of their own research methodologies alone do not give us a full picture of how science really works, they can point us to areas of concern. They can inspire and direct philosophical reflections about how science works. Throughout the interviews, the participating researchers provided specific examples from their own research contexts as illustrations of their methodological points. These examples reveal that scientists often struggle to evaluate the quality of their data, to figure out whether the available evidence confirms their hypothesis, whether a replication was successful, or to what extent they can rely on peer-reviewed papers. General ideas about good research methods do not directly translate into specific evaluation criteria or strategies that can guide research and help validate empirical data.

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Author Profiles

Jutta Schickore
Indiana University, Bloomington
Nora Bettina Hangel
Universität Konstanz