Principles of Scientific Method : Its Applications to Anthropology
Principles of Anthropological Method
- There are tenets common to all anthropological research
- Examples: Cultural Relativism (Various Definition) versus Ethnocentrism
- There are also tenets basic to all scientific research
- In this case, they involve careful data gathering and logical reasoning—in anthropology or in any other scientific discipline.
- In that way, information should be reliable and reflect what actually happens, whether in the field or in the lab.
- Let’s discuss these in turn.
Anthropological Method I: Fundamental Principles
- Holism: All aspects of a culture must be considered, especially their interconnections
- Cross-Cultural Comparison: Comparison of similar cultural traits in two or more cultures
- Cultural Relativism: Two Interpretations
- Scientific detachment: One observes what is out there—even cannibalism--dispassionately
- Noble savage complex: Involves acceptance of a culture according to its own standards—including cannibalism.
Anthropological Method II: Cultural Relativism
- Cultural Relativism: In either definition, involves judgment of a culture according to its own standards
- Ethnocentrism: Belief in superiority of one’s own culture, such as the self-styled Aryans in this neo-Nazi rally in London
- Ethical Relativism: The acceptance of any culture regardless of the harm of its practices, such as like this Chinese prison camp, tolerated in the name of “right to development”)
Anthropological Method III: Culture Relativism and Bounded ness
- Ethics of Cultural Relativism: How can we berate these Dani for warfare when our own government started a war in Iraq?
- Cultural Boundedness: The fact that our mental structure is culturally derived, often unconsciously
- In Britain Muslims sued Burger King’s ice cream lid with its mage of a spinning ice cream cone
- They took it as an Arabic inscription for Allah (right) (Source: The Scotsman 9/17/05)
Plaintiff Quote: “How can you say it is a spinning swirl? If you spin it one way to the right you are offending Muslims."
Anthropological Method IV: Universalism
- Definition: Cultural Practices that occur worldwide
- The incest tabu occurs everywhere (Egyptian brother-sister marriage, left is a rare exception)
- There are rules of etiquette everywhere
- Reciprocity (gift exchange) occurs everywhere.
- Trobriand islanders trade red necklace (suspended) for white armshells (on floor) in a kula ring
Principles of Science
- Science involves two principles:
- Its practitioners seek principles that predict recurring events.
- As scientific method, it also sets forth a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, obtaining new knowledge, and correcting or confirming previous knowledge
- It is based on obtaining observable, empirical, and measurable evidence according to specific rules of reasoning
- We look at some of the basic concepts of scientific method
Some Basic Terms of Science
- Hypothesis: An educated guess explaining some thing or event that is observed in the lab or field
- Theory: A hypothesis confirmed by these observations
- Induction entails identifying patterns of knowledge from field observations or lab experiments
- Abduction entails formulating hypotheses from the knowledge inferred from observations or experiments
- Deduction predicts what should occur based on confirmed body of facts, principles, or beliefs
Some Basic Terms of Scientific Research I
- Sample: Part of a population selected for research
- Random sample: A sample in which everyone has a chance of being included
- But random samples do not ensure that all groups, especially small ones, will be selected
- Representative sample: A sample in which all groups are included for research
- Universe: Total population from which the sample is drawn
Some Basic Terms of Scientific Research II
- Bias: Use of any technique that fails to elicit a random or representative sample
- For example, is a sample of enrollees who use online registration a biased one?
- Techniques: Procedures used to gather information (observations, interviews, but also the use of videos, CD recorders, GPS mapping devices, and so on )
- Method: Scientific justification for selection of a technique
- Methodology: Overall plan that forms a coherent relation among the methods and the techniques they generate
How to Develop a Hypothesis: Induction and Deduction
-> General principal ->Deduction -> Prediction -> Specific instances -> Observation -> Induction ->
The Phases of Scientific Method
- Phase 1: Observe Things/Events in Field
- Phase 2: Develop an explanation (hypothesis) using the inductive process
- Phase 3: Gather relevant data
- Phase 4: Evaluate hypothesis with data.
- Phase 5: Repeat procedure if a hypothesis is confirmed only in part or disconfirmed
Formulating and Testing a Hypothesis
- The inductive/abductive process is shown in yellow
- It involves recognition of a research problem by (a) field observation, (b) experimentation, and/or (c) theory development
- Next comes consultation of existing sources
- Then the scientist formulates a hypothesis
- The expected outcomes are then specified if the hypothesis is confirmed
- Finally, the observations and/or experiments are conducted to test the expected outcomes
Consequences of Each Outcome
- The hypothesis may be modified (red) or rejected (purple)
- Further developments occur when the hypothesis is confirmed (purple)
- The hypothesis becomes a theory if confirmed repeatedly
- It becomes a unifying of theory if the theory is widely supported and applied
Scientific Method as Probabilistic
- Any theory can be tossed as new information comes in.
- If a new hypothesis explains existing data better, then the old hypothesis make way for the new
- Therefore, all theories are probabilistic and none can be stated with finality
A Six-Way Test of Hypotheses
- Background: James Lett is an anthropologist at Indian River Community College and member of the Committee for Skeptical Investigation.
- He proposed a six-way test that goes by the acronym FiLCHeRS.
- It stands for Falsifiability, Logic, Comprehensiveness, Honesty, Replication, and Sufficiency
- The article “A Field Guide to Critical Thinking” is in your reader
- Does not mean to cook or fudge the data
- The hypothesis must be so stated that if unsupported it is rejected (or falsified)
- Thus, it must specify the conditions under which it is rejected.
- Propositions so broadly stated that they can never be rejected
- Propositions with the multiple out, or what do you say to the Instant Creator?
- Suppose I say that I created the World five minutes ago
- And (if you don’t call the local nut house on your cell first) you reply that you’ve been here for years, let alone five minutes.
- Then I reply “My creation included all your memories.”
- I will have many ways to squirm out of this and any rebuttal—even though we all know this proposition is ridiculous
- As you know, there are two basic kinds of logic: inductive and deductive
- Inductive: gathering enough facts to lead to a conclusion.
- Deductive: Starting at a major premise and reasoning down to a minor premise then a conclusion.
- Lett argues from the deductive.
- Basic statement: Any argument offered as evidence in support of any claim must be both:
- Valid: follow from accepted propositions of real life or of math, such as the postulate that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, and
- Sound: that is, the proposition must be true
- For further details, see your textbook (Ch. 2) or reader (Selection 2)
- Evidence offered in support of any claim must be exhaustive
- All relevant evidence must be considered
- Opposite practice: Selective presentation of evidence that supports the claim
- Example: political promises, courtroom tactics, even stockbroker “predictions” rely on selective use of the facts for support.
- Remember George Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” claim about the Iraq invasion on May 1, 2003? Need I say more?
- Evidence must be evaluated without either self-deception or intent to deceive
- Examples of temptations toward dishonesty
- Strong incentives such as funding to support pet theories
- Basic fault of advocacy groups, politicians, and lawyers
- Honesty could only lead to better hypotheses--i.e. to better explain facts
- Positive results on one field study or lab experiment is not enough to verify a hypothesis.
- To verify positive results, the experiment or field research must be repeated under identical conditions.
- Lab experiments fit the demand for replication because the conditions and procedures can be controlled so that they duplicate the first experiment exactly.
Replicability and Anthropology
- In ethnographic field work, restudies conducted in communities studied in earlier years to verify conclusions from the previous study.
- Restudies haven’t done well when it comes to replication
- Lewis v. Redfield in Tepoztlan, Mexico, is one example.
- Robert Redfield concluded in 1926 that Tepoztlan was a peaceful village
- In 1943, Oscar Lewis demonstrated that there was fractious conflict between groups: the bosses versus the other villagers, the factions on both sides of the Mexican revolution (1910-1920)
Restudies and the Mead-Freeman Controversy
- In 1928, Margaret Mead wrote Coming of Age in Samoa, which claimed that teenagers engage in promiscuous sex and grew up without turmoil and rebelliousness
- The book was a long-term best seller and a great influence on anthropology
- In 1983, Derek Freeman wrote Margaret Mead and Samoa, a refutation of Mead’s conclusions and showing that the Samoans were indeed puritanical about sex.
Longitudinal Studies: A Partial Antidote
- Mead’s fieldwork lasted seven months
- Most canons of fieldwork call for at least a year.
- Revisits in communities over a long period of time have become standard
- Example: Napoleon Chagnon was given false information about Yanomamo genealogy, which he didn’t discover until six months after he started his study.
- He continued work among the Yanomamo from 1966 to the 1990s.
- Evidence must be adequate to support any claim
- Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and the burden of proof is on the claimant.
- Expert testimony is never adequate (Would you buy Nike shoes because Michael Jordan says they’re the best? Or Hanes underwear?)
- Even James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA, made a dubious claim that Africans were low in intelligence.
Welcome Back to the Real World
- The tests demand a perfect world
- Real world: the field where ethnographic research is conducted is not a lab
- Homo sapiens have the same hardware worldwide—brain, bipedalism, tool making and use capacities
- But individuals and cultures vary
- The compromise involves a combination of careful preparation and observation, but always being flexible when circumstances affecting fieldwork change.
- First aim: to develop generalizations that apply to all societies
- Second aim: to explain the diversity of cultures
- Research must therefore meet rigorous standards, such as Lett’s Six-Way Test