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Critical Role in Research In The Behavioral And Social Sciences Essay

Critical Role in Research In The Behavioral And Social Sciences Essay

It is clear from the material in this course that inferential statistics plays a critical role in research in the behavioral and social sciences. Since students in this class will further their education via coursework and research conducted via the practicum and dissertation processes, it is important to reflect on the knowledge gained and its applicability to one’s future in the field. Utilizing all that you have learned and been exposed to in this course, write a paper providing an overview of your knowledge of inferential statistics, specifically discussing how you would go about deciding upon the appropriate statistical tests to use for a study.Critical Role in Research In The Behavioral And Social Sciences Essay


The role of Scientists and researchers in Society
A summary of the Keynote address given by S Beernaerts; Head of Unit; DG
Education and Culture; European Commission, Salamanca; Spain in March
2017 at the 3rd AGM of the Marie Curie Alumni Association1
You as scientists are the gatekeepers to Science; and must strive to engender the same level of
trust with society at large as say a physician or a judge. Science is at the origin of all
technological progress, insofar as that is a key enabling cause of what we understand as social
Additionally (and increasingly these days) the perception of science and the expectation from
many of our fellow citizens is that it should be the producer of truths. That is a huge
responsibility. So science today has been given a great portion of the political and moral
responsibility of exposing falsehoods, and offering truths and certainties in place of fakes.
Why is knowledge, or truth, so important?Critical Role in Research In The Behavioral And Social Sciences Essay
Historically, knowledge was venerated through dissemination during the enlightenment
period, after centuries of religious, royal, feudal or imperial authority and dogmatism. This
gave rise of ideas of political freedom, emancipation, revolution; in other words, the rise of
rationality coincided with the changing the fabric of society and gaining social and political
rights, increasing equality and an expanding list of freedoms, developing into a political
system of parliamentary democracy based on universal franchise; regular elections,
transparency and a clear separation of powers.
The connection between the rise of respect for science and socio-political emancipation is
undeniable. They were concomitant, and they both consciously challenge tradition; they both
question the long-established truths and institutions, and they change them.
So scientists are perceived as the truth holders and the truth creators for society. This makes
them the centre of attention, of scrutiny and of criticism. Science has become venerated,
because nowadays:
 Policy has to be supported by (scientific) evidence and “experts”.
 Global and insurmountable problems appear to be solvable thanks to scientific
understanding and technological developments: climate change, disease, sustainability
for example.
 Future peace and prosperity is an expectation and linked to improvements in economic
efficiency, health, communications, new materials, management of natural resources and
ecosystems, and so on.
Science fiction has promised for a long time2
, and since the 1960’s computer revolution it
seems possible, that peoples’ hope for unlimited social and economic prosperity through
technological innovation produced by scientific research maybe just around the corner.
These are huge but pivotal expectations.
The capacity of various sciences to influence society is not equally distributed among them.
Those sciences which express views about how we should live, organise our societies,Critical Role in Research In The Behavioral And Social Sciences Essay

1 Edited by Dr M W Rogers; Hon Member, MCAA who takes all editorial responsibility for errors and omissions
Sebastian Buckup Head of Programming, World Economic Forum Geneva 1§ June 2016
legislate, and take the big political decisions, appear to be much more influential. The highest
public profile today is economics. It plays a prominent role in in our shared lives.
All economies have been increasingly using mathematical tools. In such mathematical
clothing, it treats the certainty of its truths as natural sciences. But it is not. As J.K. Galbraith
observed “the only function of economic forecasting makes astrology look respectable3
“. Yet,
when ministers of economy or central bankers speak, their words have an impact: immediate
and large, and often self-fulfilling .
But why is economics’ record less impressive than that of natural sciences? I think that the
reason is that, as a subject of scientific study, society is very complex and very dynamic, even
chaotic, reinventing itself all the time and economics is, after all, just a series of indicators of
human behaviour. Yet social science as a research area is often allocated magnitudes of
funding less than the “hard” sciences. Many do not class Economics as a science even. We do.
Nevertheless, we live by trusting each other; and our elected representatives. This is how it is
to live in a society, to be human. We learn to trust because we benefit from scientific expertise
all the time. Our trust is frequently unquestioning. But is it good for a society to fully trust all
experts? How good is their record? In truth, it is mixed. We need to interpret expertise
critically. All the more that we are going through another period of rising “popularism”, in
which ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative truths’, are becoming more commonplace and very
What do, and what should we expect from science today?
 Part of the answer is that we expect scientific progress, to lead to a better, longer life,
assisted by technical innovation.
 We also want to better understand our world, our environment, especially at a time
during which taking nature for granted seems very unwise, if not suicidal.
 We look for greater wisdom about how to live in a sustainable way.
 We expect humility, especially from the social sciences and economics, when they
express opinions.
 We want science to help us distinguish facts from fiction, lies from truths; in the age
“information overflow”.Critical Role in Research In The Behavioral And Social Sciences Essay
 And most crucially perhaps, we expect scientists to voice their concerns.
As Salamanca’s Miguel de Unamuno once said “At times, to be silent is to lie. For silence can
be interpreted as acquiescence”.

Quote from JK Galbraiths The Ashes of Capitalism and the Ashes of Communism (1986) but also attributed to
Ezra Solomon, in Psychology Today, March 1984
Science should oppose the simplified messages of the emerging populist extremism by
encouraging society to embrace and debate complexity, accept doubt.
What can scientists do then?
Scientists must be involved as active democratic citizens, as they are respected social actors
and role models. They cannot do this barricaded inside their areas of specialisation. Scientists
today are not consulted as citizens; they are consulted as experts, not about important things
but about minutiae in order to give, often unwillingly and unknowingly, sometimes
unethically (as in the case of the climate change denials), their support to pre-established
political dogma. They must not sell their expertise to any one purpose or to any one employer
– public or private.
Technology or pure scientific knowledge has no moral compass. But the Social Sciences can
develop a compass from and for society by being engaged with it, by confronting ideas with
people who might think differently, and by providing a framework for Society to articulate.
Where does the EC, the MSCA fit in?
The MSCA programme is a very special programme, which we are proud of, for the following
1. Unlike many others, ours is a bottom-up programme, and this means that we support
researchers on the criterion of excellence. Unlike for targeted research, we understand that
can’t presume research to do; so we take an open approach.
2. We impose a simple rule which is one of the foundational freedoms of the EU, namely,
movement of people, researchers in our case. It helps people move and live, breath and raise
families in countries other than their original place of residence. Thus they expose themselves
and learn from different societies. If there is a possibility in the future of creating a European
people, a European identity, those Europeans who live or have lived abroad are naturally
expected to lead the way. MSCA researchers have the opportunity to live anywhere in the
world and bring their experience back.Critical Role in Research In The Behavioral And Social Sciences Essay
3. Our 100,000 fellows engage in research in all areas. Insofar as research produces
knowledge and wisdom and truths, especially in the areas of social sciences, we have an
interest to know what the science is and how society could benefit from it.
What can MCAA members do?
Become engaged in local, regional and national and European policy making and help us, in
the European Commission, to shape and implement better policies. Become involved citizens
at all levels.
The great problems facing our world today are enormously complex: no one person,
discipline, government or even continent, has the resources to solve them alone. Researchers
need to connect with other people – and other researchers – to tackle problems with
interdisciplinary solutions.
Engage in ‘open science’. Make public the knowledge born out of publicly funded research.
This may conflict with the interest of the private sector to benefit financially. We believe
there is a balance to be found. Open science requires sharing research results and data.
We value and strongly encourage the participation of MSCA fellows in public
engagement activities, such as the European Researchers’ Night, press articles,
presenting themselves as models and explaining their research to students from
primary and secondary schools or universities in order to develop understanding. Be
a role model. Stand up to be heard.
Science is universal – free of gender and race. The MSCA have a strong track record in
equal opportunities for all researchers, including those whose careers have been
interrupted for any reason. The MSCA have a specific presentation in Arabic and English
explaining that the programme is open to all nationalities.
The communicating science prize funded by the Commission is particularly judged on
coverage in mainstream media. Professor Shane Bergin, who won the prize in 2014 went
on to become one of the authors of the Bratislava Declaration of Young Researchers. In its
conclusions on the Declaration, the Council “Invites early stage researchers to be the
ambassadors of the .transformations that scientific development brings to society and to
actively contribute to the buy in of European citizens to those changes”.
This is an extract what happens in the area of our MSCA programme, with its obvious
limitations and in recognition that we ALL need to do a lot more.
Back to the Experts
The Athenians revered specialisation, and practical as well as theoretical wisdom very
much. But inventors of democracy did not like decisions of political character to be made
by experts. They assigned specific responsibilities to experts, such as building a temple,
leading armies or building ships. But when it came to making political decisions, they did
not delegate that crucial role.Critical Role in Research In The Behavioral And Social Sciences Essay
What we effectively do today is that we assign this role to people we elect as members of
parliament. The views about their wisdom are wide ranging. But as we have witnessed
lately with the rise of extremism and populism, this democracy whichis now under attack.
In order for it to survive it has to improve and here is the most difficult part of what we
call innovation. We need institutional innovation in order to protect democracy and
succeed with the project of European Unification. We need educational innovation to help
create responsible involved citizens. We expect and hope scientists, especially social
scientists, will illuminate the path by telling us their views about how society can change
and become freer, autonomous, more democratic and unified. They should help to
discredit the simplified messages of extremism; they should help their fellow citizens to
accept, embrace and live with the complexity of human existence in its various societies.
Today, we are at crossroads, for sure.
The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has launched a
few days ago a consultation about the Future of Europe. I urge you to be active,
involved, engaged as scientists, as citizens – and set an example for others to do the
same. The MCAA will provide you a platform to do this on their web site.
Europe wants your feedback, your ideas, and your involvement and engagement. Even if
the ideas exist, they need to be repeated, explained, challenged and assembled into policy
proposals. We need to create a new European Demos, which after after 60 years of effort
needs to be reinvented to be future proof. This need is very urgent if not overdue.
I will finish my speech on a last Marie Curie quote”…, each of us must work for his own
improvement, and at the same time share a general responsibility for all humanity, our
particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.”


Sociologists examine the world, see a problem or interesting pattern, and set out to study it. They use research methods to design a study—perhaps a detailed, systematic, scientific method for conducting research and obtaining data, or perhaps an ethnographic study utilizing an interpretive framework. Planning the research design is a key step in any sociological study.Critical Role in Research In The Behavioral And Social Sciences Essay

When entering a particular social environment, a researcher must be careful. There are times to remain anonymous and times to be overt. There are times to conduct interviews and times to simply observe. Some participants need to be thoroughly informed; others should not know they are being observed. A researcher wouldn’t stroll into a crime-ridden neighborhood at midnight, calling out, “Any gang members around?” And if a researcher walked into a coffee shop and told the employees they would be observed as part of a study on work efficiency, the self-conscious, intimidated baristas might not behave naturally. This is called the Hawthorne effect—where people change their behavior because they know they are being watched as part of a study. The Hawthorne effect is unavoidable in some research. In many cases, sociologists have to make the purpose of the study known. Subjects must be aware that they are being observed, and a certain amount of artificiality may result (Sonnenfeld 1985).

Making sociologists’ presence invisible is not always realistic for other reasons. That option is not available to a researcher studying prison behaviors, early education, or the Ku Klux Klan. Researchers can’t just stroll into prisons, kindergarten classrooms, or Klan meetings and unobtrusively observe behaviors. In situations like these, other methods are needed. All studies shape the research design, while research design simultaneously shapes the study. Researchers choose methods that best suit their study topics and that fit with their overall approaches to research.Critical Role in Research In The Behavioral And Social Sciences Essay

In planning studies’ designs, sociologists generally choose from four widely used methods of social investigation: survey, field research, experiment, and secondary data analysis, or use of existing sources. Every research method comes with plusses and minuses, and the topic of study strongly influences which method or methods are put to use.

As a research method, a survey collects data from subjects who respond to a series of questions about behaviors and opinions, often in the form of a questionnaire. The survey is one of the most widely used scientific research methods. The standard survey format allows individuals a level of anonymity in which they can express personal ideas.

A photo of a person’s hand filling in a survey check box labeled ‘No’ with a pen.
Questionnaires are a common research method; the U.S. Census is a well-known example. (Photo courtesy of Kathryn Decker/flickr)

At some point, most people in the United States respond to some type of survey. The U.S. Census is an excellent example of a large-scale survey intended to gather sociological data. Not all surveys are considered sociological research, however, and many surveys people commonly encounter focus on identifying marketing needs and strategies rather than testing a hypothesis or contributing to social science knowledge. Questions such as, “How many hot dogs do you eat in a month?” or “Were the staff helpful?” are not usually designed as scientific research. Often, polls on television do not reflect a general population, but are merely answers from a specific show’s audience. Polls conducted by programs such as American Idol or So You Think You Can Dance represent the opinions of fans but are not particularly scientific. A good contrast to these are the Nielsen Ratings, which determine the popularity of television programming through scientific market research.Critical Role in Research In The Behavioral And Social Sciences Essay

An American Idol audience member voting for a contestant using an electronic response system that uses numbers as answers
American Idol uses a real-time survey system—with numbers—that allows members in the audience to vote on contestants. (Photo courtesy of Sam Howzit/flickr)

Sociologists conduct surveys under controlled conditions for specific purposes. Surveys gather different types of information from people. While surveys are not great at capturing the ways people really behave in social situations, they are a great method for discovering how people feel and think—or at least how they say they feel and think. Surveys can track preferences for presidential candidates or reported individual behaviors (such as sleeping, driving, or texting habits) or factual information such as employment status, income, and education levels.

A survey targets a specific population, people who are the focus of a study, such as college athletes, international students, or teenagers living with type 1 (juvenile-onset) diabetes. Most researchers choose to survey a small sector of the population, or a sample: that is, a manageable number of subjects who represent a larger population. The success of a study depends on how well a population is represented by the sample. In a random sample, every person in a population has the same chance of being chosen for the study. According to the laws of probability, random samples represent the population as a whole. For instance, a Gallup Poll, if conducted as a nationwide random sampling, should be able to provide an accurate estimate of public opinion whether it contacts 2,000 or 10,000 people.Critical Role in Research In The Behavioral And Social Sciences Essay

After selecting subjects, the researcher develops a specific plan to ask questions and record responses. It is important to inform subjects of the nature and purpose of the study up front. If they agree to participate, researchers thank subjects and offer them a chance to see the results of the study if they are interested. The researcher presents the subjects with an instrument, which is a means of gathering the information. A common instrument is a questionnaire, in which subjects answer a series of questions. For some topics, the researcher might ask yes-or-no or multiple-choice questions, allowing subjects to choose possible responses to each question. This kind of quantitative data—research collected in numerical form that can be counted—are easy to tabulate. Just count up the number of “yes” and “no” responses or correct answers, and chart them into percentages.

Questionnaires can also ask more complex questions with more complex answers—beyond “yes,” “no,” or the option next to a checkbox. In those cases, the answers are subjective and vary from person to person. How do plan to use your college education? Why do you follow Jimmy Buffett around the country and attend every concert? Those types of questions require short essay responses, and participants willing to take the time to write those answers will convey personal information about religious beliefs, political views, and morals. Some topics that reflect internal thought are impossible to observe directly and are difficult to discuss honestly in a public forum. People are more likely to share honest answers if they can respond to questions anonymously. This type of information is qualitative data—results that are subjective and often based on what is seen in a natural setting. Qualitative information is harder to organize and tabulate. The researcher will end up with a wide range of responses, some of which may be surprising. The benefit of written opinions, though, is the wealth of material that they provide.Critical Role in Research In The Behavioral And Social Sciences Essay

An interview is a one-on-one conversation between the researcher and the subject, and it is a way of conducting surveys on a topic. Interviews are similar to the short-answer questions on surveys in that the researcher asks subjects a series of questions. However, participants are free to respond as they wish, without being limited by predetermined choices. In the back-and-forth conversation of an interview, a researcher can ask for clarification, spend more time on a subtopic, or ask additional questions. In an interview, a subject will ideally feel free to open up and answer questions that are often complex. There are no right or wrong answers. The subject might not even know how to answer the questions honestly.

Questions such as, “How did society’s view of alcohol consumption influence your decision whether or not to take your first sip of alcohol?” or “Did you feel that the divorce of your parents would put a social stigma on your family?” involve so many factors that the answers are difficult to categorize. A researcher needs to avoid steering or prompting the subject to respond in a specific way; otherwise, the results will prove to be unreliable. And, obviously, a sociological interview is not an interrogation. The researcher will benefit from gaining a subject’s trust, from empathizing or commiserating with a subject, and from listening without judgment.Critical Role in Research In The Behavioral And Social Sciences Essay

Field Research
The work of sociology rarely happens in limited, confined spaces. Sociologists seldom study subjects in their own offices or laboratories. Rather, sociologists go out into the world. They meet subjects where they live, work, and play. Field research refers to gathering primary data from a natural environment without doing a lab experiment or a survey. It is a research method suited to an interpretive framework rather than to the scientific method. To conduct field research, the sociologist must be willing to step into new environments and observe, participate, or experience those worlds. In field work, the sociologists, rather than the subjects, are the ones out of their element.

The researcher interacts with or observes a person or people and gathers data along the way. The key point in field research is that it takes place in the subject’s natural environment, whether it’s a coffee shop or tribal village, a homeless shelter or the DMV, a hospital, airport, mall, or beach resort.

A man is shown taking notes outside a tent in the mountains.
Sociological researchers travel across countries and cultures to interact with and observe subjects in their natural environments. (Photo courtesy of IMLS Digital Collections and Content/flickr and Olympic National Park)Critical Role in Research In The Behavioral And Social Sciences Essay

While field research often begins in a specific setting, the study’s purpose is to observe specific behaviors in that setting. Field work is optimal for observing how people behave. It is less useful, however, for understanding why they behave that way. You can’t really narrow down cause and effect when there are so many variables floating around in a natural environment.

Much of the data gathered in field research are based not on cause and effect but on correlation. And while field research looks for correlation, its small sample size does not allow for establishing a causal relationship between two variables.Critical Role in Research In The Behavioral And Social Sciences Essay

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