Nature of Science
Reflections on ICT4D Research
Empiricism (Aristotle, Locke, Berkeley, Hume)
Observation & experience
Rejects, priori reasoning
Case study (observation)
But, uses priori theory
Logical Positivism (Vienna Circle)
Confirmation of scientific theory by induction/deduction
Generalization of theory through induction or deduction, however, lacking law of uniformity
Karl Popper’s falsification
All theories should have the nature of falsification
Better than induction, however, difficult to falsify social theories due to contextual problem
Galileo paradigm, Newton’s paradigm etc.
ICT4D research uses paradigm such as positivism and constructivism in ontology and epistemology
Lakatos ‘research programs’
An alternative theory of paradigm
Using standard research methodology such as interpretive case study
Fayerabend’s theory of Anarchistic history
Based on humanitarian ground, doesn’t believe in paradigm or standard methods
Misunderstood, but it is relevant to my research because ICT4D is more concerned to humanitarian issues
The Bayesian approach
Confirmation of new scientific knowledge influenced by previous success probabilities
Difficult to estimate the previous success probabilities of social science research
Social science (post-modernist approach)- science is the outcome of interplay among different human and non-human actors (Latour)
My research fits here, but is it a real science?
The purpose of writing this essay is to find the corresponding philosophy of science for my information and communication technology for development (ICT4D) research, so that I can entitle my research outcome as a valid scientific knowledge. The ICT4D research, which is more dealing with the national development and changing the quality of life through deploying ICT service, falls in the domain of information systems (IS) research. Whereas, the IS field is more broadly related to the study of the effective use of information and the potential impact of software systems and enabling information technologies on the human, organizational, and social world. The nature of IS field as a science is a mixture of natural science positivism and social science interpretivism (Khazanchi & Bjørn, 2000).
Particularly, the objective of my ICT4D research is to analyze the complex interaction process among various social and technical actors that influence the impact of ICT availability on remote communities. Therefore, the nature of my research as a science is more pertinent to interpretative or social science rather than positivist. My work is influenced by the authors like Heidegger, Gadamer, Latour, and Amrtya Sen who are writing from phenomenological hermeneutics, sociotechnological, and post-modernist perspectives. However, as Chalmers proposed that if the human sciences are to emulate the success of physics then that is to be achieved by first understanding and formulating this method and then applying it to the social and human sciences. Therefore, in the subsequent sections, as highlighted in Table 1, I will summarize the different perspective of philosophy of science such as empiricist tradition (observation and Experiments), logical positivism (theory confirmation through induction), popper’s theory of falsification, Kuhn’s paradigmatic views, furthermore, brief description about Lakato research methods and Feyerabend anarchistic theory of science. Alongside, I will briefly explain the reflection of these philosophies on my research; in addition, I will locate the nature of my research as a science by referring to the philosophical ideas of sociology of science. Finally, I will briefly discuss the ontological beliefs such as realist and anti-realist of my research work.
2. Reflections of philosophy of science on ICT4D research
Table 1. Nature of science and its reflections on ICT4D research
The initial thought in the philosophy of science was mostly dominated by the concept of empiricism. The empiricism emphasizes those aspects of scientific knowledge that are closely related to evidence, especially as discovered in experiments (Chalmers, 1999). The idea of empiricism is that the science is to be based on what we can see, hear and touch rather than on personal opinions or speculative imaginations. Based on Aristotelian theory of tabula rosa, which state that the human mind is like a blank table and that their knowledge comes from experience and perception. Empiricism is a fundamental part of the scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world, rather than resting solely on a priori reasoning, intuition, or revelation. Therefore, empiricist claims that the science is methodologically empirical in nature. Some of the classical empiricists were John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume (Godfrey-Smith, 2003). The ICT4D research is also bound to empirical study. For this purpose we conduct interviews, surveys, and data collection in the natural setup. However, the concept of not using any priori or existing theory in empiricism is differing to my research. It employs existing theories such as actor-network theory and social capital theory for analytical purpose.
2.2 Logical Positivism
It is a school of philosophy that combines empiricism with rationalism incorporating mathematical logics known as deductions in epistemology. The epistemology of IS realm was dominated by the logical positivism. However, the IS research community gradually realizing the importance of interpretive studies along with positivism. Notwithstanding, the construct validation and process evaluation of the case study is some of the reflections which has implications to my ICT4D research. Logical positivism has advocated the observation based theory should be tested through experiments. However, the ICT4D research has a contextual problem in conducting theory laden experiments. The differences in the local context can produce different results even though both use the same theory. Another, drawback of logical positivism is the logical induction. Logical positivism has put forward the concept of generalization through induction. This suggests that the appropriate facts can be established in science by large number of observations under a wide variety of conditions, and there should not be any conflict with the derived law (Chalmers, 1999). It means replication of experiments many times to make it a standard theory. This kind of replication is not possible in social science research generally and ICT4D research particularly. Although social science theory also needs to be generalized through inductive and deductive reasoning, there is a lack of law of uniformity.
2.3 Karl Popper’s falsification
Karl popper was sharply against the idea of logical positivism or induction for generalization of the theory. Therefore, Pooper formulated his demarcation criterion for distinguishing science from non-science, where the criterion pertains to falsifiability. The falsificationist sees science as a set of hypothesis that is tentatively proposed with the aim of accurately describing or accounting for the behavior of some aspect of the world or universe. There is one fundamental condition that any hypothesis or system of hypothesis must satisfy if it is to be granted the status of scientific law or theory, a hypothesis must be falsifiable. Even though falsification seems better than induction for the generalization of ICT4D research outcome, sometimes multiple subjective interpretations may erroneously falsify the true hypothesis.
2.4 Kuhn’s Paradigm
Inductivist and falsificationist accounts of science were challenged in a major way by Thoman Kuhn. He came to believe that traditional accounts of science, whether inductivist or falsificaniost, do not bear comparison with historical evidence. Kuhn’s account of science was subsequently developed as an attempt to give a theory more in keeping with the historical situation as he saw it. A key feature of his theory is the emphasis placed on the revolutionary character of scientific progress, where revolution involves the abandonment of one theoretical structure and its replacement by another, incompatible one (Godfrey-Smith, 2003). The concept of paradigm is frequently used in the realm of ICT4D research. However, the paradigm in ICT4D research is mostly confined to positivist and interpretive camps (Khazanchi & Bjørn, 2000). And, my research falls into the interpretive paradigm.
2.5 Lakatos ‘research programs’
Lakatos like Kuhn, saw the merit in portraying scientific activity as taking place in a framework, and coined the phrase “research program”. According to Lakatos some laws or principles are more basic than others and that can be the defining feature of a science. A science can then be seen as the programmatic development of the implications of the fundamental principles. I take it as a use of standard methodology in my research such as use of most frequent interpretive case study.
2.6 Fayerabend’s theory of Anarchistic history
Fayerabend from his humanitarian point of view supports his anarchistic theory of science on grounds that it increases the freedom of scientists by removing them from methodological constraints and, more generally, leaves individuals the freedom to choose between science and other forms of knowledge. A central problem with Feyerabend’s notion of freedom stems from the degree to which it is entirely negative, in the sense that freedom is understood as freedom from constraints. The only relevance to this paradigm and my research is that both are based on humanitarian ground. Social science research probably cannot be confined to any establish way of theorizing the phenomenon.
2.7 The Bayesian approach
Bayes’ theorem is about conditional probabilities, probabilities for propositions that depend on the evidence bearing on those propositions. Those probabilities will be subject to change by the punter in the light of new evidence. Bayes’ theorem is a theorem prescribing how probabilities are to be changed in the light of new evidence. It is quite difficult to estimate the previous success probabilities of social science research.
2.8 Social science (post-modernist approach)
Scientific theory can be objective, however, an objective theory not as one that exists independently of human beings and their influences. It can be a social object that forms over a period of time from a process of social construction in which many generations of cohorts of researchers participate and whose properties and behaviors can be observed and explained through such empirical disciplines as the history and sociology of science (Godfrey-Smith, 2003). The emergence of modern science in itself is a sociological process, which takes different forms during the transition from feudalism to early capitalism (Zilsel, 1942). The philosophy of science has been mainly drawn by the natural scientist with a very positivist approach; therefore, so called modern science definition rejects my research as a science. However, it is the post-modernist scientist who defined the science in a broad view which includes the social perspective as well. According to Schultz a social science theory and a natural science theory are no different in their logical form. Of course, there remain major differences between them, one of which pertains to some empirical work that a social scientist, but not a natural scientist, needs to perform prior to formulating a theory. As such, they require data collection or observation by the social scientist no less than does any other aspects of objective reality that he or she encounters. Schultz conceptualizes these subjective meanings as first-level constructs – meanings constructed by human subjects in the social setting that the social scientist seeks to explain. It is only on the basis of these first-level constructs that the observing social scientist may properly found the constructs (hence second-level constructs) comprising his or her scientific theory. Because subjective meanings or first-level constructs exist in the empirical subject matter of social science but not natural science, it is appropriate to describe the subsequent second-level constructs or theory as being social theory. An interesting consequence that follows from Schultz’s view of social theory is that natural science methodology can be seen as a limiting case or subset of social science methodology. Therefore, my ICT4D research qualifies as a valid scientific knowledge.
Most of the theories put forward by scientific community are positivists by nature, whereas, social phenomenon cannot be observed by positivists approach only as advocated by the theory of empiricism, logical positivism, and falsification. As an anti-realist ontology my research seems to be more near to empiricism however consider the importance of existing theories as well. Confirmation of social theories through induction seems to be impossible in my case because the context changes with every new case study. Likewise, the theory of falsification cannot be found in my research as my research does not test any theory; instead, it just uses the theory for the sake of defining its conceptual framework. These theories are mainly criticized for favoring objectivism and rejecting the subjective aspects of social perception. That may lead us to rigor testing of the process and ignoring the relevant facts.
In IS domain, I found the Kuhn’s paradigm theory is consistently dominating. For instance, the ontology of IS realm is defined as positivists and interpretive. Likewise, the epistemology of IS field is characterized as positivist, interpretive, and critical realism. Following this tradition of paradigm, I would say the ontological and epistemological nature of my research falls into anti-positivists and interpretive category. Interestingly, I found the nature of science itself is the outcome of social construction. And, there is not a single agreed philosophy which describes the nature of science. Thus I am not in a state to fit my work in any particular theory such as empiricism, logical positivism, falsification or Kuhn’s theory of paradigm. Whereas, the IS field is more broadly related to the study of the effective use of information and the potential impact of software systems and enabling information technologies on the human, organizational, and social world. The nature of IS field as a science is a mixture of natural science positivism and social science interpretivism. To me, this controversy seems to be a never ending process, however, that is the only way to keep the growth of science alive.
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