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Scientific Research in Education
previous chapters that our principles of science are common across disciplines and fields and that the accumulation of knowledge progresses in roughly the same way. Furthermore, profoundly different methods and approaches characterize each discipline and field in the physical sciences, depending on such things as the time frame, the scale of magnitude, and the complexity of the instrumentation required. The same is true in the social sciences and education, where questions ranging from individual learning of varied subject matter to fundamental social patterns to cultural norms determine the length of time, the number of people, and the kind of research instruments that are needed in conducting the studies.
Differences in the phenomena typically under investigation do distinguish the research conducted by physical and social scientists. For example, the social and cultural work of sociologists and cultural anthropologists often do not lend themselves to the controlled conditions, randomized treatments, or repeated measures that typify investigations in physics or chemistry. Phenomena such as language socialization, deviancy, the development of an idea, or the interaction of cultural tradition with educational instruction are notoriously impervious to the controls used in the systematic investigations of atoms or molecules. Unlike atoms or molecules, people grow up and change over time. The social, cultural, and economic conditions they experience evolve with history. The abstract concepts and ideas that are meaningful to them vary across time, space, and cultural tradition. These circumstances have led some social science and education researchers to investigative approaches that look distinctly different from those of physical researchers, while still aligning with the guiding principles outlined in Chapter 3.
Another area that can notably distinguish research between the social and physical sciences concerns researcher objectivity in relation to bias. In some physical and life sciences, investigators are often deliberately kept ignorant of the identity of research participants, and controls are instituted through such devices as double-blind or randomization procedures. This strategy is often used in medical trials to ensure that researchers’ perspectives are not influenced by their knowledge of which participants received which treatment, and similarly, that this knowledge does not alter the behavior of the research participants. In many areas of the social sciences, in contrast, the investigator is recognized as an “engaged participant