Compare and contrast natural science and social science

Research and the Sciences

There has long been an ongoing argument: Is social science scientific? Which approach is better in conducting natural sciences and social sciences? It is believed that ‘hypothetico-deductive’ approach may be applicable to the natural sciences while it does not relate well to the social sciences. By analyzing research from different levels, this essay presents a judgment that social sciences are sciences. First of all, the concept of research and science are given. Secondly, by accepting that social sciences are different from natural sciences, the features that identify social sciences from natural sciences are summarized. There are many choices of approaches to conduct research. In the level of philosophy, research approaches could go to inductive approach and deductive approach. Qualitative research and quantitative research distinguish each other methodologically. In this essay, the different approaches are compared and contrasted after a concise interpretation of these concepts. And finally, the question better approach to research in natural sciences and social sciences is considered.

Research is defined by Join and Keith as seeking through methodical process to add one’s knowledge and, hopefully to others by the discovery of nontrivial and insight (Join and Keith, 1996). Williams defined science as the ensemble of knowledge and practices that best reflect and operationalize a critical attitude to the discovery of the world at that moment in time (Williams, 2000 p.26). Basically, sciences can be divided into social sciences and natural sciences. Social sciences study human being and their behavior, while natural sciences study physical world.

The presupposition that natural science is the benchmark of research, in some degree, accounts for why most people associate the word ‘research’ with activities that are substantially removed from daily life and which usually take place in a laboratory. And accordingly arises the doubt whether social science is science.

A good deal of overlap and unavoidable duplication will be encountered if any attempt is made to review social sciences and natural sciences systematically (McErlean, 2000). Yet there are still some typical features in which social sciences are different from nature sciences. Historically and perhaps intuitively, the “natural” and the “social” sciences have been identified by distinct subject matters: Natural science is a branch of science which deals with the physical world (Pearsall, 1999 P.950), while social science is the scientific study of human society and social relationships (Pearsall, 1999 p.1362). Invariability of observations is different in two kinds of sciences. The difference lies probably in the number of relevant factors that must be taken into account for explaining or predicting events in the real world(McErlean, 2000). It is agreed that verification is not easy to come by in the social sciences, while it is the chief business in the natural sciences. Measurability of phenomena, whereas physics is clearly ahead of all other disciplines. Natural sciences have got constancy of numerical relationship which social sciences has not got. The social sciences deal so close to a man’s own everyday experience that they do not accord the respect as natural sciences. The field of natural sciences needs higher standards of admission and requirements than the social sciences. On this score, the natural sciences are better than the social sciences (McErlean, 2000). Since social sciences differ from natural sciences in many ways, should different approaches be chosen when conducing social science research and natural sciences? This is another baffling question. Now we will turn to the discussion of deduction and induction.

Philosophically the approaches are focused on the consideration of induction and deduction, as well as the relationship between approaches and sciences. Deduction entails the development of a conceptual and theoretical structure prior to its testing through empirical research methods. (Carson et al, 2001 p.11). Induction is the action or process of inducing something (Pearsall, 1999). It is learning by reflecting upon particular past experiences and through the formulation of abstract concepts, theories and generalizations that explain past and predict future experience (Gill and Johnson, 2002).

Induction and deduction approaches are different in many aspects. They are best used in different stages of Learning Cycle. When learning takes place, the difference between deductive and inductive approach is that one starts with theory which tested through observation while the other starts with observation and tries to create theory (Gill and Johnson, 2002). Localization of Induction differs from that of deduction (Carson et al, 2001 P12). Induction might prevent the researcher benefiting from existing theory, while deduction might prevent the development of new and useful theory. In contrast to the deductive tradition, theory is the outcome of induction (Carson et al, 2001 P12). The time needed for induction is often prolonged than deduction B Deductive research is normally possible to predict accurately the time schedules, it is quicker to complete, though the time must be devoted to set up the study prior to data collection and analysis. Deduction and induction carry unequal risk. The deductive approach can be a lower-risk strategy, albeit there are risks like the non-return of questionnaires. With induction it is quite possible that no useful data patterns and theory will not emerge. The effect of deduction or induction is relevant to the ability of researcher. The way one thinks about the development of knowledge affects, unwittingly, the way he goes about doing research (Saunders et al, 2000). So it is more appropriate to adopt the inductive approach if the researcher is particularly interested in understanding why something is happening rather than describe what is happening, Inductive designs begin with specific observations and build toward general patterns. This is different to the hypothetical-deductive approach of experimental designs that require the specification of main variables and the statement of specific research hypotheses before data collection begins (Pattern, 1987).

Saunders et al (2000) has shown the main differences between deductive and inductive approaches as can be seen in diagram 1.

The blending of Induction and Deduction are preferable in conducting a research. In deductive argument, conclusion follows logically from the premises, while inductive argument, in which the premises support the conclusion but do not guarantee it (Rosenberg, 2000). It seems that deductive is more impressive than inductive. Not only because it is more highly structured and more appropriate for people who are inexperienced in research matters but also because it is the basis of much knowledge that they do have of the subject (Walley, 2002), But the two approaches are not mutually exclusive. They are “better” at doing different things. So the balance of both approaches in the same research project is preferable. Not only is it perfectly possible to combine approaches with the same piece of research, but also in human being’s experience it is often advantageous to do so (Saunders et al, 2000). For example: Sadie decided to conduct a research project on violence at work and its effects on the stress levels of staff. She considered the different ways she would approach the work were she to adopt, the deductive approach and the inductive approach. If she decided to adopt a deductive approach, She should standardize the stress responses of the staff. On the other hand, if she decided to adopt an inductive approach she may have decided to interview some staffs who had been subjected to violence at work. She may have been interested in their feelings about the events that they had experienced, how they coped with the problems they experienced and their views about the possible causes of the violence (Saunders et al, 2000). In order to gain more comprehensive results, it is better to combine both approaches.

Diagram 1 Emphasizes of Deduction and Induction

Deduction emphasizesInduction emphasizes

Scientific principlesGaining an understanding of the meanings humans attach to events

From theory to dataFrom observation to theory

The collection of quantitative dataThe collection of qualitative data

The application of controls to ensure validity of dataResearcher is part of the research process

Ensure clarity of definitionLess need generalize

Highly structured approachMore flexible structure to permit changes of research emphasis

Researcher independence of what is being researchedDependent researcher

Select samples of sufficient size

Saunders et al (2000 p.91)

Researcher may use a variety of methodology to conduct research. It is said that the concept of induction often is applied to qualitative research (Strauss and Corbin, 1998 p.136) while deduction is applied to quantitative research. Qualitative research is so called because its emphasis lies in producing data which is rich in insight, understanding, explanation and depth of information, but which cannot be justified statistically (Crouch, 1985). Qualitative research usually produces descriptions, explanations and reasons (Strauss and Corbin, 1998). It seeks to answer ‘how’ and ‘why’ type questions (Walley, 1995). The strengths of qualitative research derive from its inductive approach, its focus on specific situations or people, and its emphasis on words rather than numbers (Maxwell, 1996). It may involve statistics but it is not based on statistical significance. It is characterized by the use of group discussions, personal interviews, projective techniques and non-probability sampling (Walley, 1995) .The usefulness of qualitative research depends very much on the skills of the researcher (Gill and Johnson, 2002). Qualitative methods are particularly oriented toward exploration, discovery, and inductive logic. Walley (2002) cited Proctor (1997) as Quantitative research that primarily research concerned with eliciting information which has statistical significance. Its focus is on quantification of phenomena sampling and large scales postal questionnaires. The quantitative data identify areas of focus whist the qualitative data give substance to those areas of focus.

Whereas qualitative data can put flesh on the bones of quantitative results, brining the results to life through in-depth case elaborations (Patton, 1987). The patterns displayed in quantitative research can be enriched with the addition of qualitative information (Gill and Johnson, 2002). The qualitative should direct the quantitative feedback into the qualitative in a circular (Strauss and Corbin, 1998).

Thus, recent developments in the evaluation profession have led to multiple methods including combinations of qualitative and quantitative data. Some evaluation questions are determined deductively while others are left sufficiently open to permit inductive analyses based on direct observations. Indeed, there is often a flow from inductive approaches to find out what the important questions and variables are, to deductive hypotheses-testing aimed at confirming exploratory findings, then back again to inductive analysis to look for rival hypotheses and unanticipated or unmeasured factors (Patton, 1987).

Sayre believed that: qualitative methods are chosed because of its emphasis on progresses and meanings while quantitative methods are utilized because they substantiate. Actually both methodologies are combined to provide a comprehensive approach to problem solving (Sayre, 2001).

The relation between qualitative research and quantitative research are clearly showed below in the diagram 2.

Diagram 2 qualitative research and quantitative research

Qualitative researchQuantitative research

Type of questions ProbingNon-probing

Sample sizeSmallLarge

Information per respondentMuchVaries

AdministrationRequires interviewer with special skillsFewer special skills required

Type of analysisSubjective, interpretativeStatistical

Hardware requiredTape recorders, projection devices, discussion guides


Researcher training necessaryPsychology, sociology, social psychology, consumer behaviour, marketing, marketing research Statistics, decision models. decision-support systems, computer programming, marketing, marketing research

Type of researchexploratoryDescriptive or causal

Proctor (2000)

In conclusion, the differences between social sciences and natural sciences have been discussed, and the approaches and methods used in conducting both sciences have been compared and contrasted.

Social sciences and natural sciences are fundamentally different in many ways, yet social sciences are, beyond all doubt, scientific too. From the view of philosophy, there are inductive research and deductive research. The deductive approach is probably more impressive. Methodologically quantitative research differs from qualitative research. Each approach has its unique advantages and disadvantages.

It would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that one research approach is “better” than another. Actually they are better in different situations, depending on where the research emphasis lies. It is encouraged to think in a more flexible way about the research approaches and methods adopted. Yet the best policy in conducting research is to blend approaches.

So, it is clear that social sciences are sciences likewise as natural sciences. Adopted appropriately, the methodological approach of natural science can be used to study the social world (Williams, 2000). One approach cannot therefore be considered to be better than another in conducting research in both natural sciences and social sciences. So it is high time to stop arguing about whether social sciences are science or not. Alternatively, to consider which approach is preferable or how to blend them together is what deserves thinking when a research is conducted.