Is truly objective research possible

The debates within the world of autism are nothing if not contentious, with claims by one group very often countered by another group as based on “flawed research” or contaminated by conflicts of interest that taint the results. I think we all like to believe that we are objective when we come up with our ideas, and collect data to support those ideas. (I know I do.) But maybe we’re not. Maybe we can’t be.

Here are some thoughts on the “relative” nature of research methodolgy from Lilia Efimova, currently engaged in research for her PhD (completely unrelated to autism or anything to do with autism).

…the validity of scientific claims is always relative to the paradigm within which they are judged; they are never simply a reflection of some independent domain of reality (Hammersley & Atkinson, 1994, p. 12)

…methods rest on philosophical presuppositions. These remain embedded in them, even if they are not taught or discussed or attended to explicitly. (Yanow & Schwartz-Shea, 2006, p. 370)

No context is value-free. Academic disciplines promote particular ways of observing, dissecting, measuring, interpreting, and otherwise making sense of the phenomena under investigation. One’s decisions may emerge within or resistant to these disciplinary structures. One’s decisions also derive from one’s research goals, which are seldom acknowledged in research reports but which meaningfully affect the design, process, and outcome of a study. (Markham, 2007)

…all research is a practical activity requiring the exercise of judgement in context; it is not a matter of simply following methodological rules (Hammersley & Atkinson, 1994, p. 23)

Visit Lilia’s original post for complete source information of the citations.

2 thoughts on “Is truly objective research possible

  1. I don’t think we can be, we simply do the best that we can within our limitations.

    Anyway this is precisely the issue I am presenting a paper on next week, eventually it will find its way somewhere, where you can all read it.


  2. Working on a dissertation it’s easy to think about research and the relativity of it in theoretical terms… Thanks for the reminder that it matters much more than that.


Comments are closed.