Soc 122: Elements of scientific thoughts  lecture note, Lecture notes for Sociology

Soc 122: Elements of scientific thoughts lecture note, Lecture notes for Sociology

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Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences,



D. o. Tormusa Email:


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Course Title: Elements of Scientific Thoughts Course Code: SOC 122 Credit Units Two (2) Course URL: Academic Session: 2013/2014 Semester Offered: 2nd Semester Prerequisites: None Meeting Days: Tuesdays Meeting Times: 10:00am – 12:00pm Meeting Place: Lecture Room 40

Lecturer Information Course Leader: Mr. D. O. Tormusa E-mail Address: Phone: 08036114073 Office Location: Akunza Road, Obi Local Government Area, Lafia. Office Hours: 8:00am - 4:00pm Virtual Office Hours: 11:00 am – 1:00 pm Other Lecturer: Dr D. G. Ishor Guest Lecturer: Mr Michael, C. E.

Course Overview This course covers key issues on foundations of science and its roots in philosophy,

methods of thinking and acquiring knowledge, characteristics of scientific thought; scientific

revolution and paradigms, changes in scientific orientation social sciences and scientific


Course Main Objectives

The main objective of this course is to equip students with foundational scientific

knowledge as they seek to study the society sociologically and the application of scientific ethics

to the comprehension and explanation of social reality and society.

Specific Objectives of this course

• To acquaint students with various scientific concepts and the basis for scientific inquiry;

• To expose students to sociological imagination;

• To build their intellectual craftsmanship; and

• To give students an early exposure to the guiding principles behind social scientific

methods of enquiry

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Learning Outcome

At the end of this course, students shall be able to:

• Demonstrate foundational ability in making scientific inquiry;

• Apply sociological imagination in their assessment of social phenomenon; and

• Demonstrate their problem solving skills using the scientific procedure.


1. Introduction

• Subject matter

• Sociology and History of Science 2. Thinking Scientifically

• Methods of Gaining Knowledge

• The Role of Imagination

• Intellectual of craftsmanship

3. The Elements of Science

• Concept, Variable

• Hypotheses and Theory

4. The Logic of Science

• Operationalization of Concepts

• Characteristics of Science

• The claims of Social Science as Science

5. Scientific Methods

• Characteristics of Scientific Research

• Social scientific Routine

• Importance of Social Science Research

• Qualities of a Researcher

• Ethical Issues in Research

• Social Scientific Research Methods


The subject matter of this course is the application of scientific ethics to the

comprehension and explanation of social reality and society. In order to achieve this it is of

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paramount interest to understand the scope of sociology. Sociology is etymologically claimed to

mean the science of the society. One of the standard definitions of sociology was provided by

Max Weber as “a science which attempts the interpretative understanding of social action in

order to arrive at a causal explanation of its cause and effects.” Based on Weber’s definition, for

one to understand the cause and effects of any phenomenon, a systematic approach has to be

embarked upon which must be void of sentiments. This implies that it is the methodology of a

discipline that makes it scientific.

The scientific status of sociology has been a subject of debate. However, the founding

fathers of sociology; August Comte, Herbert Spencer and Emile Durkheim all adhered to the

scientific status of the discipline. They postulated that sociology is the best discipline that

approaches societal problems more scientifically. According to Comte, sociology is the “queen

of all sciences” that occupies the apex of all scientific subjects. This explains why it uses all the

methods and approaches of the lesser sciences thereby becoming superior to all. Sociology

therefore subjects all dogma to critical and empirical scrutiny. It helps us understand the chances

people have of being in certain situations and of behaving in certain ways. Sociologists can make

strong statements about the approximate percentage of people who will behave in certain ways,

even though they cannot say how particular individuals may act. The question now is if sociology subjects all dogma to scrutiny does it means it is a

science? Let’s first understand what constitutes science. Science is both knowledge and a method

by which knowledge is gained. It is the process of organizing knowledge in order to command

the hidden potentials of nature. According to Walter Wallace (1971) in his work titled: The logic

of science in sociology, science is a way of generating and testing the truth of statements about

events in the world of human experience. Science offers disciplined rational procedures for

conducting valid investigation and building up a body of coherent and cohesive information. It is

a method of problem solving and intellectual tool for probing or exploring the unknown.

Science is therefore classified into three: Natural, Biological and Social sciences. It is

imperative to disabuse our minds from looking at science in terms of meddling with the test

tubes or microscopes in the laboratory. Sociologically, society is the laboratory and all sciences

seek for knowledge or the truth. Truth can only be got from facts, and facts are not only in the

laboratory but could be gathered following ordered procedures which in essence is the domain of


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Science is not the only way to arrive at a truth of a matter or to gain knowledge.

However, scientific method is the most accepted method in the world because it is subject to

empirical verification and replication. Meaning, others using the same instruments and

procedures could test the results and yet arrive at the same or similar finding.

SOCIOLOGY AND HISTORY OF SCIENCE Sociology first gained recognition as an independent science with the publication,

between 1830 and 1842, of Auguste Comte's Cours de philosophie positive. Comte did not, to be

sure, create sociology. He did give it a name, a program, and a place among the sciences.

It was to be expected, with the extension of exact methods of investigation to other fields

of knowledge, that the study of man and of society would become, or seek to become, scientific

in the sense in which that word is used in the natural sciences. It is interesting, in this connection,

that Comte's first name for sociology was social physics. It was not until he had reached the

fourth volume of his Positive Philosophy that the word sociology was used for the first time.

Comte called himself Saint-Simon's pupil. It is perhaps more correct to say Saint-Simon

formulated the problem for which Comte, in his Positive Philosophy, sought a solution. It was

Comte's notion that with the arrival of sociology the distinction which had so long existed, and

still exists, between philosophy, in which men define their wishes, and natural science, in which

they describe the existing order of nature, would disappear. In that case ideals would be defined

in terms of reality and the tragic difference between what men want and what is possible would

be effaced. Comte's error was to mistake a theory of progress for progress itself. It is certainly

true that as men learn what is, they will adjust their ideals to what is possible. But knowledge

grows slowly.

Sociology, as Comte conceived it, was not, as it has been characterized, "a highly

important point of view," but a fundamental science, i.e., a method of investigation and "a body

of discoveries about mankind." In the hierarchy of the sciences, sociology, the last in time, was first in importance. The order was as follows: mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry,

biology including psychology, sociology. This order represented a progression from the more

elementary to the more complex. It was because history and politics were concerned with the

most complex of natural phenomena that they were the last to achieve what Comte called the

positive character. They did this in sociology.

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Many attempts have been made before and since Comte to find a satisfactory

classification of the sciences. The order and relation of the sciences is still, in fact, one of the

cardinal problems of philosophy. In recent years the notion has gained recognition that the

difference between history and the natural sciences is not one of degree, but of kind; not of

subject-matter merely, but of method. This difference in method is, however, fundamental. It is a

difference not merely in the interpretation but in the logical character of facts.

Every historical fact, it is pointed out, is concerned with a unique event. History never

repeats itself. If nothing else, the mere circumstance that every event has a date and location

would give historical facts an individuality that facts of the abstract sciences do not possess.

Because historical facts always are located and dated, and cannot therefore be repeated, they are

not subject to experiment and verification. On the other hand, a fact not subject to verification is

not a fact for natural science. History, as distinguished from natural history, deals with

individuals, i.e., individual events, persons, institutions. Natural science is concerned, not with

individuals, but with classes, types, and species. All the assertions that is valid for natural science

concern classes.

How different it is with the world which the natural sciences have created for us!

However concrete the materials with which they started, the goal of these sciences is theories, eventually mathematical formulations of laws of change. Treating the individual, sensuous,

changing objects as mere unsubstantial appearances (phenomena), scientific investigation

becomes a search for the universal laws which rule the timeless changes of events. Out of this

colorful world of the senses, science creates a system of abstract concepts, in which the true

nature of things is conceived to exist—a world of colorless and soundless atoms, despoiled of all

their earthly sensuous qualities. Such is the triumph of thought over perception. Indifferent to

change, science casts her anchor in the eternal and unchangeable. Not the change as such but the

unchanging form of change is what she seeks.

That the chief end of science is descriptive formulation has probably been clear to keen

analytic minds since the time of Galileo, especially to the great discoverers in astronomy,

mechanics, and dynamics. But as a definitely stated conception, corrective of misunderstandings,

the view of science as essentially descriptive began to make itself felt about the beginning of the

last quarter of the nineteenth century, and may be associated with the names of Kirchhoff and

Mach. It was in 1876 that Kirchhoff defined the task of mechanics as that of "describing

completely and in the simplest manner the motions which take place in nature." Widening this a

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little, we may say that the aim of science is to describe natural phenomena and occurrences as

exactly as possible, as simply as possible, as completely as possible, as consistently as possible,

and always in terms which are communicable and verifiable. This is a very different role from

that of solving the riddles of the universe, and it is well expressed in what Newton said in regard

to the law of gravitation: "So far I have accounted for the phenomena presented to us by the

heavens and the sea by means of the force of gravity, but I have as yet assigned no cause to this

gravity.... I have not been able to deduce from phenomena the raison d'être (the cause) of the

properties of gravity and I have not set up hypotheses." (Newton, Philosophiae naturalis

principia Mathematica, 1687). This therefore created room for further investigation into the law

of gravity postulated by Newton. This is the entire task of science which is the investigation and

discovery of truth about a phenomenon. It is similar task that sociology also seek to accomplish

by discovering the hidden truth about phenomenon. It is on this principle of applying scientific

methods of enquiry that Comte designated sociology as the positive science of society. The

foundational knowledge of sociology therefore is built on the principles of the natural sciences.

It can be seen in the ideas of Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer and several others who were

natural scientists but their ideas were relevant in social analysis.

Students are advised to read more about Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin in order to understand the building ideas of sociology embedded in the natural sciences.


Humans are poor data gathering machines due to their numerous biases, cognitive flaws,

and psychological errors that prevent their unguided minds from grasping reality in any accurate


To put it more specifically:

[There are] two countervailing human tendencies of omission and commission: to neglect the

logical and statistical strategies of science on the one hand, and to over-utilize intuitive or simplistic strategies on the other

Thus, in order to deal with the deluge of information that our brains take in every second

of everyday, we have to structure it in a way that can accurately interpret, explain, and predict

reality. Science can do this where other forms of thinking fail. Gut-feelings and common sense

are not enough; they may get us somewhere, but not always to the truth.

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As we proceed, I will outline how one thinks scientifically (and unscientifically) in order

to show you how modern science obtains knowledge about the universe. More importantly, as

we continue, we should know why thinking in a scientific way is the best vehicle for obtaining


To that end, let us outline what are the unscientific ways of thinking and why we cannot

rely on them.

• Appeal to the supernatural

• Use of intuition

• Use of common sense

• Appeal to worldly authority

• Use of logic

• Personal Experience

Appeal to the supernatural- Have you ever been troubled and the first thing that comes to mind

is to link your plight to spiritual explanation? Many of us do. Appeal to the supernatural is a

very primitive way of obtaining help, solving problems or explaining phenomenon. It is true that

man is a superstitious lot, but it is important to break loose from superstition. The moment we

attribute causes of events or problems to witches and wizards, at that moment we are thrown into

helpless situation. We are no longer in control of the situation, but we assume forces beyond our

control have taken charge, which we need to appeal to. God alone remains a supernatural power

whose assistance can be sought in times of needs. Prayer is probably the most common form of

serious minded problem solving by appealing to the supernatural. This is also equivalent to what

Wallace (1971) termed ‘mystical’ mode of testing truth involving drug or stress induced

hallucinatory variety by soliciting knowledge from prophets, mediums, divine gods etc.

Use of Intuition- This is the ability to acquire knowledge without inference or the use of reason

. The word intuition comes from Latin verb intueri which is usually translated as to look inside or to contemplate. Intuition is thus often conceived as a kind of inner perception,

sometimes regarded as real lucidity or understanding. Cases of intuition are of a great diversity;

however, processes by which they happen typically remain mostly unknown to the thinker, as

opposed to the view of rational thinking. Intuition provides views, understandings, judgements,

or beliefs that we cannot in every case empirically verify or rationally justify.

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This method is used when answers to problems are formulated by the mind usually in a

flash of thought or moment to which no conscious reasoning can be attached. Archimedes (3rd

century B. C.) contribution to science by introducing density, weight or mass reason was got

through intuition. Archimedes was in his bath naked when the idea or solution came to him and he cried “Eureka” (I have found it) running naked to articulate his discovery – Archimedes

principle of floating bodies, the lunch, the inner feeling, the sudden inspiration, are examples of


Use of Common Sense- This is the ability to transfer the result of logical and intuitive reasoning

from the unknown to the known. It is what has become a general knowledge of a given society.

For example, when the clouds gather and it rains, in the future, whenever the clouds are

gathering people will prepare for rain. It is this same common sense that is applied in “trial by

ordeal” in determining the guilt or innocence of an accused person. This also applies to the adage

that “show me your friend and I will tell you who you are.” Such natural causes are however,

limited by virtue of the fact that what is common sense in one society may not apply in another.

Appeal to Worldly Authority- Here knowledge is sought and tested by referring to those who

are socially defined as qualified producers of knowledge. For example, professors, oracles,

priests, elders, kings, just to mention a few. It could also be in form of consulting books or

people, provided someone has dealt competently with the problem before and succeeded this

could develop their confidence, so whenever he or someone has problem, such medium will be


Logic-Itisthe study of the principles of correct reasoning.It is a disciplined system of thinking

by which conclusions are drawn from factual statements called premises, which can be shown to

be true or false. Take for an example, iron and steel are extracted at Ajaokuta. Ajaokuta is in kogi

state, therefore, iron and steel are extracted in kogi state. Secondly, iron rods are made from iron and steel, therefore iron rods are made in Ajoakuta.

The first statement above is true in its totality, while the second one is logical, but not

factual in that iron and steel extracted in Ajaokuta can be made into rods at Lafia. Or other


Accordingly, knowledge takes the form of conclusions, which are deduced from

premises. For example, suppose that (1) watching a scary movie usually makes a person fearful

or anxious and that (2) being fearful or anxious usually causes the person’s heart rate to increase.

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Applying logic we would conclude, therefore, that watching a scary movie raises a person’s heart


Two major problems are associated with rationalism as a source of knowledge. First, we

must consider how the truth of the premises was determined. Logic alone cannot produce

premises, and without valid premises, sound conclusions cannot be reached. Second if we apply

logic in this form to premises that are not absolutely true, erroneous conclusions will be met

even when strictly following the rules of deduction.

Logic itself does not provide these crucial probabilities estimates; nor does it produce the

premises. As humans who are very bad at estimating probabilities, relying on pure logic will not

get us as far as science can. While logic is an essential tool used by scientists, it alone is

insufficient as a knowledge source because its use requires existing knowledge in the form of

premises. If the premises are incorrect, so is your logic.

Personal Experience: Personal experience is often used as a knowledge source. We possess a

wealth of personal experience and, while experience is an extremely valuable resource, there are

two reasons to be cautious about deriving knowledge claims about science based on experiences.

First, personal experience is both subjective and uncontrolled, leaving us susceptible to

misperception and misrepresentation of events. We are limited in the amount of information we can process because the quantity of stimuli in any given situation is virtually unlimited. Because

of this limitation, we often attend to events and stimuli selectively: We simply do not and cannot

pay attention to every sound; we don’t notice everything there is to see; many things go

undetected. Do you recall our discussion on attention in introduction to psychology? We humans

do attend to some stimuli and block out others, some of what we do sense, we sense incorrectly,

yielding an experience that is necessarily incomplete and inaccurate due to divided attention or

our subjective thinking.

Second, we selectively remember characteristics of experience. Anyone who has ever

studied for a test realizes that some of the subject matter, although we read it and perhaps even

hear it during class, was somehow lost on test day. Thus, our memories of events are usually

incomplete and misrepresent events. It is also problematic that our selectivity is driven by strong

preconceptions. Meaning we attend, perceive, accept, and recall data that confirm our beliefs and

attitudes whereas we tend to ignore, distort, discount, and forget data which disconfirm our

beliefs and attitudes. This is the confirmation bias at work.

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Scientific Methods

As we can see from this brief overview of the unscientific sources of knowledge, we need

a more precise and objective approach to generating knowledge. This leads us to the scientific

perspective of knowledge acquisition.

Regardless of the field of study, those committed to a scientific approach to generating

answers to questions, whether theoretical or practical in nature, can almost always be described

in terms of a five-step process known as the scientific method. We will quickly review the steps

with special focus on how they differ from unscientific ways of gaining knowledge.

This encompasses problem solving or knowledge acquired through authority, intuition,

common sense and logic with sufficient evidence. Rationalism and empiricism became the

guidepost of science and, empiricism entails that knowledge can only be obtained through the

objective recording of practical and observable experience. In searching for truth, we must be

prepared to challenge authority , to be sceptical to common sense, to suspect intuition and to

question the premises of logical argument .The scientific method of solving problem does all the

above and that is why it is superior to other methods. It starts by collection of facts, suggesting a

solution to the problem through hypothesis; the hypotheses are tested and verified until a

solution is found. The scientific method applies the following procedures:

a. Observation – The scientist observes the events and problems of his time

b. Classification – As he observes, he also then classify the events into certain categories

distinguishing some from others.

c. Searching for law and regularity – This could be done by hypotheses and theorizing

d. Establishment of causal relations and sequences.

Whenever an observer gathers information through one or more senses – sight (eye)

hearing (ear) touch (body/finger) taste (tongue) smell (nose), whenever he uses logic to interpret

his information after classifying them by relating them to another, and whenever other scientists

confirm the result given the same method and experience, such knowledge will be deemed to be

scientific and these are the preoccupations of sociology.

This endeavour is guided by certain norms, which are given by Robert K. Merton

(1973:268 – 278) as:

I. Universalism: - all scientific claims to truth need to be evaluated by impersonal

criteria consistent with existing knowledge in that field and not by class, race or

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nation. Scientific work is not confined to narrow primordial consideration. What is

discovered to be truth or knowledge in one region should be the same in other

regions, e.g. if a mixture of H2O leads to water in Nigeria, it should also be the same

in Ghana or Germany. II. Communism:-Substantive findings of science represent a common heritage and not

the exclusive property of individual discovery. Science is cumulative e.g. the

discoveries of Isaac Newton depended on the exploits of Galileo and in turn

depended on Copernicus, etc. therefore, subsequent discoveries relies on foundations

laid by early scientist.

III. Organised scepticism:-No scientific contribution to knowledge is acceptable without

careful scrutiny. A scientist does not hold the belief on absolute truth but always give

room for further verifications and findings. This is more so for the fact that what is

held to be truth today will be discarded tomorrow as false e.g. the Evolutionary

theory puts into question the Biblical story of creation. The theory that the world was

round was later discarded by the theory that the world is spherical.

IV. Disinterestedness:-Scientists avoid the pursuit of work that is simply self-interest and

self-serving. They aim at discoveries that will advance humanity and not for personal

gains. Take the case of the invention of atomic power/bomb, it has both positive and

negative effects but the scientist who discovered it did not do it for any ulterior

motive but to advance knowledge. It is now been put to use for political gain.

Similarly, the inventor of AK 47 Lieutenant General Mikhail Kalashnikov at the age

of 22 years invented it to help defend his country. But this weapon is now been used

by rebels and other criminals to pursue personal interests. This also applies to other

discoveries. The norms of science as propounded by Merton was challenged and criticized by Mitroff

(1974). Mitroff was studying scientists association with Apollo Luna. Their mission was to know

their attitude and cross check on Merton norms. He claimed that organized scepticism of science

in not true regarding his subjects. He said that commitment to some set goals is an ingredient of

scientific endeavour. To him, the objective emotionally disinterested scientist is also a myth. One

can have strong self-interest or bias yet would be objective in approach. Such claims by Mitroff

could however be applicable only on research under uncertain or virgin areas.

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The scientific way of thought is one of a number of strategies by which we try to cope

with a vital reality in the uncertainty of life. Science has to do with the ways questions are

formulated and answered; it is also about a set of rules and forms of enquiry created by people

who wants reliable answers. The reliability of our answers entails that we go about

systematically in understanding what is happening around us, so that our knowledge would be

useful, communicable, valid and compelling.

One should be able to relate a judgment to a measurement of reality. For example, if you

want to let people know about the level of inequality in Nigeria introduced by capitalism, by

citing evidence of 80% of our wealth is controlled by 5% of the population is more compelling

than just saying “the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.” This implies that

every scientific statement has to be backed up with data.

The point we are trying to make here is that there should be reasoned judgment, which

bears a respectable relationship to evidence. This connotes decision making in which all the

powers of the mind are activated to make the best use of available knowledge. We should use the

mind to imagine proposition about reality and build evidence to support our propositions.

Auguste Comte and Emile Durkheim faced with the problem of disorder at France of their time

were concerned with scientific knowledge that will help in good, ordered, integrated society they wanted to know, predict and control.


This is one of the greatest bedrock of scientific enquiry. We have to imagine, relate our

imagination to reality, and test it against the evidence we have at our disposal. This call for

disciplined and systematic mind, knowing that truth can only be produced by empirical

observation of the material world.

Imagination is considered "a power of the mind," "a creative faculty of the mind," "the

mind" itself when in use, and a "process" of the mind used for thinking, scheming, contriving, remembering, creating, fantasizing, and forming opinion. The term imagination comes from the

latin verb imaginari meaning "to picture oneself." This root definition of the term indicates the

self-reflexive property of imagination, emphasizing the imagination as a private sphere. As a

medium, imagination is a world where thought and images are nested in the mind to "form a

mental concept of what is not actually present to the senses." In the sense of the word as a

process, imagination is a form of mediation between what is considered "externalized" reality

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and internalized man (with regard to Manovich and Lacan). The term is considered "often with

the implication that the (mental) conception does not correspond to the reality of things."

According to Aristotle, the imagination bridges the gap between "images" and "ideas,"

implying that rational thought takes place in the form of images, and are stored and combined in

the imagination. Thus, imagination is implied as an actual space or medium in the individual's

mind, and in this space it has a power to combine images and ideas to do the work of reason.

Immanuel Kant understood imagination as being "reproductive" because of its basis in a

given or experienced knowledge that must be reproduced to 'shortcut' the proof posited by the

senses. For example, one must use his powers of imagination to deductively reason that even

though he cannot see all sides of a cube he is looking at there are six sides to the cube. For, based

on the viewer's experience, a cube factually and observably does have six sides. Were he picks

the cube up and examine it, he should see and note it as fact observable by his senses. However,

since the viewer has the faculties of his reproductive imagination, he need not rely on his senses.

Thus, if reality can be observed by the senses, imagination addresses a certain no-man's land

between what is observably "true" or "real" and that which is considered totally "fictive" or

"false," in a sense, imagination provides a shortcut. Imagination in this sense, fills in what could

in all likelihood be observed by the senses, and apprehends a sense of reality based on the experience of the proof of his senses, without the executed proof.

Kant and Coleridge, in the midst of Romanticism, asserted that the imagination provided

a "transcendental synthesis which combines our experience [of the world] into a single

connected whole" (Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 136). This romantic and spiritual sense of the

word gives way to understandings of the imagination as a medium that provides coherence for

the individual.

In Lacan's mirror stage, the child's perception of the Imaginary is an essential stage of

recognition of what is real and what is unreal. If the Imaginary is the child's reflected image in

the mirror, it is probable that the imagination is the mental faculty for integrating this

'represented' image into the child's experience of himself in the world. By Lacan's division of

the ‘Symbolic, the Real and the Imaginary’, the real is that which resists representation. If the

imagination is a counterpoint to perceptible reality, Lacan's implication is that the Imaginary is in

fact representational. This representation is the mirror.

Science as an imagination becomes direct partners through discovery. Bold and

imaginative people who are not afraid to challenge a whole structure of customary beliefs by

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consulting evidence in the real world make all discoveries in the natural sciences. It was

customarily believed in the olden days that the sun revolves round the earth but the scientific

discovery that the revolution is rather the earth that revolves round the sun faced a lot of

customary opposition. So also was the discovery as atoms in matter. Scientific thinking requires

having an idea and not a system for frustrating the exercise of intuition and imagination, rather it

is a set of making such ideas as fruitful and productive as human ingenuity allows. We take ideas

and confront them with evidence drawn from the phenomenon to which they relate. In the

absence of imaginative efforts to understand the reality of society, we are confined to the beaten

or primitive path of custom and the inequities that stifle human potential.

Not all of custom is bad. In fact custom performs important role in the society, it holds

communities together in the face of enormous and even violent pressures. It is custom that

shapes beliefs and ideas that guide behavioural pattern of the people. Yet the task of social

scientist must be to understand why things are the way they are as well as how the elements of

social life can be reformed to allow for more humane patterns of personal development and

expression. The point however is that scientists are more concrete in their reasoning and precise

in their thought by which research is guided in data collection or investigation, and in measures

used in testing mental constructions against reality.


A beginning student of social sciences is usually overwhelmed by the numerous courses

he/she is introduced into, and also the diverse theoretical orientation he/she is exposed to. Your

contribution to knowledge, and the way that the knowledge you acquired shaped your behavior

can only measure your importance at the end of your study in the university. C. Wright Mills in

his book titled: The Sociological Imagination presented some ways to guide a student learning

the craft of intellectualism. This section will dwell on his write-up. He said “do not split your

work from your life”. Learn to use your experience in your intellectual work. To say that you can have experience means for one thing that your past plays into, and affects your present and it

defines your capacity for future experience. As a social scientist, you should be able to or be

capable to capture what your experiences are and sort them so that you will be able to use them

to guide and test your reflection.

One way to do this is to keep a file or journal. In this file what you are doing and your

experiences are recorded. Whenever you feel strongly about the events or ideas, you must try not

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to let them pass from your mind, but instead to formulate them, drawing out their implications –

how foolish they are or how they might be articulated into productive shape. As you are reading

take notes especially the structure of the writer’s argument. The file is a continually growing

store of facts and ideas from the most vague to the most furnished. The purpose of empirical

inquiry is to settle disagreement and doubts about facts, and thus to make argument more fruitful

by basing all sides more substantially.

According to C. W. Mills, the ways of stimulating sociological imagination are:

1. Re-arranging of the file kept for linkages with your thought.

2. Try to know the several meanings of your words to probe for clarified meaning and


3. Cross-classification of the notions you come across in form of charts, tables and


4. Get insight from both extremes, not to be one dimensioned, be versed in literature.

5. Try as much as to know the universe before you sample e.g. if something is small think

of it as if it were to be big and vice versa.

6. Grapple with comparative analysis of materials to know the historical trend. 7. Arrange your ideas into topics, issues and themes. The sociological imagination therefore implies that you should be original, be yourself and

not another person. Be your own methodologist, theorist etc.

• Urge upon yourself the simplicity of clear statement

• Be as detail as possible – big things as important as minute things, no fanaticism is

required nor fetishism.

• Locate your thoughts within a social milieu

• Your aim should be comparative understanding of social structure

• Keep your eyes open to the varieties of individuality

• Try to understand men and women as historical and social actors

• Do not allow public issues as they are officially formulated, or trouble as they are

privately felt to determine the problems that you take up for study.



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Science in the bid to unravel the mystery of life has to develop a language to use in

communication. The elements of science we shall discuss here are the building blocks upon

which science rest in its efforts to observe, classify, verify and generalize. Anyone who has a

serious interest in understanding society must give some thought to the ways in which social

facts can be and are gathered. Both Social scientists and administrators are faced with the

problem of taking decision, especially those that border on evaluation of reports or enquiry. This

entails some techniques, which a lay man cannot comprehend. It is thus imperative that we are

conversant with such jargons and technicalities to make out judgments accurate and reliable. It is

at least clear on the common – sense level that we always engage in examining, explaining and

predicting social behavior. If we cannot do so, the society could not exist and function. In doing

so we abstract various/certain factors from the behavior of people, and thus find their behavior


If we look at science as an accumulation of systematic knowledge then the most

important element or guiding principle is the method of approach to the empirical world – the

complex world in which man lives. The starting point in understanding the world is the process

of conceptualization and classification. If knowledge is to be organized, there must be some

system imposed upon the facts, which are observed. As a consequence, a major task in any science is the development of

• Systems of classification

• a structure of concepts

• an increasingly precise set of definitions for these concepts

Science abstract from society, it does not look at the society as a whole and attach one

term. We fit in scientific observation with our frame of reference or mind, or theoretical

framework making concept a necessary condition for the communication of findings. When we

make propositions or statements we use concepts as symbols of the phenomena and relate them


What then is a concept? Concepts are logical constructs created from sense impressions,

precepts or even fairly complex experiences. The process of conceptualization is one of

abstracting and generalizing sense impression. In this way it is possible to manipulate, study,

organized and isolate the properties of objects. It is only thought that such properties can be

isolated and thinking can proceed only by giving names to such properties. This could be upheld

by idea underlying a class of things or general notion, and concepts upheld idea.

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Conceptualization is essential to thought, and concepts thus are the foundation of all human

communications and thought.

Each concept communicates to the specialist a vast amount at experience, abstracted and

clarified for those who understand the terms. The basic equipment of any student is the

possession of a scientific vocabulary adequate enough to understand the conceptual development

of his field whether in German term like gemeinschaft, French term ethnology, English term

class are not designed to impress people, but rather the short hand of science to convey meaning.

Some easily contacted concepts are social structure, status, role, bureaucracy, power, authority,

personality, individual, society, group, alienation, and productivity.

Take the concept of social status which is frequently used in social research for an

example, its meaning is not so clear but when it is used, most social scientists have idea of what

is being said. Its definition contains such elements as income, occupational, prestige, education,

wealth, power, traditional family status or position, moral valuation etc. Social status per se does

not exist except as a convenient notation for a variety of empirical observations like differences

in human being social standing as some are more powerful, recognized, respected and have more

authority than others. When we experience and observe people living in different types of

residential structure we develop the concept of dwelling unit which could be urban/rural, poor (ghetto) or rich (GRA). When we observe women and men staying together we call it marriage

or family which could be monogamous or polygamous.

What we could discern from the foregoing is that reality testing is built right into the

process of naming things. The more we develop appropriate name that is widely used/understood

the greater the advancement to knowledge. This is where concept formation is very important.

Language is indispensible to growth of knowledge or science. To call a thing by a precise name,

which is understandable by all involved in that field is the beginning of understanding, because it

is the key to the procedure that allows the mind to grasp reality and its many relationships. Take

for an example, it makes a great deal of difference in the medical sciences whether sickness is

claimed to be caused by evil spirit or by bacteria. The concept bacteria is tied to a system of

concepts in which is that of antibiotics. This explains why pure sciences are more precise than

the social sciences. Science is a way of checking on the formation of concepts and testing the

possible linkages between them (theory and hypothesis) through references to observable


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Characteristics of concepts:

a. concepts are tentative

b. Concepts are based on agreement and

c. Concepts are useful only to the degree that they capture or isolate some significant and

definable items in reality.

Functions of Concepts

i. Concepts are foundation of communication and thought. Without a set of agreed upon

concepts, inter subjective communication is impossible. A concept is not a

phenomenon itself but rather a symbol of it. Treating concepts as though they are the

phenomenon themselves leads to the “fallacy of reiteration” i.e. error of regarding

abstraction as actual phenomenon. Concepts have meaning only within certain frame

of reference.

ii. Concept introduces a point of view or a way of looking at empirical phenomenon. It

gives world order and coherence.

iii. Concepts are means for classification and generalization

iv. Concepts are building blocks at theories and thus helped in explanation and


“If concepts are to serve the functions of communication, sensitization of experience,

generalization and theory construction, they have to be clear, precise, and agreed – upon.”

Nachimias, Chava and David nachmias (1985) Research Method in Social Sciences: Alternate

2nd Edition Without Statistics.


A variable is a special kind of concept, which depicts a changing nature of concepts.

Variable is a name given to something that is thought to influence a particular state of being in

something else. For example, heat and pressure influence the boiling water, so we can say

boiling water varies with heat and pressure. In the social realm we can also see that age, socio

economic standing, parental influence, race, sex, region of residence influences voting

behaviour. The whole idea of science behind cause and effect is best understood in the treatment

of variables. One concept or variable is affected or caused by another concept or variable.

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A variable is also is a set of mutually exclusive characteristics such as sex – male or

female; age – old or young; employment – employed or unemployed etc. This is an elementary

kind of variation in which there is either one or another a common example is pregnancy – you

are either pregnant or not.

Scientists tend to call the properties they study as variable to make their study empirical

and testable. It is a symbol to which numerals or values are assigned. Take the case of

intelligence, there is an attitude scale that the value or level of intelligence can be tested or

measured, and the intelligence quotient (IQ) ranges from low to high (56 – 200). When

somebody says he is intelligent and give his level, you know the extent of his intelligence.

Types of variables

There are various categorization of variables. The common types are:

1. Independent and dependent variables

2. Active and attribute variables

3. Continuous and categorization variables

Independent and dependent variables- These are the most important way of categorization

because it is most applicable to science in discussing cause and effects. It is simple in

conceptualization, research design, and communication of research results. Independent variable is the presumed cause of the dependent variable, which in turn is the presumed effect. The

independent variable is the antecedent and the dependent variable is the consequent. Independent

variable is the one manipulated in research to see its influence on the dependent variable, which

is controlled. There could be the third element known as the intervening variable, which is the

variable at the background coming into play on the independent variable.


Independent Variable Dependent Variable

Active and Attribute variables: Any variable that is manipulated is the active variable while

those that cannot be or are not manipulated are the attribute variables. The use of different

methods of reinforcements by rewards and punishments is a kind of manipulation of variables.

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Continuous Variable: These are variables that are quantified and takes an ordered set of values

within a certain range reflecting at least a rank order e.g. age, which could be 0, 1-4, 5-9, 10-14,

15-19, 20-24 etc. Categorical variables are nominal in measurement. There are two or more

subsets of the set of objects being measured, individuals are categorized by their possession of

the characteristics that define the subset e.g. colour – red, black green etc. It could also be looked

upon as dichotomous variable. Age categorization is a very good example which could be

continuous or categorized thus: 0 -4 (infant), 5 – 9 (juvenile), 10 – 14 (adolescence), 15 – 19 etc.

A two-step process is involved in pinning down the degree or differentiation in a variable,

which are:

a. Quantification and

b. Measurement

Quantification: The idea of quantification is setting up a standard amount of a thing and putting

a label on it. This is also the application of statistical values. The idea behind quantification

could be seen from the example of knowing the distance, kings foot was used by English people

for distance, later cubit which was the length of someone else for arm was used. What is in

vogue now is inches/metres. Standard units increase the power of description and analysis.

Quantification in social science takes two forms: i. Discrete form, which is the counting of the units of a thing e.g. voting – we can count

the number of people who voted in a particular number, either per state/ L.G.A., or by

ethnicity at our convenience.

ii. Continuous quantification has a notion of variation along a continuum e.g. age. There

could be any value on a scale like 121/2 years, which is not the case with discrete

quantification, which only come whole numbers. One of the marks of a smart

scientist is the ability to find ways of quantifying important variables in a reliable and

meaningful way. Economists and demographers have gone a long in doing that

making them quantitative and their findings more precise and meaningful.

Measurement: It is the assignment of numerals to objects or events according to rules. This is

inherent in every analytical discussion. If quantities can be established, measurement becomes

much easier. The most obvious measurement deals with the problem of how much. However, not

much of everything is easy to measure e.g. public opinion or attitude.

Categories like; strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree are used for attitude

measurement. The levels of measurement are:

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a. Nominal which only involves simple categorization of variables of mutually exclusive

events like sex which has female and male

b. Ordinal measurement, which is a further improvement on the nominal by introducing the

element of ranking e.g. good, better, best. Educationally we have primary, secondary and


c. Interval measurement is a further improvement on all the above. Apart from possessing

all the characteristics of the two above, it has the introduction of number that tells the

interval between two extremes. E.g. age interval, one person can be 10 years, another 20

years, we know there are 10 years difference. Distance between from Lafia to Abuja

differs from distance from Lafia to Jos.

d. Ratio measurement is another improvement on the above; the only difference is the

introduction of the idea of absolute zero. If somebody is 20 years and another 30 years,

we cannot say “B” is twice older than “A” because the age has no absolute zero. This

makes science more precise than social sciences.


A hypothesis proposes a relationship between two or more variables. Simply put, it is a

scientifically researchable suggestion about the relationship between two or more variable. It is

always a tentative statement which when verified becomes part of a theoretical construction.

Hypotheses are tentative answers to research problems. A scientist first identifies a

problem, which is usually an intellectual stimulus calling for an answer in form of scientific

inquiry. Hypothesis therefore proceeds from problem formulation. In this course, we therefore

narrow down the problem into specific variables to see the relationships among them or

formulate what is known as working hypothesis.

Hypothesis is a kind of question put forward in such a way that an answer of some kind

can be forth coming. The question is stated plainly without values added into them. This is an example of the organized skepticism of science – the refusal to accept any statement without

empirical verification. From what we have discussed so far, there are some vital functions

performed by hypothesis. The first function being the fact that it states in clear form what we are

looking for in our research by formulating deductions, which when verified leads to theory. The

second function is that hypothesis is forward looking by just making proposition which by

empirical test can be upheld or disproved. Lastly, is the fact that the process of scientific

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verification leads to formulation of other hypothesis showing that science is ever progressive and

a continuous process to get to the truth.

The utilization of hypothesis is necessary for any useful research result. Without it,

research is unfocused and a random empirical wandering. But hypothesis are not easy to come

by. There are three major problems formulating scientific and testable hypothesis.

a. Absence of clear theoretical framework: many people conduct their research without

being in theory. This is not helpful in social sciences particularly since theory states

logical relation between facts that we are looking for.

b. Even where theories abound in social sciences, there is the lack of ability to utilize that

theoretical framework logically. Professional and technical journals are not available.

c. The failure to be acquainted with available research technique so as to be able to phrase

the hypothesis properly.

Types of Hypothesis

There are basically two common types of hypotheses; null and alternative or research


Null hypothesis (H0): this refers to a general statement or default position that there is no

relationship between two measured phenomena, and is generally assumed true until evidence

indicates otherwise.

Alternative hypothesis or research hypothesis (H1): it is a hypothesis which predicts a

relationship that can be 'supported' or 'not supported' with data collection. It is usually stated

on the basis of existing information on the variables being measured.

Classification of Hypotheses

There are three major levels of classifying hypotheses, based on the level of abstraction:

a. Some hypotheses state the existence of empirical uniformity. This usually represents a

problem about which some common sense observation already exist – like the

distribution of business establishment in a city, the ethnic backgrounds of workers in an

industry etc, the purpose of which is to put these common-sense ideas into precisely

defined concepts and subject the proposition to test. It is a common knowledge that when

you get matured you marry, but it will be scientific to tell or know who is to marry who.

b. Some hypotheses are concerned with complex ideal types. This is aimed at testing the

existence of logically derived relationship between empirical uniformity e.g. urban

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ecology was based on complex nature of settlement pattern influencing income,

education, crime etc.

c. Some hypotheses are concerned with the relationship of analytic variables. This requires

the formulation of a relationship between change in one property or variable and change

in another. This is the sophisticated and flexible mode of formulating hypothesis. For

example, an interest in human fertility shows that it has or how empirical regularities

with wealth, region, religion etc. You can control some of the variables to see the effects

of another variable in fertility.

Origin or Sources of hypotheses

1. The general culture in which a science develops furnishes many of its basic hypotheses.

The cultural values give direction to research and formulation of hypothesis.

2. Hypothesis originates in the science itself. Science is a communal process and a scientist

interacts with fellow scientists. He formulates his hypothesis from his experience and

discussion from other colleagues.

3. Analogies are often a source of useful hypothesis. With some modifications, some

hypotheses in physical sciences could be applied to social sciences e.g. functionalism has

both mathematics and social connotation. 4. Hypotheses are also the consequences of personal idiosyncratic experience. Personal life

histories are a factor in determining the king of perception and conception. We can all

experience the same thing and interpret it differently based on our background. Absolute

knowledge is not in science there is always a gap. It takes a genius to fill the gap by his

contribution to existing body of knowledge.

Characteristics of Hypotheses

a. Hypotheses must be conceptually clear. There should be clear definition and

operationalization. This should be such that will ease communication and other scientists

should accept such definition.

b. Hypotheses should have empirical referents i.e. there should not be value judgment or

moral preachment, objectivity should be the watchword.

c. Hypotheses may be specific. This should entail the operations and predictions indicated

in hypotheses should be spelled out to show the specific direction of relationship, we

should know which direction variable X acting on Y is moving. This makes prediction


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d. Hypotheses should be related to available technique, this gives room to the testing of

hypothesis because it will be unscientific to state a hypothesis without testing it.

e. Hypotheses should be related to a body of theory. Hypothesis that is not grounded on

theory will be very vague and hard to appraise.

Some of the common examples of hypotheses we easily come across in social sciences are:

• Political participation increases with education.

• Alienation increases with poverty.

• Union members are more likely than non-union members to vote for Democratic


• The higher the couples social class the fewer the children desired.

• Protestants are more likely than Catholics to be ambitious and hardworking.

• The cost of production influences price of goods.


Theory refers to the relationships between facts. It could also be seen as the ordering of

facts in some meaningful way. A theory is a set of related propositions that suggest why events

occur in the manner that they do. The basic point or function of any science is to develop a set of

theories to explain the events within the range of observation. Theory is more of a system of

ideas held to explain groups of facts or phenomenon. The question then is what is fact since

theory cannot exist without them? A fact is a dictum or date of experience which when verified

can be used as a basis of inference. It can be regarded in science as empirically veritable

observation therefore it is more definite, certain, without question, and their meaning to be self –

evident. The propositions that make up theory are of the same form as hypothesis, so theory

relates to hypothesis. The relationship between them consists of concepts and how the concepts

are related to one another. Theory is not absolute but just a testable statement indicating areas of

verification for its confirmation, modification or rejection.

Functions of theory

1. The first basic function of theory as a tool of science is that it defines the major

orientation of a science, by defining the kinds of data, which are to be abstracted. Theory

as orientation narrows the image of facts to be studied.

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