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Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences,
FEDERAL UNIVERSITY LAFIA. LECTURE NOTE: SOC 122: ELEMENTS OF SCIENTIFIC THOUGHTS
D. o. Tormusa Email: email@example.com
UPDATED: JUNE, 2014
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Course Title: Elements of Scientific Thoughts Course Code: SOC 122 Credit Units Two (2) Course URL: www.fulafia.ed.ng. 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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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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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.
• 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
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
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.
METHODS OF GAINING KNOWLEDGE
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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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
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.
ELEMENTS OF SCIENCE
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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
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,
a. Quantification and
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
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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