Introduction: The Function of Research Methods
People were gathering information, and successfully using much of this information, long before science came along. The survival of the species is evidence that humans are capable of obtaining useful information without invoking the scientific method. Yet we are all familiar with incorrect information that was believed for long periods of time by intelligent people. For example, there was the belief in bloodletting to reduce fever (which weakened the patients and sometimes killed them), and there was the use of boiling oil to cauterize battlefield wounds when soldiers or sailors lost limbs (which created a toxic reaction from the burnt tissue, increasing the death rate). Remedial procedures sometimes appear reasonable, and are reported by observers to be effective, yet are in fact useless, or even harmful. It must be concluded that there are circumstances where experience and observation can be misleading, and that prior beliefs, or other factors, can affect what is observed or remembered ( Nisbett & Ross, 1980). Some of the observational circumstances that are most vulnerable to such errors have been identified. Ways of rearranging the collection of observations to avoid these errors have been developed. These better arrangements for making (and interpreting) observations constitute the largest part of what is meant by research methods. In fact, an informal definition of science might be that science is a series of techniques to help people avoid fooling themselves.