Science and Research

The word “research,” like many others, has acquired a wide cur­rency over the past several decades. Relatively few people con­ducted research in the first half of the twentieth century. Those who were known to be doing research were looked upon as belonging to an elite class, often shrouded in mystery, not unlike the FBI agents portrayed in popular movies. In the imagination of the common person, researchers belonged to a secret society, the initiation into and the ideal of which were guarded secrets. Not any more. Elementary school children now ask their parents for rides to libraries or museums because they have to “do some research” on a project given by their teacher. If we need a book from the library and that particular book is not found in the list or on the rack, the librarian says, on your request for help, that she or he “needs to do some research.” Finding a particular poem needs research; so does finding a music album, or a particular brand, style, or size of shoes.

With the expanding influence of consumer goods on the lives of common people, market research has acquired great power. Firstly, the products that members of society consume, be they houses, cars, items of clothing, or sunglasses, are the outcomes of research. Secondly, the various subtle and sophisticated processes of persuasion—the brand names by which a product is called, the faces that flash, the music that plays during a commercial, the pictures of heroes, stars, or muscle men on packaging-are all subject to market research.

The service industry is just as much shaped and controlled by research. The kind of plays, movies, or TV shows that are likely to become popular (hence, profitable) are not guessed and gam­bled on any more. Entrepreneurs intending to start a new prod­uct a few decades ago needed to do the familiar “market survey.” Now, they go to specialty companies that “do research” to find the answer to fit the client’s requirement. Lawyers searching for precedents, doctors looking for case histories, accountants look­ing for loopholes to minimize taxes: all engage in matters of research. Though one may question the accuracy of the word “research” in these contexts, the word, of course, is free for all. But we want to point out that research, as discussed in this book, is meant to be scientific research in its broadest sense. Accord­ingly, ornithologists observing the nesting habits of the peregrine falcon, pharmacologists trying to reduce the side effects of a drug, zoologists planning to clone a camel: all these, besides hun­dreds of other activities, may be considered academic, technical, or scientific research.

Further effort calls for a bifurcation, somewhat overlapping, between research activities that are scientific in nature and those that are not; this site deals only with the former, meaning, research in those areas that are conventionally considered “science.” Thus, although several thousand Ph.D. dissertations being written throughout the world in the areas of philosophy, political science, literature, and so forth, are research efforts, these, for our purpose, offer mar­ginal interest. And even within science, this book deals only with those research works that are experimental in nature. This distinction requires that we clarify the phrase “experimental research” even further.

Source: Srinagesh K (2005), The Principles of Experimental Research, Butterworth-Heinemann; 1st edition.

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