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Can a group of scientists, especially within the realm of psychology, interpret data...

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lt1017 | Student, Undergraduate | Salutatorian

Posted July 5, 2013 at 8:20 PM via web

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Can a group of scientists, especially within the realm of psychology, interpret data from an experiment differently? 

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kipling2448 | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted July 6, 2013 at 2:15 AM (Answer #1)

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Not only can scientists interpret data from an experiment differently, they frequently do.  Scientists themselves suffer from the same psychological phenomena they identify in others, and are prone to the same mistakes as are others.  Social scientists in particular have a tendency to interpret data according to their personal biases and misconceptions, especially when there is a political or ideological aspect to the experiment being conducted.

In the realm of the physical sciences, differences of opinion on how to interpret data, while less common, nevertheless do occur.  Astronomers frequently differ regarding the meaning of data collected from space probes and through telescopic observation.  If mathematical precision is not a luxury in a particular experiment, then different interpretations of data are more likely.  

Within the field of psychology, the room for differences of interpretation is much greater.  The human brain remains, in many ways, as much of a mystery as ever with regard to why individuals or groups act in a certain way under certain conditions.  Discussions regarding behavior characteristics of certain species, animal or human, can demonstrate wide divergencies between schools of thought.  The psychological component of the study of international affairs or political science -- for example, why leaders make the decisions they make -- is very much subject to interpretation.

Psychologists are able to arrive at a consensus on the data derived from certain types of experiments.  Why and how mice traverse mazes depending upon the risks or rewards awaiting them at the end may lend itself to a single logical interpretation; why criminals prey on certain categories of victims, or habitually commit certain types of crime, is far less conclusive.

Scientists, including psychologists, can and do also differ frequently regarding the validity of the experiment itself.  Differences of opinion regarding whether the proper variables were introduced into the experiment, whether test subjects were properly prepared, whether questions asked of test subjects were biases or leading, and other disputes regarding methodology are fairly common.  That is why an emphasis is usually placed on "peer-reviewed" research: before the conclusions are submitted for publication, other experts in the field are asked to go over the data, methodology, and conclusions to find any possible flaws.

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