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Table of Contents
Index
Glossary
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Next: Scientific articles Up: Scientific communication via articles Previous: Stage IV: Assimilating


  
2.1.2 Communication in experimental science

In this section, we examine some characteristics of experimental science that influence its communication and hence lead to a specification of the requirements for adequate scientific communication.2.14

Communication is the essence of science, because science is a co-operative effort.2.15 Scientists can incorporate previous work in their own research, and they can use feedback to improve their work. This co-operative effort is usually organised in a research programme: a set of methodological rules, with a constellation of beliefs, values and techniques shared by a particular scientific community.2.16 In experimental science, this sharing is very important, because experimental science is supposed to refer to the `real world', so that all scientists try to explain the same real world.2.17

Another important characteristic of science is that it is always open to critical scrutiny. In empirical science, no scientific information is permanent and irrefutable.2.18 If a particular theory does not explain the observations, the theory may be invalid, or the empirical data may be unreliable. However, disagreement between theory and observation does not automatically entail that either has to be definitively discarded. Finding that the theory turns out not to be applicable to the observation, i.e. that it turns out not to be valid in the domain of the observations, leads to the specification of restrictions of the theory. The canonical example is the `overthrow' of the Newtonian theory of gravity by Einstein's theory of general relativity. Newtonian physics have not been discarded but restricted: in situations in which the gravity is sufficiently low it is still applied, but in the neighbourhood of a neutron star, for instance, the theory of general relativity explains the observations better. Thus, scientific information is not permanent, and it can be restricted to a particular range or domain.

In this thesis, we consider research as a problem-solving process . This problem-solving can involve the induction of general statements from specific observations, the deduction of specific predictions from general theories, and the testing of hypotheses. In practice, the research usually can neither be realistically described as pure induction, nor as deduction, and the scientists do not necessarily make any hypotheses explicit. This is the reason why we take the broader problem-solution pattern as a starting point.2.19

In a prototypical problem-solving process, the following subsequent steps can be distinguished. First, the initial situation is determined. Then, the problem that arises in this situation is identified and analysed. In response to this problem, a method is developed and executed to solve the problem. This leads to results, which, in the last stage, are evaluated to see if the problem has indeed been solved.  The way this process manifests itself in ordinary discourse is described, for example, in [Hoey, 1983] and  [Jordan, 1984]. In practice, the steps of the process do not have to be taken subsequently, and the discourse describing it does not have to be read  sequentially either: the structure can be non-linear.

In this thesis, we focus on experimental research: empirical research in which  data are obtained in scientific experiments.  This type of research is a particular type of problem-solving process: solving concrete problems in the context of a research programme. The interplay between experiment and theory can be very complex, but basically the response to the problem involves experimental methods, which lead to experimental results, which then are discussed in the light of a theoretical framework. The prototypical structure of scientific articles  follows this problem-solving process: experimental articles are usually made up of the sections Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion and (less prototypically) Conclusions. This structure is frequently abbreviated as IMRDC or IMRaD.2.20


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