The scientific method is a systematic way to explore and explain a series of events that may contribute to the body of knowledge. It is also applied to challenge or support existing theories that have accumulated from a number of research studies over time. The scientific method involves the following steps: observations, formulation of hypothesis, testing of the hypothesis, analysis of derived data from a series of test and drawing inferences or generalizations. Thus, the scientific method is a standardized method that is employed when acquiring knowledge.
Social science research has been defined in some literature as "any scientific study of human action and interaction" with emphasis given on thought and behavior that are relevant to the social aspects of nature. Social science somehow shares the same principle in formulating theories and obtaining knowledge with natural science (Bhattacherjee, 2012). The scientific method that has been applied to social sciences also include different approaches and techniques depending on the nature of the research study being undertaken. Some of these approaches include descriptive, relational and causal types. Research tools also vary from surveys, interviews and quantitative statistics, experiments and so on.
What sets natural science apart from the social sciences is that it is very precise and accurate, deterministic and predictive and the observations made by an individual are free of biases from other observations. Scientific method in the natural science should meet the following aspects: parsimony, replicability, precision and falsibility. Parsimony is that accepted simplest explanation from a series of explanations to describe one phenomenon. Replicability is referred to as that which a scientific study can be replicated or repeated and the results that will be obtained is expected to be similar from the previous results of the same study. Precision on the other hand is a defined measurement used to test a theory while falsibility is acknowledging the fact that a theory can be disproved.
However, precision and replicability can become a problem in the social sciences because of its subjective nature. That is; defining constructs can become very problematic because it varies from one method that was used to collect data in one study to other methods that was employed in other studies. Further, natural science in most cases operates under a controlled environment while in social science, people's perception varies from time to time. However, it is still undeniable that the scientific method is a powerful tool to obtain knowledge, especially when one executes the method properly (King, Keohane and Verba, 1994).
In an attempt for instance, to understand how such perceptions of the society about obesity affect the statistics or number of incidence of the disease, various methodological approaches have been made available for reserchers. As what has been previously been mentioned, a researcher can conduct interviews to summarized the general perception of the public about eating habits and beauty. But interviews cannot establish a direct causal relationship on the increasing rates of obesity and the public perception. One cannot say that when the public perceives that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," it doesn't generally equate to encouraging the people to choose the diet that they prefer (i.e. voraciously eating unhealthy food). A robust causal relationship in natural science such as physics means that the variables thar were considered as determinants have a high predictive power. That is; one can actually estimate how much force is needed to apply to break an object with a given size and weight. In the field of meteorology, the model to predict storm signals needs to be as accurate as possible to give time for people to prepare for a disaster that awaits them.
As the scientific method is employed in trying to answer how public perceptions influence the eating habit and self-esteem of obese individuals, it should be taken into consideration that public perceptions about obese individuals—both good and bad—must be clearly delineated. The scope or the extent of research must be also delimited since another general research question can branched out from the main question. For instance, how does the government mandate and the media shape public perceptions of people who are considered overweight and obese. How does the mandate of the government on the freedom to choose to eat whatever an individual wants and how much an individual wants to eat contribute to the growing numbers of obese in the United States?
If we stick to the main research question "How Does the American Society's Perception of an Obese Relate to the Prevalence of Obesity?" then hypothesis would be: there is no existing correlation between the public perception on the eating habits and behavior of obese to the prevalence of the disease. In testing this hypothesis, one can use a relational approach to determine how much of the public agrees that obesity should not be encourage because of the underlying health risks such as diabetes and hypertension. Questions like what is the public perception about being overweight? Do these perceptions help the obese to improve their self-esteem such that these people are motivated to improve their wellness and health conditions? Or Do these perceptions lower the morale of other people that further leads to overeating? And how does it seem so?
One can consider undertaking a survey method in which the common perception of people about eating habits will be questioned and also their perception about beauty and how these factors make people more depressed and anxious; or how these factors condition the mind of other people such that these people are encouraged to eat more. Upon determining public perceptions through a Likert scale these results could be related to the perceptions of obese regarding their eating habits. Secondary data such as medical records can help determine the people that best fit the sampling requirements.
Since the approach is relational, appropriate statistical methods such as chi-square and odds ratio can be used as a tool to determine whether the relationship that is being established is significant. That is; to test whether the hypothesis proves to be correct or if there are other crucial factors that were excluded in the study that should probably agree to the hypothetical results. Since the research question implies a relational and not a causal type of research, the inferences that can be drawn is only limited to scope of the study. It does not establish a robust predictive results unlike causal studies however, the results could be use to further test theories and hypotheses.
Relational studies can be very useful in the meta-analysis of data. In meta-analysis several studies that used different methods are compiled to find a general trend about a particular phenomena. It may not be as robusts as the causal types of research where it involves highly quantitative data. However, the results of meta-analysis can also help in identifying research gaps that are needed to be studied. Various psychosocial studies uses meta-analysis to determine patterns and trends from existing studies to improve the precision of the current study--something that is deemed problematic in the social sciences, but that which could be improved.
Statistical analysis is also one important aspect of the scientific method to test the validity of the suppositions and verify whether there is a significant result that could either refute or support an argument. As what have been mentioned earlier, the constructs defined in the field of social sciences varies widely. Obesity alone is a social construct that can is very obscure. Sometimes, the term is often interchanged with the words fat and overweight. But obscurity begs the question when is a person overweight and when is a person obese? What exactly are the determinants? Is the result of the body-mass index gives an accurate measure of obesity? Through meta-analysis constructs can be limited, thereby giving a clear cut definition of two constructs which in turn, makes it possible to proceed to make a logical analysis of two separate entities. While experiments are not involved in the attempt to find the relstionship between public perception and obesity. The logical steps in the scientific are very important in seeking knowledge in the social sciences.
Bhattacherjee, A. (2012). Social Science Research: Principles, Methods, and Practices. Tampa, FL: Creative Commons.
King, G., Keohane, R. O. and Verb, S. (1994). Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.