Do researchers and decision makers rely solely on the facts or are they influenced by the opinions and beliefs of themselves or others?
According to Daniel Gilbert, "Research suggests that decision-makers don't realize just how easily and often their objectivity is compromised. The human brain knows many tricks that allow it to consider evidence, weigh facts and still reach precisely the conclusion it favors."
As Jonah Lehrer explains:
The reason we're so resistant to anomalous information - the real reason researchers automatically assume that every unexpected result is a stupid mistake - is rooted in the way the human brain works. Over the past few decades, psychologists have dismantled the myth of objectivity. The fact is, we carefully edit our reality, searching for evidence that confirms what we already believe. (Lehrer 2010, 83)
According to Harper and Huh, "no inquiry or assessment approach— quantitative, historical, qualitative, or multimethod—can be completely objective." (Harper, 6)
As Janesick (2000, 385) put it, “There is no value-free or bias-free design . . . the myth that research is objective in some way can no longer be taken seriously. At this point in time, all researchers should be free to challenge prevailing myths, such as the myth of objectivity”.
In "Ten myths of science" by William McComas:
Myth 8. Scientists are Particularly Objective
Scientists are no different in their level of objectivity than are other professionals. They are careful in the analysis of evidence and in the procedures applied to arrive at conclusions. With this admission, it may seem that this myth is valid, but contributions from both the philosophy of science and psychology reveal that there are at least three major reasons that make complete objectivity impossible.
According to Liam Marsh:
Objectivity is also a powerful myth that prevails over the world of science and, hence, that of psychology. There is a belief that there is a static reality outside of ourselves that exists on its own, independent of observers. From this comes the idea of truth; the idea that there is somehow a right answer; a way the world truly is. The whole idea of scientific methodology and experimentation exists to serve this fantasy, that there is a method which will give to us the truth, the real nature of things. A theory can be shown irrefutable and certainty can be obtained. The unknown can become known. The question, answered. Woven into this story is the assumption of natural laws. The idea that there are rules or laws which all things abide by. These laws of nature are reliable as well for they never change and always applies. In the stories of science are many peculiar beliefs which purport the unbelievable.
To counter this we need to utilize tools and disparate viewpoints to help us when objectivity is important. Tools that enable us to uncover and understand our biases. Alternate viewpoints that balance our biases.
- Gilbert, Daniel. I'm O.K., You're Biased. The New York Times. 4/16/06.(NY Times)
- Gillispie, C.C. The Edge of Objectivity: An Essay in the History of Scientific Ideas (Google Books)
- Harper, S.R and G.D. Huh. "Myths and Misconceptions About Using Qualitative Methods in Assessment", New Directions for Institutional Research, no. 136, Winter 2007, Wiley.
- Hodson, D. (1986). "The mature of scientific observation." School Science Review, 58(242), 17-28.
- Janesick, V. J. “The Choreography of Qualitative Research Design.” In N. Denzin and Y. S. Lincoln (eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Research. (2nd ed.) Thousand Oaks,Calif.: Sage, 2000.
- Lehrer, Jonah. Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up. Wired. Jan 2010. (Wired)
- Lehrer, Jonah. How We Decide. Houghton Mifflin 2/9/09.
- Marsh, Liam. The Fantasy of Science: Psychology's Struggle with a Persona. 1996. The Ares Press. (text)
- McComas, William, "Ten myths of science: Reexamining what we think we know....," Vol. 96, School Science & Mathematics, 01-01-1996, pp 10. (text)
- Popper, K. R. (1963). Conjectures and refutations: The growth of scientific knowledge. New York: Harper and Row.
- Porter, T.M. Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life. 1995. Princeton University Press, Princeton. (text)
- Scheffler, I. (1967/1982). "Objectivity Under Attack" (pp. 1-19). In Science and Subjectivity. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merill. (text)