Bias research

In the behavioral sciences, the difficulties of studying complex, changing interactions among living beings led to investigations of possible sources of bias. For example, the gender, race, class, and even presence of a researcher during an interview have been shown to influence the responses of the interviewee (Oakley). Researchers sought to apply the scientific method to problems in the behavioral sciences, in an attempt to eliminate bias.

Like all scholars, scientists hold, either explicitly or implicitly, certain beliefs concerning their enterprise. Most scientists try to use what they assume to be the best information to collect data and draw theories to elucidate the laws and facts that will be constant, providing that experiments have been done correctly. But the individuals who make observations and create theories are people who live in a particular country at a certain time in a definable socioeconomic condition, and their situations and mentalities impinge on their discoveries. Aristotle "counted" fewer teeth in the mouths of women than in those of men— adding this dentitional inferiority to all the others he asserted characterized women (Arditti). Galen, having read the book of Genesis, "discovered" that men had one less rib on one side than women did (Webster and Webster). Neither is true, and both would be refuted easily by observation of what would appear by today's standards to be easily verifiable facts. Although they also could count, they took these to be "nonclassical cases" because what we take to be facts can vary depending upon the theory or paradigm—the specific problematics, concepts, theories, language, and methods— guiding the scientist.

Because most scientists, feminists, and philosophers of science recognize that no individual can live a life and be entirely neutral or value-free since science and values are both very important. To some, "objectivity is defined to mean independence from the value judgments of any particular individual" (Jaggar, p. 357). The paradigms themselves, however, also are far from value-free. The values of a culture, in the historical past and the present society, heavily influence the ordering of observable phenomena into a theory. The worldview of a particular society, time, and person limits the questions that can be asked, and thereby the answers that can be given. Therefore, the very acceptance of a particular paradigm that appears to cause a "scientific revolution" within a society may depend at least in part upon the congruence of that theory with the institutions and beliefs of the society (Kuhn).

Elizabeth Potter (2001) documented Boyle's choice of the mechanistic model to explain his Law of Gases both because it comported well with the data and because it supported the status quo of conservative religion and monarchy of the seventeenth century with regard to class and gender compared to the competing animistic model seen as more radical socially. Scholars suggest that Darwin's theory of natural selection was ultimately accepted by his contemporaries (whereas they did not accept similar theories as described by Alfred Russel Wallace and others) because Darwin emphasized the congruence between the values of his theory and those held by the upper classes of Victorian Britain (Rose and Rose). Social Darwinists used Darwin's theory to base the political and social rights to their wealth and power held by men and the upper classes in biological determinism. In this manner Darwin's data and theories reinforced the natural superiority of wealthy men, making his theories acceptable to the leaders of Victorian English society. Fausto-Sterling's research (1999) revealed how different societies at particular historical periods have also used varying biological and genetic data as determinants for the social construction of gender and race.

Not only what is accepted, but what and how we study, have normative features. Helen Longino (1990) has explored the extent to which methods employed by scientists can be objective, in the sense of not being related to individual values, and lead to repeatable, verifiable results while contributing to hypotheses or theories that are congruent with nonobjective institutions and ideologies such as gender, race, and class that are socially constructed in the society: "Background assumptions are the means by which contextual values and ideology are incorporated into scientific inquiry" (p. 216). For example, scientists may calculate rocket trajectories and produce bombs that efficiently destroy living beings without raising the ethical questions of whether the money and effort for this research to support the military could be better spent on other research questions that might be solved by using similar objective methods.

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Anxiety and Depression 101

Anxiety and Depression 101

Everything you ever wanted to know about. We have been discussing depression and anxiety and how different information that is out on the market only seems to target one particular cure for these two common conditions that seem to walk hand in hand.

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