Another Look at Scientific Research @ Veritas University, Abuja

At a time when the conception and practice of scientific research is most crowded with contestations and consequences, from positivism versus post-positivism to amazing bioengineering practices, the question of what is scientific method itself is the puzzle to take down. This is what Sky Eyeing Veritas University, Abuja in Nigeria is doing by setting aside two days for a workshop thereto. Professor Ode Ojowu, ex-Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria Economist as well as former Chief Economic Adviser, and Prof Emeka Aniagolu of Ohio Wesleyan University in the United States conducted the workshop that was attended by all academic staff of Veritas University. Kicking off the conversation at the University’s brand new structure, Prof Aniagolu, situated the research enterprise in its university context - the university as a community of scholars involved in sedate reflection and the dynamic challenge of the mind, a community whose members share the pleasant burden of taking note of curious phenomena more than its Others. He provides a refreshing broad sweep of how the scientific researcher proceeds in the attempt to solve whatever the puzzle s/he might have observed. This starts with making an observation, forming a question about the snag, then a hypothesis to guide the research, conducting the research, analyzing the data and coming out with a conclusion. It might look like the classical schema of the scientific research but the wider historical contexts and dosage of background information, exemplification and disclaimers provided by the resource person made them come alive with an uncommon force of newness. Added to those dosages are fascinating takes such as when he pointed out how all paradigms contain anomalies and how the manifestation of these anomalies undo them. Both Aniagolu and Ojowu, separately, brings back the big battle that attends paradigm shifts, the great resistance to such shifts no matter how self-evident the anomalies might have become. But, as Aniagolu said, paradigms do shift, that being how Newtonian Physics collapsed to the force of the theory of Relativity in Physics. He cited that as the most classical paradigmatic rupture. And then goes on to add or warn, if you like, that the scientific method is not exclusive to the hard sciences – Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Medicine and so on. The social world and its academic disciplines – Economics, Political Science, History, Literature, Sociology – can equally be studied scientifically. This can be done via quantitative and qualitative approaches. Quotes The relationship between the two is, for him, far more complex than would be suggested by drawing a simple distinction between them. There is no such China Wall as both could be found employing techniques from each other’s territory. What is the role of theory in all these and what’s the relationship between theory and hypothesis was the next question confronted at length, beginning with what the hell is theory itself. It turned out that this was the section that dominated the questions and answers section eventually during which more clarifications were offered by Prof Aniagolu. Then there was a break and the second segment devoted to the complicated question of ethics in research, the graveyard of the scientific research enterprise because, even as central as it is, many researchers do not obey it. The speaker outlined what is involved: honesty; objectivity in scienticism; carefulness in handling documents and data; integrity; confidentiality in dealing with respondents, etc; social responsibility sense because research is to serve human beings, not the other way round; respect for intellectual property, the theft of which has been the stuff of history though; animal care; openness; respect for colleagues and plagiarism compliance, amongst others. Again his examples made the difference. One of such examples was this. He referred to a newspaper article titled “Cultural Sensitivity Versus Cultural Nationalism” and what the writer meant:there is nothing wrong in being conscious or sensitive to and celebrating ones cultural identity but “our ethnic identity does not come before our humanity”. It is those sorts of examples that made each stage of the nearly 4 hour presentation a huge meal for further reflection for everyone. It was upon this rather expansive sweep that Professor Ode Ojowu erected his presentation, dealing with the two broad traditions of research he identified; quantitative and qualitative. Later on, he clarified on classificatory schema for researches. A research can be Basic or Applied research and then quantitative, (also known as quants for short) or qualitative (quals for short). It is basic research when it is academic, so to say but applied when targeted at problem solving. It is quants or quals depending on the methodological technique. It could be an action research, a case study, a correlational research or an experimental research when the classification is based on the adoption of specific methods and goals. “Generally, however, all researches could be classified as either inductive or deductive”, he said, But, for him, knowledge does not come from quantitative or quantitative researches only but also from revelation. He advancesa taxonomy of the basic differences between quants and quals, basically along the positivist/post-positivist borders. Thus while quants is deductive in approach, quals is inductive; while quants is about breadth in goal, quals is about depth; while the setting in quants is (quasi) experimental, it is natural in quals; while sample frame is probabilistic in quants, it is purposeful in quals; while the data in quants is numbers, they are words and images in quals; while the data analysis in quants is statistical, it is interpretive in quals and while the value insistence is of detachment or objectivity in quants, it is ‘subjective’ and reflexive in quals. This section went on to the sequence in quals research, especially literature review, handling retrieval and the likes, with considerable attention to archival. Prof Ojowu then moved to examine different techniques, starting with ethnographic research, emphasizing its great advantage in terms of the completeness of information it produces but without failing to draw attention to the time, risk and subjectivity problems involved. The risk issue is a major one in the Africa context because it is an environment that is simply hostile to certain of its realities such as witches and witchcraft which can easily be studied by any researcher in much of the Western world where they even publicise their activities. Interview, Focus Group Discussion, Thematic Analysis were equally treated before he brought in what he calls Non-traditional research, in this case, the big data bug. He took time to expatiate on criteria for quality research. His list included clear definition of research purpose; elaborate description of research procedure; careful planning of research design; frank reportage of flaws in procedure, adequate analysis of data; researcher’s reputation and integrity and logicality of presentation. Out of these points, the most interesting must be the section on researcher’s integrity, with particular reference to plagiarism – how damaging an effect it has on the whole idea of the intellectual enterprise. The Prof could be heard at a point uttering words to the effect that “you are a thief when you take someone else’s ideas without giving credit”. He was that blunt.The greater tragedy is how everyone suffers for the indiscretion of just one person when there is a case of plagiarism in, say, a university community. Plagiarism, he also said, is comparable to wearing a white Babanriga only for it to show a thick patch of oil. That patch, he said, is what everyone else would be more interested in rather than the overwhelming or fascinating Babanriga. All the two fascinating resource persons agreed on basically the key issues involved, with each saying in his own way that definitive of research is systematic reasoning. In Ojowu’s words, it rejects intuition but it welcomes creative engagement. For Prof Aniagolu, “social research is a research conducted by a social scientist following a systematic plan”. Products of different generations but same positivist sensibility, with a touch of Afrocentric hue