The nature of scientific experiments originates from the inherent desire of a person to explore the world around and to discover new, but previously hidden from him/her, secrets of the surrounding environment. If earlier a lot of experiments were held because of the necessity to change the conditions of living and to improve the living standards, with time, experiments also began to be carried out in order to refine the existing results.
Nowadays, experiments are widely conducted in any sphere of science and are adjusted according to the peculiarities of a certain field. Nevertheless, the steps and the procedures involved in a scientific method remain the same. The first and foremost condition for carrying out an experiment is the emergence of a certain question, asked by a scientist, who is researching a certain field of study. For a study to be a success, it should cover a rather specific and small area and deal with some narrow topic of investigation. The next step is to provide some background information for the conducted research. The scientist needs to have the basis, which he/she can rely on and be guided in his further studies. It is inappropriate to underestimate the significance of the scientific background as it gives the understanding of the future processes and excludes the possibility of perceiving the results that have been achieved earlier as the brand new ones.
After the question has been asked and the necessary background information has been gathered, a hypothesis should be put forward. In other words, it is the assumption that the scientist will obtain certain results under given circumstances. The further stage is devoted to finding proof for the hypothesis by conducting the experiment itself. At this point, the researcher should choose specific and measurable parameters, or variables, which will be tested during the experiment. The researcher should have two groups of material; one is experimental, which underlies the testing, and another one is control, which has original characteristics and is used to measure the difference between the obtained results and the initial characteristics.
To conduct a full-fledged experiment, it is essential to carry out as many experiments as possible in order to get a number of outcomes and see the variation between them. The difference between the obtained results serves as the basis for proving the reliability and validity of the data in future. Another important component of the experiment is scrupulous collection of data and its analysis. After all the experiments have been carried out and the data has been collected and analyzed, the researcher should draw a conclusion, whether his/her hypothesis proved to be right or wrong and how the results can be used for the following studies. The final step is to share the results with the public.
This procedure of the scientific method originates from the ancient times when the main method of testing any assumption involved practice. These empirical experiments have gradually transformed into what is now considered a scientific experiment. All of its steps, including making a hypothesis and proving it with the help of two groups of subjects, serve for minimizing the risk of acquiring false results or unreliable data. In order to be able to assess the obtained results in any sphere of life, there should be specific criteria and an acknowledged routine of activities. For this reason, in the field of scientific research, the necessity of a unique established procedure is developed through making attempts to create certain standards in order to be able to assess the plausibility of the research. Otherwise, it would not be possible to define which experiment provides really important results and which one repeats the previous achievements.
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First of all, the core prerequisites for trusting the results of an experiment should be the reliability and validity of the research. The reliability of an experiment is based on the idea that the results of the experiment are not a one-time occurrence being repeatable. Moreover, it is vital that if performed under the same conditions by any other researchers, this experiment would provide the same results. In its turn, the validity of the research is the accuracy of the results in terms of the real world. If multiple experiments show the same results with little variation, they can be considered reliable. However, if the results are far from the reality, they cannot be perceived as valid (Shuttleworth, n.d.) Scrupulous following of the steps of a scientific research ensures the reliability of the results. Therefore, it becomes clear that the scientific community is likely to accept the results of the experiment if the research has been conducted according to the established procedures and provides reliable data.
However, as it becomes evident from the everyday life, a lot of experiments appear to be wrong or not as outstanding as they are claimed to be. There are a number of reasons why it is better to be careful about the plausibility of the experiments conducted nowadays. Every day, the media is filled with the new discoveries and conclusions in relation to all spheres of our life. It is necessary to understand that, unfortunately, a lot of experiments are conducted and claimed to be prominent and astounding just because their authors are searching for quick fame and acknowledgement. “A combination of small studies with the high popularity of a highly-funded, bandwagon-topic is a high-risk combination and may lead to a lot of irreproducible results and spurious claims for discoveries that are out of proportion” (Stix, 2013). The media hype created around a particular research and, consequently, another breaking conclusion results in financial gains and rating not only for the media but for the researching companies too. Therefore the current situation with the conducted researches shows that the pursuit of sensation leads to the need to publish conclusions which might not have been proved valid. One of the most evident proofs that researches are often either exaggerated or published before any decent checking has been done is the impossibility to replicate these experiments to obtain the same results. One of the studies showed that while trying to repeat some researches from important papers in pharmaceuticals, only in 10 % to 25 % of cases it was possible to obtain the same results. Among the possible causes of such phenomenon could be “publish-or-perish culture and the incentives for cherry-picking data” as suggested by scholars (Berg, 2013, p.2).
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The existence of competition even between scientific journals proves the idea that quick publishing of the results is an attractive feature not only for the authors but for the editors as well. The impact factor is the criterion according to which the popularity and influence of a certain journal is estimated. It is based on the number of citations of articles included in it, which means that the article printed in a journal with a high impact factor, would be referred to significantly more often than any other research paper. After assuming that the given article contains unreliable data, the rate of spreading this information increases dramatically. Thus, it becomes clear why the speed of communicating results goes ahead of the conclusion verification.
What remains under the question is how we can check whether the published results of researches can be trusted. Again, it should be noted that the replicability of the experiments is one of the cornerstones of the reliable conclusions. Jeremy Berg (2013) in his article “The Reliability of Scientific Research” cites an example of lack of professional competence stating that “investigators, when confronted with the lack of replicability of one of their published works, made comments indicating that the experiment “worked” only one out of 10 times but that successful result is the result that they published”(p.3). He also emphasizes that the responsibility for the reliable data lies on the authors of the research, who should provide the most detailed and complete descriptions of the conducted research, as well as the reviewers of manuscripts, who should check the works for the information that would allow repeating the given experiment.
Marcus R. Munaf? and Jonathan Flint (2010) suggest that there should be introduced higher standards for publishing the results of an experiment by editors and reviewers of manuscripts. For instance, they might demand publication of previous plans of research in order to control the compliance with the procedure as well as triple-blind collection and analysis of information in order to simplify transparent reporting. In their turn, the readers should also be more considerate and selective. They should understand that articles in the journals with high impact factor might be less reliable than those published in the journals with low impact factor, and they therefore should pay more attention to the scope of effect rather than the statistical figures (Munaf? & Flint, 2010). It is important to understand that anything published in mass media, even in the most reputable academic journals, should not be accepted as the absolute truth. The readers should approach all investigations with critical thinking, evaluating the probability of the conclusions, analyzing the circumstances of the performed experiment and, most of all, bearing in mind the on-going pursuit for sensations.
This is the situation where education of the readers becomes especially important. The level of expertise of the person, reading the report about the conclusions of an experiment, plays the key role in the perception of this information. Scientists who are experienced in the area of study and generally have a skeptical approach are more likely to question the emerging discoveries and to check the plausibility over time or via other sources. Meanwhile, those people who are either new in this scientific area or do not have appropriate experience, such as undergraduates, postgraduates or average citizens, would be easily misled by the unjustified information. As stated by Gutting (2012):
Media reports often seem to assume that any result presented as “scientific” has a claim to our serious attention…There is considerable distance between, say, the confidence we should place in astronomers’ calculations of eclipses and a small marketing study suggesting that consumers prefer laundry soap in blue boxes.
As a result, an increasingly larger number of experimental conclusions are claimed as false positive or not actual any more than other researches with more valuable and reliable data obtained. In such case, people get into a vicious circle, where it is not clear which experimental results can be trusted. Therefore, it is undoubtedly true that no discovery and conclusion should be followed blindly by people, without double-checking of the results or just a healthy portion of criticism.
All the mentioned above criteria and conditions of a reliable scientific experiment work well for the natural sciences, in other words, the spheres where quantitative analysis is appropriate, since these fields of science use figures and measurable variables. However, as far as social sciences are concerned, the results of scientific research might be even harder to prove as reliable. Firstly, the probability of repeating the performance of the experiment decreases as there appear many factors which might influence the ultimate results. As long as we deal with people, the experiments are more difficult to replicate under the same conditions as we are complex organisms with a number of quickly changing features, such as mood, psychological state, stress levels, etc. Therefore, the likelihood of obtaining the same results again and again is less probable than, for example, in medical or physical research.
The same ideas are applicable to educational studies as well. It is important that in this case, we deal with some instruments of influencing people; in these sciences, the reliability of the experiment is based more on the comparisons of the instruments, which should also be reliable (Shuttleworth, n.d.). Ellen Drost (2011) specifies the methods of testing the reliability of scientific research. One of the possible methods to verify the instruments is a test-retest method, which includes performing the same experiment over some period of time and presupposes the stability of the results throughout all sessions. It is also used to prove that the results obtained during the experiment are stable over time. However, here again we deal with the human nature and in terms of the correctness of results, there might be a lot of discrepancies between the first and the second test. The possible limitation might be the interval between the sessions. If the time period is too short, the answers can be remembered by the respondents, and on the other hand, if the period is too long, the respondents might change their mind in terms of their opinions, behavior, preferences, etc. There are also alternative forms, which are similar to the previous method, but measure different abilities during the sessions, and in case the difference is low, it can be assumed that there were errors in the measurement.
Another method to test reliability is split-half approach. It uses a number of instruments, which are divided into two groups. Both of them measure the same behavior simultaneously, and the correlation between the results is assessed in order to acquire the reliability. This method excludes the disadvantages of a test-retest method, as the measures should be parallel.
Interrater reliability is characterized by the participation of judges in the measuring. In this case, it is important to correlate the assessment of different judges, which would contribute to both the reliability of the research and the reliability of a judge in a particular measurement activity.
Internal consistency test measures different versions of the same instrument. It explores the question of how well the chosen instruments serve for measuring the necessary information. Basically, this method is aimed at checking the reliability of the test components. In this case, the coefficient alpha is used in order to identify the level of correlation between the components, which in its turn will show the level of reliability of the experiment. The more items there are, the higher the coefficient is, and consequently, the more reliable the test is.
As it can be seen, the interconnection of different sciences is immense and educational field is provided with all kinds of scientific instruments, such as empirical experiments, technical terms and mathematical data, which serve for correct prediction of future results. However, the peculiarity of social sciences is that it is impossible to measure a human precisely, and make sure that these results will be stable in all other circumstances and over some time.
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Therefore, it is clear that in such scientific field as education, it is very hard to achieve consistent, close in figures results. That is why, when we hear about the new conclusions put forward against the previous ones, it should be clear for us that educational experiments are very likely to be biased, as they involve not only changing the circumstances but also a personal evaluation of the researcher. If in natural sciences, the scholars tend to ground their research on exact figures and indicators, in social sciences, particularly in education, a lot of conclusions are made according to the judgment of investigators and therefore might be skewed. It is necessary to explore the details, while analyzing the background of the research, its prerequisites and conditions, and particularly the instruments that have been used during the experiments. In this case, the readers might draw a more or less justified conclusion about the reliability of the given experiment.
While some scholars argue that social sciences cannot provide absolutely reliable and exact data, others believe that there has been a lot of progress concerning the bias in testing (Gutting, 2012). Educational field certainly aims to provide the most exact and reliable results of any achievement. Therefore, this sphere also has a number of instruments used in any research. Taking into account the possibility of giving out bias information, the measurement is crucial in educational environment. It is important for the researchers to have a clear idea of learning results of students and the context of their learning. One of the useful sources of information is archival data, which provide the figures about the students’ progress, absence or detention, or results of the standardized tests. In addition, scientists use a number of other tests in order to measure such areas as achievement, aptitude, personality, attitude or interest, and behavior (Drost, 2011) When working with people, it becomes clear that all these tests are highly dependent on personal characteristics and cannot be universal. Although all of them contain a number of variables, such option as a self-report test, for example, gives the idea of a person’s feelings, motives and behavior. While all the results might be more or less fitting into one classification, it is evident that the results of such testing might be skewed.
Overall, the researches in the educational field are faced with a lot of questions, concerning the reliability of the data. Therefore, it can be often heard that certain experiments have provided results, which deny the reliability of the previous ones. What is important to realize is that education as well as any other social science is the field, where variation of results is very likely due to the changes in circumstances of the experiment. Consequently, every time the results of a new experiment are obtained, people should be ready to check the reliability of the research. It is necessary to verify the procedure of this experiment, its background, the circumstances, under which the experiment was carried out and the source, where the results were published. This set of criteria brings us nearer to the understanding of the research and its plausibility.
To conclude, the number of researches conducted today in all spheres of life is growing dramatically. The main reason for such development of experimental field lies not only in the desire to make the world better, but also in the pursuit of fame and profit. Therefore, people need to have a critical opinion regarding the emerging experiments and double check the essence of the research before it is implemented. Educational field is a particular area, where the reliability of the research might be sometimes hard to prove. Meanwhile, its importance cannot be underestimated, as educational experiments eventually contribute to the development of a personality.