Against Digital Research Methodologies

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Information about Against Digital Research Methodologies

Published on May 10, 2013

Author: Downes



This is a description of my approach to research, based on problems inherent in traditional descriptions of scientific method, and the ways I have adapted my own work to compensate. It is a research process more like discovery, more like learning a language, than it is about forming hypotheses and confirming theories. For audio and video please see

Against Digital Research MethodologiesStephen DownesMay 10, 2013

Caveats• This is a report, not aprescription• I’m not arguing – at best, I’mexplaining, but not in thesense that you can generalizefrom that

The traditional viewThe steps of the scientificmethod are to:• Ask a Question• Do Background Research• Construct a Hypothesis• Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment• Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion• Communicate Your ResultsVia Science Buddies also:

Research MethodsThis model is pretty much thecore of most research mothods• Design Research• Observational Research• Qualitative Research / Grounded Theory

HD-MethodThis model is known as theHypothetico-Deductive Method• cf. mid-1800s• Updated by Carl Hempel as theDeductive-Nomological Model• “Inference to the Best Explanation”

I am an Empiricist• Observation and experienceare the foundation ofknowledge• There is no ‘synthetic apriori’Hume“Hume maintained that all knowledge, eventhe most basic beliefs about the natural world,cannot be conclusively established by reason.Rather, he maintained, our beliefs are more aresult of accumulated habits, developed inresponse to accumulated sense experiences.”

People Falling IntoHoles••• science is not based on believing there are no holes. Onthe contrary, my science is based on the realization thatthere’s always the possibility that the earth will open andswallow you up.

Two Dogmas ofEmpiricism• that there is a principleddistinction between analyticand synthetic propositions• that reductionism is true take: If this is the case, youcannot even state a theory,much less find oneQuine

The Fallacy of Theory• Elusive Truth – what distinguishessense from nonsense?• Theory-laden data – you see whatyou expect to see (gorilla video)• Incommensurability andparadigms• Empty consensus replacingrationality and truthScientific Method in BriefHugh G., Hugh G Gauch, Jr., pp. 53-66

Research Methods…Research methods, in a certainsense, presuppose their ownconclusions: they are silent oncomplex questions, for example,whether certain software ought tobe developed, which options oughtusers to be given, what subjectsought learners be taught to learn?

Against Method“Against Method explicitly drewthe “epistemological anarchist”conclusion that there are no usefuland exceptionless methodologicalrules governing the progress ofscience or the growth ofknowledge. The history of scienceis so complex that if we insist on ageneral methodology which willnot inhibit progress the only ‘rule’it will contain will be the uselesssuggestion: ‘anything goes’.” Feyerabend

Voltaire’s Bastards• Voltaire (and contemporaries) –thought (correctly) that reason wasthe best defense against arbitrarypolitical and religious authority• However, "Among the illusions whichhave invested our civilization is anabsolute belief that the solutions toour problems must be a moredetermined application of rationallyorganized expertise. The reality is thatour problems are largely the productof that application."

Dimensions of Change• Design is no longer based onresearch– Because the theory that will be‘observed’ is presupposed inthe theory• Users are no longer ‘subjects’– Because casting myself in therole of ‘expert’ rendersillegitimate the validexperiences of othersWittgenstein: meaning is use

Research-Led Design• Winter: “I had always assumedthat case studies, literaturereviews, and ethnographicresearch were necessaryprecursors to every well-informeddesign project I did.”• Vs. Design-Led Research

Design-Led ResearchLiz Sanders

Liz Sanders Research

Liz Sanders Research

Situated Maketools• They situated the study at theworkplace• Then grounded the designingin the workersʼexplanations• And scaffolded thedesigning, i.e. usedtemporary stuffSalu Ylirisku

Situating as Framing• To ‘situate’ is totheorize, only with asmaller universe ofdiscourse• Lakoff – ‘Framing’Lakoff

Beyond Theory• Design withouttheory is discovery• (And I recognizethat I am able tosample only theedge of a complexlandscape)

Reading the World• I don’t see the world as neatand ordered, like logic andmathematics – I see it asmessy and complex, like alanguage“We see the future in the same waythat we see the past, by reading thesigns”Wittgenstein: Meaning is Use

Method as LiteracyWhat we call ‘theory’ isjust one aspect of worldliteracy, and not even themost important one

A frame for understanding new mediaMorris, Derrida and a little Lao TzuSyntax CognitionSemantics ContextPragmatics ChangeWe need this frame because (as Jukes said) if we aren’tlooking for these things, we just won’t see them.

Theories / SyntaxForms: archetypes? Platonic ideals?Rules: grammar = logical syntaxOperations: procedures, motor skillsPatterns: regularities, substitutivity (eggcorns, tropes)Similarities: Tversky - properties, etcNot just rules and grammar

Semantics- Sense and reference (connotation and denotation)- Interpretation (Eg. In probability, Carnap - logical space;Reichenbach - frequency; Ramsey - wagering / strength of belief)- Forms of association: Hebbian, contiguity, back-prop, Boltzmann- Decisions and decision theory: voting / consensus / emergencetheories of truth /meaning / purpose /goal

Pragmatics• Speech acts (J.L. Austin, Searle) assertives, directives,commissives, expressives, declarations (but also - harmful acts,harassment, etc)• Interrogation (Heidegger) and presupposition• Meaning (Wittgenstein - meaning is use)use, actions, impact

Cognition• description - X (definite description, allegory, metaphor)• definition - X is Y (ostensive, lexical, logical (necess. & suff conds), familyresemblance - but also, identity, personal identity, etc• argument - X therefore Y - inductive, deductive, abductive (but also:modal, probability (Bayesian), deontic (obligations), doxastic (belief), etc.)• explanation - X because of Y (causal, statistical, chaotic/emergent)reasoning, inference and explanation

Context- explanation (Hanson, van Fraassen, Heidegger)- meaning (Quine); tense - range of possibilities- vocabulary (Derrida); ontologies, logical space- Frames (Lakoff) and worldviewsplacement, environment

Change- relation and connection: I Ching, logical relation- flow: Hegel - historicity, directionality; McLuhan - 4 things- progression / logic -- games, for example: quiz&points, branch-and-tree, database- scheduling - timetabling - events; activity theory / LaaN

21st Century ScienceLanguagesThe ‘skills’ described by Jenkins –performance, simulation, appropriation, etc -are actually languages and should beunderstood in terms of these six dimensions

Discovery• You don’t learn a language,you discover it• To discover a language is to beimmersed in it, to speak it andlisten to people speaking in it• My scientific method (if it canbe called that) is to go to theoffice each day and immersemyself in the world – to trylistening, and to try speaking

I am the universe ofdiscourse

I’m not trying totheorize, I’m just tryingto do

• The ‘theory’ (notproperly-co-called)emerges from theinteractions betweenmyself and mycolleagues

The Disunity of theSciences

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