The challenges of integrating the natural and social sciences are not news to us. After King, Keohane and Verba’s (KKV’s) book entitled “Designing Social Inquiry”, the field of qualitative methodology has achieved considerable attention and development. Their work generated great discussions about qualitative studies, as well as criticism, and sometimes misguided ideas that qualitative research is benefited by quantitative approaches but not the other way around. Since then, discussions in the literature debate the contrasts between observations of qualitative vs. quantitative studies, regression approaches vs. theoretical work, and the new approaches to mixed-methods design. Nevertheless, there are still many research frontiers for qualitative researchers to cross and significant resistance from existing conservative views of science, which question the validity of qualitative results.
Last week, while participating in the LOICZ symposium (Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I was very encouraged by the apparent move towards an integrated approach between the natural and social sciences. There were many important scientists from all over the world and from many different disciplines discussing the Earth systems and contributing steps towards sustainability of the world’s coastal zone. Many of the students’ presentations, including mine, had some social research component. I had many positive conversations about the Cyberlab work in progress and how it sits at the edge of building capacity for scientists/researchers, educators, exhibit designers, civil society, etc.
However, even in this meeting, over dinner conversation, I stumbled into the conflicting views that are a part of the quantitative vs. qualitative debate – the understanding of scientific process as ”only hypothesis driven”, where numbers and numbers alone offer the absolute “truth”. It is still a challenge for me not to become extremely frustrated while having to articulate the importance of social science in this case and swim against a current of uneducated opinions about the nature of what we do and disregard for what it ultimately accomplishes. I think it is more than proven in today’s world that understanding the biogeophysics of the Earth’s systems is essential, but that alone won’t solve the problems underlying the interaction of the natural and social worlds. We cannot move towards a “sustainable future” without the work of social scientists, and I wish there would be more of a consensus about its place and importance within the natural science community.
So, in the spirit of “hard science”…
If I can’t have a research question, here are the null and alternative hypotheses I can investigate:
H0 “Moving towards a sustainable future is not possible without the integration of natural and social sciences”.
H1 “Moving towards a sustainable future is possible without the integration of natural and social science”
Although, empirical research can NEVER prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that a comparison is true (95 and 99% probability only), I think you would agree that, if these hypotheses could be tested, we would fail to reject the null.
With all that being said, I emphasize here today the work Cyberlab is doing and what it will accomplish in the future, sitting at the frontiers of marine science and science education. Exhibits such as the wave laboratory, the climate change exhibit on the works, the research already completed in the lab, the many projects and partnerships, etc. , are prime examples of that. Cyberlab is contributing to a collaborative effort to the understanding and dissemination of marine and coastal issues, and building capacity to create effective steps towards sustainable land-ocean interactions.
I am very happy to be a part of it!