Q: Can researchers be objective? If yes, why do you think so?

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Q: Can researchers be objective? If yes, why do you think so?


Let’s first clarify several principles that guide an answer to this important question.

A procedure or outcome is objective only when its truth or reality conditions are met without bias being introduced by an investigator either inadvertently or intentionally. Scientific objectivity refers to a researcher’s ability to make judgements without partiality or external influence. Thus, a lack of objectivity can occur when an investigator’s research naivety or when their prior beliefs or perceptions influence the outcome of their study. Objectivity is sometimes used synonymously with neutrality about the outcome of an investigation.

Researchers reflect a wide diversity in the human condition. Among all the researchers in the world there exists (1) vastly different levels of knowledge about how to conduct research, and (2) major different purposes for engaging in research activities.

Some researchers are skilled in conducting investigations in such a way that their beliefs and biases maintain separation from the outcome. This separation is purposely introduced to avoid influencing the outcome. Other researchers blunder through the investigative process in pursuit of the exact answer that they advocated before starting their study. They search and search until they find the answer that parallels their prior beliefs … and once found, then they stop seeking any alternative explanation! What this tells us is that not all researchers can act objectively ~ either because they do not know how to scrutinize the complex relationships embedded in data, or because they engage in investigations as a device to ‘prove-their-point.’

Being human, with all the curiosity and inquisitiveness that drives researchers, we investigate topics that we find to be fascinating and for which we understand that answers are needed. Researchers need to reflect sustained interest and perseverance in pursuing a topic, and this requires that we must have some degree of anticipation as to what an outcome of an investigation might disclose. This is the established way for crafting hypotheses that anticipate what the data might show. Nonetheless, it is incumbent on honorable researchers to work diligently to ensure that their research protocol and the interpretations they make about data uncovers objective truth.

Researchers have an obligation to become acquainted with established scientific procedures developed over centuries that help establish separation between the researcher and their research outcome. The researcher must allow the data to speak for themselves uninfluenced by characteristics of the researcher.

Only researchers who learn and then follow best-practice in research methodology, and who scrub their procedures of conditions that introduce bias, can be said to investigate with objectivity.

Caven S. Mcloughlin, Ph.D., Emeritus professor, and former editor-in-chief of an academic journal for a major commercial international publisher