Scientific method in the Physical Sciences and Marketing

The scientific method, as a method of reducing uncertainty stemming from a lack of information, has been developed primarily in the physical sciences. A centuries old tradition of careful problem definition combined with the use of measuring instruments proved many tests to accurately measure specific characteristics provides validity for most physical science research.

Much marketing research also has good validity but validity questions can be quite subtle. It was pointed out above that the measurement of TV sets turned on is not the same as the measurement of the number of people watching a given TV show. Measuring instruments used in marketing – the questionnaire, for example – do not provide as clear a definition of what is being measured as thermometers or balances do. Consumers must interpret questions and find ways to express answers, both of which are imprecise and in marketing it is often hard to know whether the sample from which information is collected really represents the universe that the researcher desires to study.

It is in the area if reality however, that the physical sciences appear significantly more scientific than marketing. In most physical sciences the reproducible experiment is the accepted scientific method. In chemistry for example, an experiment is conducted under controlled conditions. Such variables as temperatures atmospheric pressure and quantities of chemicals are carefully measured and all but one held constant during the experiment. These conditions are reported in detail along with the results of the experiment so that others may reproduce the same conditions and verify the results.

In marketing it is difficult, if not impossible, to control all the conditions surrounding a research project so that the same researcher can see if his or her techniques produce the same results at different times and places or so that other researchers can attempt to reproduce the results. Even more important, most marketing research projects are done as one time projects by private firms; no attempt is made to test the validity or reliability of the results, and the methodology is not published so that others can check for these characteristics. Until recent years few making research projects could be called experiments much less reproducible experiments; and even now only a small portion of all projects are real experiments.

Three Distinctions between the Scientific and Non-Scientific Methods:

It is useful to think of the scientific method as a very general method that can be adapted to many widely varying situations according to the subject matter and specific problem involved. As subject matter and problems vary across the whole range of human interest, it is obvious that the specifics of the methods applied will vary. Certain criteria, however, distinguish those methods that may be called scientific from other methods. Three are differences between the scientific and non-scientific methods that affect the reliability and validity of the results are: (1) the objectivity of the investigator, (2) the accuracy of measurement and (3) the degree to which the investigation is continuing and exhaustive.

Objectivity of the Investigator:

Researchers must base judgment on acts, not on preconceived notions or intuition, if their work is to be scientific. If an investigator is not completely objective in his thinking if he is not just anxious to find his actions supporting one outcome of his study as another, it is unlikely his work will be scientific.

Marketing researchers often report to strong-willed executives who are confident they know the markets to which they are selling and want research to support their views. They can put pressure on the researcher to find results that confirm their views. Marketers also tend to exploit market segments consisting of people with whom they feel comfortable. They ignore segments that are different threatening or unattractive and since such attractive segments are relatively scarce, they create them with catchy names such are influential like silver foxes, baby boomers and yuppies. The researcher who cannot remain objective cannot be scientific.