Modes of Research

There are four modes of research corresponding to four types of research problems:

  1. Standard problems are those that (appear to) have standard solutions, such as the problem of finding the two roots of a quadratic equation. Researchers seek methodologies such that other problems can be solved by resorting to a set of standard problems.
  2. Exploratory/Discovery problems are those for which too little is known to formulate  critical observations. The critical observation relevant here is a meta-observation about the discipline itself: that too little is known. The problem then is “How can we learn more about this field in a manner that maximizes the accumulation of new critical observations?”
  3. Hypothesis-testing problems are those for which the causal mechanism underlying a critical observation.  There are in modern science two kinds of causation relevant here. (a)  Efficient causation deals with the antecedent mechanism “upstream” of the event in a causal pathway, and with the consequential events proceeding from the event.  Thus we can ask, in the first case, “how X happens” and in the second, “What does X cause”.    (b) “Teleonomic” causation (a term popularized by Ernst Mayr) seeks to understand the functional consequence of an event (such as a genetic mutation) in terms of its ecological or organismic consequences for organisms inheriting it.  It resembles, and is easily confused with teleology, a form of causation excluded from modern science for the last several hundred years.
  4. Design/Engineering  problems pose design criteria that must be satisfied (answered) by design and engineering solutions.

Note that most research involves a mixture of all four modes of research.

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