A philosophy of science: Is the “truth” a process or an outcome?

Do you have a philosophy? We all do. But specifically.. of science? I am not referring to the assumptions and principles of science or Karl Popper’s perspective of falsifiability or the “truth” vs. not truth debate. In my opinion, every graduate student should be able to ask and answer the following question: Do you view the “truth” as a process or an outcome?

If you view science as an outcome… do you believe your work is done at the publication stage and dissemination for real-world impact?  If you view science as a process… do you see science as a mechanism to help others in the real world?

Process vs. Outcome

Processes are the steps, actions and functions that bring about a result – an outcome. As graduate students, we are familiar with this clear distinction. We sacrifice hours of sleep, fun, and play time to achieve outcomes – a set of skills, a knowledge base and a degree. While we are familiar with the terms for the countless processes/outcomes that occur daily, I wonder if we have considered why we study what we study or how our research contributes to the “truth” and the world.

My Belief

I have a strong belief that science is a process. And while I would love for others to join my camp, I know we need people who contrast these two beliefs in every field. Although you don’t have to agree with my beliefs in the process, I do ask you to reflect right now, and develop a philosophy of science.


When someone asks you for your philosophy on science, have a stance and stand by it, but be flexible to change it in either direction based on new information. I do this “work” because my advisor does that “work” is not a good answer!

Often I get the following: Why are you collecting data in the real world? Why do you use “less-scientific” measures and shorter scales? Why are you writing for the public? Why are you traveling and giving workshops? Why aren’t you publishing more? Why aren’t you testing theories? What aren’t you following the rules of the game?

My answer is simple: My philosophy of science guides me.

I believe science is a process for changing the world. Experimental studies in labs, publishing academic articles for review by a select group, leading theory-supporting study after theory-supporting study, and following others’ paradigm to “fit in” is essential, but it doesn’t stop there; it’s not enough. People expect more of us as educated and passionate people –  to help them solve world problems.  The world needs our science. And for those who are in fields that allow for clear application, I hope you will consider how your science can be a process to benefit the world. For those of you working on ground-breaking theories and discovering things in traditionally “non-applied” fields, I challenge you to think about science as a process too. By disseminating your work beyond a journal, you take  your work to the next step in the process, likely leading to a different and more positive outcome than if you stopped earlier on. At the very least, the public will know more about your valuable work. Maybe your NY times article or little blog post will circulate; it might even lead them down a similar path as you.

Scientific Legacy

At the end of my life .. will someone say, “I wish Shane spent more time and effort to publish one more article on X, Y, Z to contribute to science?” Heck no! I hope they say something like, “I wish Shane had one more day to share his research-based intervention or practical scientic-based workshops with thousands of people who could benefit from knowing the science of effective caring.”

In short, define your belief. Is it a process or an outcome?  Second, ask others this same question and dialogue. Third, leave a comment below. I am open to exploring various perspectives and being flexible to incorporate your diverse opinions. Thanks!


~ by shanemccarty on March 13, 2013.

2 Responses to “A philosophy of science: Is the “truth” a process or an outcome?”

  1. Initially, my first reaction is truth as a process as well as science as a process unfolding in a dynamic system. While my science is definitely guided by social validity and making real-world differences, much of this application would not be possible without a solid experimental background and foundation. I believe basic and applied research are synergistic and worth more than the sum of their individual parts. What is most important is the advancements made by each type, while one contributes to the knowledge, the other changes lives but both mutually inform the other.

    I hope that one day my scientific legacy will include publications about real world and experimental contributions. I hope this legacy also includes teaching students the science of behavior. I want to write for scientists, students and the general public. I want a complete repertoire of skills to be able to disseminate the science of behavior without sacrificing some of the precision and articulateness that initially attracted me to the field. Most of us begin undergraduate and graduate school hoping to change the world, and settle for much less. I joined hoping to change myself and eventually with enough training, change the world.

    Thank you for this thoughtful piece, it reminds me about all aspects of science being important and helped me dialogue through the values I seek to exemplify.

  2. Enjoyed reading this Shane. Thought-provoking, insightful, wonderful. I am not so sure I view the “debate” with the same frame. I do not see the two as mutually exclusive. Also, you start with “is truth an outcome or a process” but the equate truth with science. I am not so sure I equate science and truth. Some of the theories that “application/intervention-focused” people use to undergird their work come from “outcome-based” scholars who test the rigors of those theoretical foundations, and vice versa. If you look at modern medicines and treatments for HIV or cancer, they are born of a complex interrelationship between the two. The same for psychological treatments. So, while there may be distinctions to process and outcome, like differences between a married couple, their is still the marriage. In every couple, there exists a me, a you, and then an us. And when you ask the questions, “is truth an outcome or a process?” – I believe you get different answers not only because of different philosophies of science, but also because of different ideas and operationalizations of what the term “truth” means – and not just in an ontological sense, but in a “what are we talking about when we use that word sense.” So much to say, but either way, I enjoyed reading your blog! Great stuff, keep the conversation going! (at least during Spring Break when we all have an extra 5 minutes).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: