Description: What are crucial dilemmas that researchers meet in their practice? How do these dilemmas affect the way researchers see their work? How do researchers think about the knowledge they produce? This course addresses such questions by examining four key tensions in research:

  • Scientific advancement: design or accident?
  • Choosing a scientific approach: quantitative and qualitative studies?
  • Does problem-solving generate scientific progress?
  • Objectivity and subjectivity: where does objectivity rest?

The course will explore these dilemmas by engaging in conversation professors from different research fields. With the involvement of participants, the course will provide an insight into the key issues of theory of science but from the "floor" of scientific practice.

There are four blocks of dilemmas, and two blocks of introduction and reflection. The organization of the course is as follows:

Block 1: Introduction to the dynamics of scientific practice. The general intentions and framing of the course are presented. Key cases that illustrate the four dilemma blocks provide an entry into the connection between the four dilemmas.

Block 2. The dilemmas of scientific advancement: design or accident? This block will enter in the discussion of the idea of advancement in science. Scientists will collectively and over time try to construct a reliable, consistent and non-arbitrary representation of the world. This should happen by clear, planned activity, such as observation and description of phenomena, generation of a hypothesis, use of the hypothesis, and experimental tests of predictions by independent experiments. But does that always work? Is there growth and challenge to existing theories as a result of unplanned and unexpected results and even sometimes “mistakes”? This dilemma will be grounded on a conversation with Per Halkjær Nielsen whose work in microbiology, will set the discussion.

Block 3. Choosing a scientific approach: quantitative and qualitative studies? In this block we will discus the characteristics of quantitative and qualitative studies and the reasoning behind these different types of methodologies. In different research areas different traditions prevails about the right way to do research. In many fields mathematics plays a special role as the backbone of quantitative research. In the block we will discuss this special role played by mathematics in scientific research. And what is the foundation of research that does not refer to mathematical tools for validity? This dilemma will be grounded on a conversation with Ole Ravn, whose work in the philosophy of mathematics and science will set the discussion.

Block 4. The dilemmas of research progress in problem-solving. This block takes a starting point in design-oriented research and in engineering research where the utility of artifacts and results relates directly to problem-solving: how we diagnose a problem, how we decide whether a problem is worth pursuing, and how we measure whether a solution is useful, appropriate, etc. For the sake of controlling an experiment it is possible to reduce a problem and its solution to a narrow scope where findings become increasingly reliable, but where the consequence (i.e. utility) becomes irrelevant. Hypothesis testing is thus under pressure and it is not always the most appropriate way of thinking about it. Problems and solutions are better viewed in their context and reproduce-ability is low. The distinction between basic research and applied research breaks down, and the classic dilemma between deduction and induction is less relevant.This dilemma will be grounded on a conversation with Peter Axel Nielsen, whose work in applied IT will set the discussion.

Block 5. The dilemma of objectivity and subjectivity: where does objectivity rest? Is objectivity in the capturing of reality or in the trained eye of the scientist who becomes trained to look at the world objectively? This block examines different notions of objectivity and how each one supposes a related notion of subjectivity. The dilemma invites recent cultural historical studies of science to argue for the inseparability of objectivity and subjectivity in scientific practice. This dilemma will be grounded on a conversation with Paola Valero, whose work in educational research in the cultures and history of science and mathematics will set the discussion.

Block 6. Dilemmas in students’ own practice. This block will be distributed in the three days to give opportunity to the students to reflect on how this dilemmas appear in the scientific practice of the community that they are a part of, and in their research experience. The students are asked to relate their fields and experiences with the general cases presented in Block 1.

Organizer: Professor Paola Valero, email

Lecturers:  Professor Peter Axel Nielsen, Professor Per Halkjær Nielsen, Associate Professor Ole Ravn, and Professor Paola Valero,


Time: 8-9 May, 2014, 9:00-16:00

Place: Aalborg University, Fredrik Bajers Vej 7C/2-209

Zip code: 9220

City: Aalborg

Number of seats: 30

Deadline: 1 May, 2014