Is Criminology A Science?
When it is said that criminology is the scientific study of crime and criminals, one or two questions crop up: Is criminology a science? What does the word 'science' mean? Science is an approach to the problems of human knowledge based on the attempt to develop general principles about phenomena, derived from empirical observations.
The generalisations are so stated that they can be tested by any competent person (Theodorson, 1969: 368-69). Further, the generalisations of a science do not reflect individual experiences, but rather the consensus of the scientific community. Science is based on the assumption that the biases and values of the observer can be relatively controlled so that a reasonable degree of objectivity is possible.
Scientific observation has certain characteristics. The more important ones are (see, Horton and Hunt, Sociology, 1984: 4-6):
I. Scientific observation is based upon verifiable evidence, i.e., factual observations which other observers can check for accuracy.
II. Scientific observation is accurate, i.e., facts are exactly described as they are without any exaggeration or underestimation.
III. Scientific observation is precise, i.e., the observer precisely refers to the measurement or the degree. For example, he states how many people exactly were interviewed (say 500 or 1,000 or 2,000) instead of saying that "a lot of people were interviewed"; or how many people were exactly in favour of a certain programme instead of saying that "most of the people" were in favour.
A poet may say "every moment dies a man and every moment one is born" but a scientist will say that 45 persons are born in a minute in India or the population of the country increases by 1.7 crore every year.
IV. Scientific observation is systematic, i.e., observations are not casual but are collected in an organised and systematic way.
V. Scientific observation is recorded: Human memory being notoriously fallible, unrecorded facts may be difficult to recall. Trustworthy statements are, therefore, made only on the basis of recorded data.
VI. Scientific observation is objective, i.e., observation is unaffected by the observer's own beliefs, values, attitudes, and feelings. In other words, objectivity means the ability to see and accept facts as they are, not as one might wish them to be.
VII. Scientific observations are made under controlled conditions, i.e., even though laboratories are not used where all variables may be totally controlled, yet it is possible to control quite a few variables even when studying human behaviour.
VIII. Scientific observations are made by trained observers. Untrained observers do not know where to look for facts and how to collect them and analyse and interpret them. Their inaccurate observations, biases, and casual impressions may impinge upon their efforts, which may adversely affect the results or generalisations.
There are several steps in the scientific method of investigation. These are: (i) defining the problem; (ii) reviewing the literature; (iii) formulating the hypotheses or making tentative propositions to explain certain facts; (iv) planning the research design; (v) collecting the data and (vi) drawing conclusions or making generalisations regarding the uniformities and regularities found in the facts through an inductive method (i.e., proceeding from the particular to the general).
These generalisations may or may not be in agreement with the working hypotheses and may even lead to their complete rejection. Conclusions are further drawn from the formulated generalisations by proceeding from the general to the particular, i.e., through the process of deduction.
Thus, science moves from observation through induction and deduction to verification in a never-ending process. The findings of science that have been tested and appear to be correct are known as scientific truths, though these scientific truths are subject to continuous re-examination and modification in the light of new evidence. The findings of science are classified as hypotheses, theories, and laws.
A scientific law is a universal and predictive statement of a relationship among facts that has been repeatedly corroborated by scientific investigation. It is universal in the sense that the stated relationship is held always to occur under the specified conditions. It is predictive in that if the specified conditions are found, the relationship may be predicted to follow.
A scientific theory is a set of logically interrelated and empirically verifiable propositions, while hypotheses are the propositions which have not been well verified. The proportions in the theory are those which have already been subjected to empirical testing. Thus, according to Theodorson (1969: 437), a theory is a generalisation intermediate in degree of verification between a law and a hypothesis.
With these concepts of science and scientific method, criminology may be described as a science because it uses the method that is defined as science. However, if 'science' is referred to in terms of the 'content', i.e., "the body of scientific findings", then criminology is not a science.