Is there any scientific basis to management? The diversity of approaches to management theory and practice makes it difficult to explicitly identify the pillars on which it is founded; some academics will dismiss as inconsequential the elements that others consider to be the basis of management and managers will constantly disagree on which factors are more significant in the running of an organisation. For some time, the importance of science in management has provoked much debate, leading to the formation of a number of distinct positions on the issue. In this essay I will first explore some of the different theories of scientific knowledge in order to gain a greater understanding of the social perspectives of science and truth. I will then examine both scientific and alternative methods of management before assessing if there is any scientific basis to management today.
Kuhn (1992) defines science in general as the constellation of facts, theories and methods collected in current texts and scientists as the people who have tried to contribute to these constellations regardless of their success. The idea of progress is also inherent in the definition of science as a field must be seen to progress in noticeable ways in order for it to be classified as a science. Kuhn states that progress or ‘scientific development’ has alternating normal and revolutionary phases, which differ both in nature and in length. Normal science is research firmly based on paradigms, past scientific achievements which are acknowledged as supplying the foundation for further practice of the science in question. Kuhn claims that normal science is about trying to reinforce the predictions and facts the paradigm already supplies and thus scientists investigate the kinds of questions to which existing theories are likely to provide the answers. Thus there is no real effort to invent new theory and any type of progress simply involves extending existing concepts. Progress can also arise through scientific revolutions which involve the displacement of an existing paradigm by another after a period of paradigm testing. However, Kuhn (1992) points out that revolutions are only sought under extreme conditions or ‘crises’ which arise when anomalies pose a serious problem for a paradigm or when two competing paradigms collide in the scientific community.
Both Popper (1957) and Kuhn (1992) agree that scientific revolutions and paradigm testing are beneficial but the two differ as to why this is the case. Popper believes that scientific revolutions and paradigm testing allow scientists to reclassify relevant theories as false if any sustained anomalous results are found. Contrastingly, Kuhn cites the benefits of verification which involves comparing theories and choosing the one which best explains the evidence at hand. He also adds that anomalies are inevitable since no theory can ever solve all the challenges facing it at a given time and thus claims that an acceptance of Popper’s views means that every theory would be rejected.
The concept of truth is inextricably linked to scientific ideas. Latour (1987) constructs the example of a dissenter who refuses to be convinced by a particular scientific theory and thus follows a scientist into his laboratory in order to investigate whether the theory is true or not. In this situation, the dissenter is not taken from ‘the world of literature to nature as it is’ but is instead transferred from a set of written resources to a new set of resources devised in such a way as to reinforce the literature. This new set of resources is made up of an instrument and a verbal commentary from the scientist who acts as a spokesperson. However, the problem with a spokesperson is that it is difficult to assess how well he is expressing the reality of the objects he represents - if a scientist claims that the readings on a graph taken from an experiment demonstrate a particular theory, it is…