A Guide to Understanding Social Science Research for Natural Scientists


Conservation problems are commonly social problems as well which is being recognized by natural scientists who are interested in interpreting social research. This guide assists natural scientists in undertsanding the philosophical principles and theoretical assumptions of social science so that social research may be used correctly. The three fundamental elements include ontology, epistemology, and philosophical perspective; all of which are covered in more depth throughout this guide. This guide is also intended to help integrate natural and social sciences to produce more meaningful and relevant conservation research findings.

This guide is available in both English and Spanish.

Policy Issues

  • Integrating social sciences and natural sciences for improved conservation research
  • Explaining patterns at the population level versus patterns based on cultural grouping
  • Accurate and objective interpretation of scientific findings

Related Methods

Case study research is used to conduct an in-depth investigation of an issue at a specific instance and location.
Demography is the study of the characteristics of human populations, such as size, growth, density, and distribution. Demographic analysis provides insights into the links between these characteristics and the cultural, economic, geographic, and other social attributes present in a given area.
The goal of ethnography is to obtain an in-depth understanding of the history, practices, values, traditions, and circumstances of the individuals, groups, and surrounding natural and cultural resources being studied. Research is focused on interactions within and among the groups. Ethnographic research requires the use of multiple methodologies, including secondary data research to get background information on the individuals or groups being studied, historical research, observation, and interviewing.
Social network analysis is a method that is used to collect, analyze, and graphically represent data that describe the relationships within and between groups of people or organizations. It can also be used to represent how people interact with specific resources.
A standardized list of questions that may be administered formally or informally by mail, telephone, Internet, or in person to collect specific information from multiple individuals.

Related Partners

The Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to manage and monitor the conservation of wildlife habitats throughout the United States. This includes the direct management of the National Wildlife Refuge System for the wellfare of all American people, and using social science in the decision making process and utilization of management plans.
The USGS serves the Nation by providing reliable scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and enhance and protect our quality of life.