Saturday, April 16, 2005

Applied quantitative research

In an article titled 'Is Computer Science Science?', published in Communications of the ACM (48) 4 of April 2005 (pages 27-31), Peter J. Denning explores the scientific nature of computer science. As he correctly postulates, this is a discussion that has been going on for a long time, and regularly comes back to me personally when I am working my Ph.D. research, when I ask myself questions like 'Is the work that I am doing really of enough academic quality?', including all the variations that are possible.



In the article, Denning explores the difference between pure research, which focuses on knowledge for the sake of knowledge, and applied research, which focuses on knowledge of demonstrable utility. The other distinction that he makes is the one between qualitative (inexact) science en quantitative (exact) science, which deals with prediction and verification by means of observation, measurement and experiment.

My own research focuses on certain aspects of web services technology. By taking a more conceptual perspective, I explore the security implications of this new paradigm for developing loosely coupled and cooperating information systems.

My drive for exploring the security implications is not "because I can", but because I believe that security is an essential success factor in reaching a situation in which information systems all over the world are able to interact and cooperate in ways that we can currently only dream of.

This point of view, combined with the definitions given above, classifies my research as applied research; I want to further the state of technology by understanding its use better. Or, in other words, by creating knowledge of demonstrable utility.

My research methodology is mostly engineering driven. I develop models and I use these models to bridge the gap between "the real world" and "the technology world" by exploring the differences between the model and both worlds. This is done through case studies to validate the match with the real world and via prototype development to validate the match with the technology world.

Looking at the difference between qualitative and quantitative science, my methdology is a quantitative one. My approach is model-driven, which is validated by experimentation.

So, combining the aspect of 'why do you research' (applied vs. pure) and 'how do you research' (quantitative vs. qualitative), I feel confident to position my work in the category of applied quantitative research.

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