Imagination --> Hypothesis --> Experiment --> Results --> Conclusion
In my world view scientific research has the 5 components above and at each of those stages disagreements between scientist seem to exist. Thus even though there are protocols on how to proceed it is still in human nature to deviate from those at will or on a whim or as a result of a deep entrenched belief. To describe what scientific research to me I first dissect it into 2 parts:
- the scientific method
The scientific method has been defined many times and I cannot find a definition which covers it all, for all the disciplines. So I stick to describing the scientific method within the context of my focus: ESP. Then I describe how I see what research means but this description inevitably twists and turns itself into my description of the scientific method.
An too often overlooked elements of science is that of imagination. Simply put: if one cannot imagine something to be even remotely plausible, one will unlikely go on and formulate a hypothesis. Rupert Sheldrake has given many examples of very known and respected scientists who said and wrote his research was total bunk, pseudoscience or worse but never looked at the gathered data or how the study was conducted. The could not believe it was possible, it did not conform their belief.
There is the part that describes a hypothesis, a what if. The better described the more clear it would be what to study and how to conduct the research I suppose. This is already a hard nut to crack as the hypothesis includes a bias about what one thinks is possible and thus in the elusive realms of ESP it might already set expectations and influence the future outcome. Of course, odd phenomena can still be observed even though this part might or might not influence it.
Another element is observation and the gathering of data and here is where some ESP experiences fall short on delivering. Some ESP experiences are hard to observe as they do not play well within the domains of our 5 senses, take telepathy for example. You and I might think the same thing on command but how do you show that we actually think the same things and that it is due to telepathy or not something else entirely. Maybe this "something else entirely" is telepathy or maybe all ESP can be traced back to 1 single phenomena that only our language and culture considers as different. Another aspect is that not everybody has the same level of recognizing and accepting ESP and above all, ESP seems to have a strong component of need or relevance in it.
It brings us to the next part of the equation and that is one of measuring, how do you measure ESP? In labs you have shielded rooms and subjects who ought to perform ESP phenomena but as Stephen E Braude says, why not consider the other people who are part of the experiment as influencing the outcome too? This also relates in my opinion to replicability as circumstances change by definition as time has already passed. One experiment done on one day in the same space with the same people and same setup might result in another outcome the next day. Within the context of ESP this might be very logical as time and space but also the people's emotional and cognitive involvement has changed.
And we still do not know what exactly, not even by a stretch of the imagination, is causing these weird phenomena. There are plenty of models and theories but one of the things science cannot do and that is to proof something. So my approach is to look at the results are, try to understand as well as I can how the study was set up and above all, what can be done with these results.