Qualitative and Quantitative Research

Qualitative and qunatitative research both have their uses as well as their misuses. I think quantitative research is somewhat harder to misuse because the structural constraints and expectations are much clearer. Any partisan instinct, when exposed, seriously damages the weight of the paper. This seems to not be the case in qualitative research where it appears that advocacy is not only tolerated but, in some quarters, cheered. I find that disturbing. Science is a service business, service to the human race. It cannot serve two masters, the human race and a partisan cause. There is a role for partisan advocacy in serving the human race, we see it nightly on MSNBC, et al. But there it is clearly understood to be the free competition of partisan ideas.

I was particularly tweaked by the second paper in our text because I think the instinct to second guess as if “nothing bad should ever happen in life and if it does it’s somebody’s fault” is a generally unwise. Thus, the author’s making an issue of the fact that the university didn’t appear to be making a plan to deal with shooting incidents when few of the participants felt the same way was a misuse of the platform. Of course, the same happens in quantitative research. The confusion over global warming is a great example. It seems clear to me that many of the advocates of global warming didn’t like industrialization in the first place. They’re thrilled to “find” ecological issues to stop with science what they couldn’t stop with advocacy. And it is equally clear that there is a great deal of money being poured into both sides of the argument, paying for research. Neither Exxon nor the Sierra Club is all that interested in paying for research that contradicts its advocacy. The result is a blizzard of claim and counter claim, all backed by “science.” When I was a kid, the buzz was the coming of the new ice age. Today, it’s global warming. How do I know what to believe and therefore how to act? It’s unnerving and a disservice to us all.

When we go into a jury box, we are sworn to put our biases aside. I think most people do the best they can, and I think their best is pretty good. I believe that is what science demands: rigorous impartiality. That is hard enough to obtain in quantitative research, but qualitative research seems to not even have that as an expectation. That’s a problem for me.

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