Qualitative Research, Part I

I fully appreciate the benefits of good qualitative research. However, I find its lack of accountability disturbing. If one does a study of the number of college campuses that have emergency plans for shooting incidents (a quantitative study), one has data. Some do, some don’t. Many? Few? We’ll find out.

I found Campus Response to a Student Gunman (Asmussen & Creswell, 2002) to be deeply, if not flawed, certainly skewed. Let’s start with basics. It’d be very interesting to track the various parties’ progression through Freud’s stages of loss to see how well Freud’s analysis applies to this situation. There were certainly echoes of that in the work they did. But there was way too much “some people felt x, but others didn’t, but then they did later…” in this study. It was interesting to read but I didn’t feel like I learned all that much.

Second, I thought the whole question of the college failing to develop an emergency plan was totally biased. There was little in the research to show that many people other than the researchers care about an emergency plan. More importantly, it is really easy to decide a campus needs an emergency plan for a shooting incident after a, wait for it, shooting incident. Much more interesting would be a discussion of how many campuses have shooting plans in place already (but that would be quantitative again).

I also somewhat resent the implication by the authors that in spite of the lack of outcry for such a plan, such a plan should have been developed. To me, it is very shortsighted and ill-considered. Every move we make to “protect” ourselves, we give something away. Every plan to prevent this, causes that. And it propagates a level of fear such that we’re all at the mercy of gunman even if none ever appear. If there was a toxic railcar spill near campus, should there then be a plan for that? What about a runaway vehicle that tears through the common? Runaway vehicle plan? Suicider leaps off a campus building? Suicide plan! Our world gets narrower and narrower but, whatever happens next, there won’t be a plan for that.

To me, the dark side of qualitative research is that it is like bad journalism but with better respectability.

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