Sunday, March 4, 2007

Defining Yourself

It is interesting how something as abstract as an ontology or epistemology can be used to define someone without their consent. I have come to be defined as the "quantitative guy" in my graduate cohort because I am the only one perceived to be doing statistical analysis. There is at least one other student who is using quantitative methods, though in a more mixed approach, in her thesis. Also there are other students that will be basing at least some part of their work on research that was previously carried out using quantitative methods. It is interesting because before coming here, there would have been no reason for me to think of myself as a quantitative researcher.

One difficulty I am facing in my research methods class is that many in the class clearly have not had even a basic statistics course, or if they have that it was long enough ago that it has all been forgotten. This is frustrating because the questions that are asked reflect their ignorance of even basic statistics and sampling techniques. Instead of helpful critiques, I am forced to defend ideas of approximation of the normal curve, random sampling, representativeness and inferential statistics. Many of these ideas have been sufficiently settled and the real debate is about improving methods and refining techniques. Having to defend an entire discipline to people who are completely opposed to its even existence, is tedious at best and insulting at worst. The questions that were asked were not asked to improve my project, but instead to fulfill their own prejudice against a particular method in the social sciences.

Statistics, like any other method, cannot be taken uncritically and must be examined in the context of what is being studied. Though I think that often the condemnation of statistics is misplaced and ill-informed. Statistics may be overused in the media and politics, but that does not mean that they can't be used in a more appropriate way. Through conducting research in a transparent and reflexive manner, the methods that are used come to be sufficiently problematized. By problematizing our methods we can see more clearly the limitations and ways to counter-act these limitations.

In my thesis I am attempting to use statistics in a reflexive way that I think sufficiently engages with the limitations that I face. By using statistics I am accepting that at some level they can give a probabilistic view of society. Though I also understand they they can never reflect perfectly the social reality that they attempt to investigate. By continuing to reflect and being aware of these issues, I feel that I can use statistics without falling into overstating my conclusions or misrepresenting my analysis.

1 comment:

Morgan said...

Hi, I'm a statistics teacher at Copenhagen Business College. I have just finished developing free internet video lessons in elementary statistics. My aim is to reach out to those who needs intuitive explanations to get the basics in place. the service can be found at - If you think this could be useful to your classmates, do let them know

Good luck!