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Feb 19, 2007


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I think its simple, sociology (yes), anthropology (yes), theology (yes), math (no). Therein lies the problem, I only got through my senior project in sociology because I had other people do the math for me!
It just seems to me that the questions asked are skewed in a certain direction to accomplish a certain result that fits our presuppositions rather than being truly scientific for a social science perspective.
Yes, evangelicals suck at statistics!

Michael Kruse

"Therein lies the problem, I only got through my senior project in sociology because I had other people do the math for me!"

LOL. This sounds like some quantitative methods class nightmares I had in grad school.

You are right to be suspicious. From global warming to poverty to economic data I am deeply suspicious, especially if it is being filtered through an intermeidary source.

I taught intro to sociology for about four semesters many moons ago. One of the things I tried to do was to equip students with a lens for looking at the world rather than a whole bunch of substanative stuff. At the top of my list was the presentation of stats. I brought in all sorts of examples of how it is done poorly and how to use it correctly. It really does require a little work and practice but I did have a few students later tell me that these tools were some of the most helpful they had learned.

Statistics can easily be abused. On the other hand, a friend used to say, "It is easy to lie with statistics but it is even easier to lie without them."

Basic statistics are not a problem for me but higher levels of math are a challenge. That is one of the reasons (not the only) I opted out of going on for a Phd. in demography, economics, or related fields.

will spotts

One factor is that sociology lends itself to armchair philosophy (sorry . . .). What I mean is that people often design studies to confirm what they already suspect - making them about as far from objective as possible. I believe that questions are often asked unconsciously (sometimes this is intended as manipulation, but a lot of the time the questioner is unaware of his or her notorious biases).

Evangelical Christians have a particularly difficult problem to overcome in that they (I should say we in the interest full disclosure) do not share the same vocabulary as that common to "post-modernism". Similarly there is a great gulf fixed between the working vocabularies of the so-called red states and blue states. They often use similar words to mean very different things. Within the PC(USA) there is a great gulf fixed between the vocabularies of progressives and traditional Presbyterians. Much as I might detest that fact, it is a fact and must be factored into the design of any survey.

As a reader of statistics I tend not to consider them valid unless I understand how the sample was taken, the actual questions asked, the raw data, etc. But that doesn't lend itself to use in sermons or news broadcasts.

BTW - what do you think of the Presbyterian Panel?

Michael W. Kruse

Generally speaking I think the Panel does a pretty good. Keith Wulff is top notch researcher and the PCUSA actually has other entities using our research services.

"As a reader of statistics I tend not to consider them valid unless I understand how the sample was taken, the actual questions asked, the raw data, etc."

I agree with you here, although sociology is much broader than survey data. There are entire graduate level classes on methods that deal with “operationalizing” your variables and identifying appropriate quantitative measures.

Some sociology is more armchair than others. There are a variety of qualitative methods used in sociology as well, and some of these require personal participation in what is being studied. (My thesis committee turned down my proposal for an ethnographic study of the behavior of Bahamas vacationers, but I tried.) My thesis was a combination of quantitative and qualitative measures.

The two big problems you get in sociology are that no observer is objective. Second, it is almost impossible to study people without them knowing they are being studied. The very knowledge that you are being studied tends to change your behavior. This second issue is known as the Hawthorne Effect.

will spotts

So the act of studying a thing affects it, and makes the study less valid? This reminds me of the effect of Kubler-Ross? stages of grieving. Once a person is aware of them, the stages no longer operate in the same manner - because they become self-conscious.

Too bad about the Bahamas vacationers study . . ..

will spotts

I have been impressed with the PC(USA)'s research services. I don't see anything in other denominations that even compares. But I was curious how this is viewed by people who are much better informed on the topic.

Michael Kruse

Yeah, there was a study done (1930s?) at Western Electric's Hawthorne manufacturing facility. They tested the impact of various envrionmental changes (like changing the lighting) had on productivity. What they discovered was that doing things like increasing or decreasing the light both led to increases in productivity (at least short term.) What they began to realize is that each change, whatever it was, signaled to the workers they were being watched, so they became more productive.

Michael Kruse

Our research services department is a jewel few people in the broader church seem to know about.

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