methodology   11338

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The Interdisciplinary Delusion - The Chronicle of Higher Education
The humanities, like other fields of study, tell us important truths about some parts of the world. Disciplinary diversity is grounded in a pluralistic vision of things. But such pluralism necessarily produces tensions among different methods and truth claims. The best interdisciplinary humanities work confronts these tensions head on. ...

On a highly idealized picture, disciplines that minimize variables find it easier to agree on truth claims and thus, in their view, to build knowledge over time than disciplines that scale upward in the effort to be persuasive. The sheer variety of factors that can go into or be left out of an influential reading means that the literary disciplines are prone to what might seem from the outside to be a circular eclecticism and heterogeneity, periodically redefining their interpretations or even their core concepts with little convergence or accumulation. Such eclecticism should not detract from the discipline’s claims to say something true about the world. Rather, it should reveal something important about criticism as a method, its movement from individual artifacts to explanations that hold across forms, genres, and contexts....

If we are to be interdisciplinary, we require a model of interdisciplinarity that respects the character of disciplines at a moment when their independence is under attack. The defense of disciplines is neither conservative nor elegiac. It is a defense of a vision of the world as itself plural.
academia  interdisciplinarity  disciplinarity  methodology  epistemology 
yesterday by shannon_mattern
Of Statistics and Other Mythical Beasts | Philip Jenkins
"When we read any statistical claim, several questions should strike us immediately, to decide whether those numbers are credible or reliable. We always need to ask how the individual data points were reported and collected, and how the numbers were compiled. Specifically,

Who is doing the counting?

What are they counting?

Are those agencies or groups in a position to observe and assess reality?

Do they have motives to interpret the stats in particular ways?

What can the raw numbers tell us about attitudes or behaviors?

To illustrate the kind of problems I will be exploring, I’ll draw some examples from the study of suicide, which makes my points quite well.

To begin with a legendary sociological horror story. Sociology textbooks usually begin by discussing concepts and definitions of community, and how these change with the onset of modernity. For many years, one of the examples most commonly used to illustrate these ideas involved suicide statistics, and particularly the stark contrast separating conditions in Ireland and Sweden. Way back when – in the 1970s, say – these countries stood at opposite poles in terms of modernity and religiosity. Also, Ireland’s suicide statistics were extremely low, while Sweden’s were very high.

Aha, noted the textbooks, the reasons for this are obvious. (I stress I am reporting attitudes and conditions from decades past, not present day). Ireland is a traditional religious society, an organic community rooted in the village and the extended family, where everyone feels they have a place. People just don’t commit suicide. Sweden, in contrast, is an advanced secular society, based on values of individualism. People feel anomie, they are cut off from the world, they have few close family ties, and they face existential crises that lead them to kill themselves. Unlike the pious Irish, secular Swedes lack the religious inhibitions that might prevent them from taking that step. QED. Now on to our next textbook example …

Well, not exactly. After many years of seeing such examples in print, some scholars asked just what were the statistics on which the claims were based. Statistics, after all, don’t measure behavior, they measure recorded behavior. Imagine a Swedish case where a man has died, and by him stands a bottle of pills, and a note explaining his decision to end his life. The police are sympathetic, but record the act as a presumed suicide, and that is confirmed by a brief investigation. We have our statistic. Now imagine the same event in contemporary Ireland, say in 1965. Suicide in this society is a mortal sin, a horrendous blot on the record of any family or community, and the authorities will work very hard indeed to find any conceivable way to avoid the obvious interpretation. Perhaps police will discreetly burn the suicide note, or else pass it to the local Catholic priest for his counsel, and he will suppress the damning evidence. In saying this, I am suggesting no sinister motives whatever: authorities were working together for benevolent purposes, to protect family and community. But the result was that the local coroner would have no reason to find a verdict of suicide, and would report a tragic accidental overdose. There is no suicide to report, or to count.

The same act, in other words, would have one statistical outcome in one society, and a totally different one in another. Before an act or event can become a statistic, someone has to identify it as falling within a particular category, and someone has to report it. And someone – possibly a totally different person – has to record it officially, giving it a particular label.

So were suicides more common in Sweden or Ireland in these years? On the available evidence, we can make no such comment: we have no idea. For all we know, perhaps the Irish were killing themselves at a far higher rate than the Swedes. But going further, it is impossible to make any determination whatever about that claim. There are things that we don’t know, but also things that we literally cannot know, and few social analyses accept that latter possibility."
statistics  DataScience  qualitative  methodology 
2 days ago by lukemperez
This new book looks good - Strategic Privacy by Design by R. Jason Cronk
A new handy guide to implementing privacy by design, written from a practitioner's perspective.
book  privacy  privacybydesign  design  strategy  guide  dataprotection  security  methodology 
3 days ago by corrickwales
We Are All Research Subjects Now - The Chronicle of Higher Education
political terrain can shift beneath researchers’ feet. They are not the only arbiters of what the public, or their own research subjects, will accept. A bold research agenda, even a celebrated one, can swiftly be derailed by ethical missteps. The SSRC-Facebook collaboration might draw that lesson from the 1960s, too.
facebook  ethics  academia  consent  methodology 
5 days ago by jomc
We Are All Research Subjects Now - The Chronicle of Higher Education
These brakes on social inquiry are the same ones that academic researchers labor under — and sometime chafe under — today. And they are the same ones that the Social Data Initiative enlists in its public statements. But we should note that they were designed for research situations like the tearoom ethnography: where the privacy intrusion was intentional, where the potential harm to individuals’ dignity was obvious, where specific consent from the human subjects might feasibly have been obtained, and where careful scholarly review might have prompted a more ethical research design.

The data sets that Facebook plans to hand over to SSRC-approved researchers are by nature quite different. They first of all are being used only after the fact, having been collected via no peer-review process by a for-profit company. Accepting the terms of service of a social-media company is a far lower bar than the "informed consent" required by an IRB. These will be reams of personal data, possibly quite sensitive, and gathered unobtrusively, without the express consent (and often, knowledge) of those being researched.

It is not even certain whether the donors of data in this new venture are "research participants" in the sense that social scientists of the last century would have recognized. Some commentators have argued that because the company’s data will be anonymized before researchers get ahold of them (itself a concern as re-identification techniques improve), standards of informed consent do not even pertain.

Can the protections intended for a relatively small group of identifiable subjects in a bounded study — the men in St. Louis’s public restrooms in 1966, say — be extrapolated to the more than one billion virtual subjects who have been swept willy nilly into Facebook’s informational cache? The SSRC, in its early statements about the Social Data Initiative, seems to believe so. But today’s system of IRBs and federal regulations ought not be treated as definitive, especially given the new risks and possibilities presented by industry partnerships and big data.

Rather than accept the solutions of the 1960s and 1970s as a given, the new initiative would do better to reopen the questions that Tearoom Trade and other cutting-edge social research of its day generated about the legitimate bounds of social inquiry. The regulations that emerged were important, but so was the larger claim that human dignity ought to serve as an essential check on research ambitions....

For those who care both about pathbreaking social research and the rights of human subjects, the SSRC-Facebook collaboration poses dilemmas equivalent to those raised by Tearoom Trade. It is an opportunity to reconsider, and possibly revise, the rules of social inquiry. Are the guidelines for ethical research and treatment of subjects that were devised nearly 50 years ago a durable resource for us today? What kind of help can these tools, forged in quite different conditions, offer us in resolving the potential privacy violations and misuses of personal information that threaten today’s unwitting subjects of social media — and perhaps now scholarly — experimentation and manipulation?...

If we are all research subjects now, what kind of practices and policies will best preserve the values of individual dignity, privacy, and consent?

Given the unique nature of the new collaboration, these questions should be directed to the social scientists who will be making use of novel data sets. But they must also be answered by the corporations and data miners they collaborate with. If the byproduct is a new standard of data ethics with a broad purchase — viewed as the responsibility not simply of academics but also of the multifarious parties now engaged in social and behavioral research — that will truly fulfill the SSRC’s mission to "produce findings that improve everybody’s lives."
research  methodology  ethics  digital_methods  social_science  consent  IRB 
6 days ago by shannon_mattern
Factors Associated With Cancer Disparities Among Low-, Medium-, and High-Income US Counties | Health Disparities | JAMA Network Open | JAMA Network
After identifying the possible mediators, we estimated the indirect effects, which are given by the product of the coefficients of the association between (1) the exposure and the mediators and (2) the mediators and the outcome.27 We used a method called seemingly unrelated regression, which is used to correct for the possibility of correlations between error terms in a series of similar models.29 We used the indirect effects to calculate the percentage mediated (ie, the percentage of the exposure-outcome association that can be explained by the possible mediator) and we used bootstrapped standard errors with 5000 repetitions because the errors for indirect effects are often skewed.27
cancer  epidemiology  statistics  analysis  methodology 
6 days ago by suitable
Famous Experiment Dooms Pilot-Wave Alternative to Quantum Weirdness | Quanta Magazine
Tomas Bohr attributes his grandfather’s certainty that nature is incurably weird at the quantum scale to Niels Bohr’s most important physics research: his 1913 calculations of the electronic energy levels of the hydrogen atom. Bohr realized that when electrons jump between orbits, releasing quantized packets of light, there was no mechanical picture of the situation that made sense. He couldn’t relate the electrons’ energy levels to their rotational motion. Even causality failed, because electrons seemingly know before they jump where they are going to land, in order to emit a photon of the correct energy. “He was probably more aware than most of how weird that whole thing was,” Tomas Bohr said. “He was just somehow philosophically inclined in such a way that he was ready to accept that nature was that strange — and most people were not.”
physics  philosophy  methodology 
8 days ago by kmt
Matters of Faith | memorious
That is not news. Nor is it unique to fields that study things like gender and race, as opposed to, say, mathematics and engineering — two areas recently subjected to a hoax that placed 120 AI-generated nonsense papers (which should, presumably, have been even easier for educated eyes to spot than the hand-crafted junk submitted here) in journals. Every field can be hoaxed, and many have been. But only some fields can be hoaxed profitably. There is no built-in audience of people who despise mathematics and applaud when mathematicians get pranked. But there is a large audience, in social and traditional media, primed for the humiliation of “left-wing”, and especially “feminist”, scholars. If one wanted to establish something about the relative intellectual legitimacy of gender studies and, say, economics, or engineering, or physics, one could presumably try to fool reviewers in each, see who did better, and figure out why. That didn’t happen here, because the point wasn’t to conduct any such study. It was to embarrass a target. (That they labelled all the fields concerned dismissively as “Grievance Studies” is just the crassest evidence of parti pris.)
science  academia  methodology  argument 
12 days ago by kmt

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