“Ethos of the Unit”

by on March 30, 2011 at 12:04 pm in Science | Permalink

This is from a child and adolescent mental health group at University College London, but it could and should also count as “Ethos of the Blogger”:

•All research is provisional
•All research raises as many questions as it answers
•All research is difficult to interpret and to draw clear conclusions from
•Qualitative research may be vital to elaborate experience, suggest narratives for understanding phenomena and generate hypotheses but it can’t be taken to prove anything
•Quantitative research may be able to show hard findings but can rarely (never?) give clear answers to complex questions

And yet, despite all the challenges, it is still worth attempting to encourage an evidence-based approach, since the alternative is to continue to develop practice based only on assumption and belief.

For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

1 Kitten March 30, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Maybe we should add that the combination of a theoretical piece with a quantitative piece is to make either the theoretical paper more fancy or the quantitative paper more fancy.

2 Curt F. March 30, 2011 at 12:45 pm

I don’t like these rules very much. They are all mostly true but are overstated as worded. “All research is difficult to interpret and to draw clear conclusions from” is different only in tone and degree, *not* in quality, from “don’t bother to design your experiments well, because reading the data is tea leaves anyway”.

What about Einstein’s proposed tests for general relativity? The research done to observe the perhelion shift of Mercury, etc., seemed to give results that were easy to interpret (general relativity is a good theory) and gave a clear answer to a complex question (Q How does matter give rise to the gravitational force? A In the way described by general relativity).

Could people’s belief in these tenets explain in part why Gregor Mendel’s work was ignored for so long?

3 Ron Potato March 30, 2011 at 3:14 pm

The essence of a robust empirical science, is that it truly can be reduced to reliably answering Yes or No questions, or other quantities, at a known approximation.

Will the hammer/feather fall to the ground in 5 seconds?

4 Rahul March 30, 2011 at 5:58 pm

The essence of a good research paper is falsifiability. It presents clear instructions on what I must do if I wanted to disprove the author’s assertions.

5 Rahul March 30, 2011 at 6:05 pm

And for contrast, the essence of a smart academic funding proposal is non-falsifiability. The proposals of seasoned researchers are so designed that at the year of a 3-year project, no matter what they find, they can convince NFS or NIH that what they achieved was worthwhile.

6 Millian March 30, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Much rhetoric tends to seek higher status for qualitative research relative to quantitative research; has anyone else noticed this? e.g. “the peer-reviewed evidence is wrong”. We return to a dichotomy discussed in the “everyone from history in a room” post, as well as 1066 And All That: wrong but wromantic v right but repulsive.

7 Andrew March 30, 2011 at 1:45 pm

I just object to the notion that science is what happens when we get 3 or 4 other guys to vet a paper.

8 anon March 30, 2011 at 6:07 pm

What’s the difference between peer review and a Ponzi scheme?

9 Lily April 9, 2011 at 4:30 pm

F6UOka I’m not easily impressed. . . but that’s impressing me! 🙂

10 engineer27 March 30, 2011 at 1:21 pm

In summary, the evidential empirical research methodology is the worst possible method of discerning truth, except for all the other methods we have tried throughout history.

11 Rich Berger March 30, 2011 at 2:25 pm

And yet, despite all the challenges, it is still worth attempting to encourage an evidence-based approach, since the alternative is to continue to develop practice based only on assumption and belief.

That’s quite a ringing endorsement.

12 E. Barandiaran March 30, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Tyler, a blog is just a means to circulate and discuss news and ideas, including (tentative) results from research. Blogging is not a type of research. Some researchers rely on a blog to circulate their ideas, including (tentative) results from their own research. Indeed most bloggers are not researchers and have never done any scientific research. Thus, I assume most bloggers will be surprised or amused by your proposed Ethos.

13 Ron Potato March 30, 2011 at 3:03 pm

So, qualitative research can’t prove anything, quantitative research gives unclear answers that require special interpretation, and all we have left are our assumptions and beliefs, which is all we had in the first place?

This is the Science of people who only know it as Magic.

14 Dr. Participatory March 30, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Are you attempting to outline the cage, or rattle it? Both?
You’re not discussing reductionism here or other forms of learning, ways of gathering information of the world. So I ask, why are you posting this?

Research is one method of addressing wicked problems. Wicked problems is a term from planning – these form of problems have no stopping point, they can only be re-solved. There is not a “okay, now we’re done” the way there can be with some engineering problems, as in, okay, the bridge is built.

“proof” has always been misused when discussing research. We forget that research provides evidence to back up claims. We don’t ever prove anything – because more information is always forthcoming. Research with different findings is always used to back up different claims – and researchers can do this because most citizens are not literate in what makes for solid studies, or weak ones.

15 Ron Potato March 30, 2011 at 3:45 pm

No, if your science lacks a concept of proof, you lack a science.

“Always new information” begs the question, what are you discovering now if it is trivially invalidated later by the mere progress of time? How can you make any progress if the giants you stand on have no shoulders?

Newtonian mechanics is still correct for all normal human cases, and the sociologists are rehashing old ideas with new jargon.

16 Andrew March 30, 2011 at 5:37 pm

We want PROOF! With 95% confidence if possible.

17 ad*m March 30, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Ethos of Blogger? I hope not!

Ethos of the Unit are just weasel words to convince the employees in that unit that a scientific basis for how they manage and treat their patients may be an improvement. In medicine, child psychiatry is probably the field where evidence based medicine or any scientific approach ash lagged the most.

How can you possiby get more beta than saying “All research is provisional” to convince some therapist not to use “repressed memories” or whatever as a basis for their treatment.

18 dearieme March 30, 2011 at 6:18 pm

“Quantitative research may be able to show hard findings but can rarely (never?) give clear answers to complex questions.” Then ask simple questions, you chumps.

19 dearieme March 30, 2011 at 6:20 pm

“•All research is difficult to interpret and to draw clear conclusions from”: no, if you’ve asked the right simple question, and devised a suitable experiment, the answer sometimes conclusively punches you on the nose and does so irrespective of what result you had expected.

20 coasrsening March 30, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Actually I object to the term evidence based. It is often used by people enamored of the RCT and double blind methods as the only quantitative measures suitable for science. It suggests that all other techniques are non-evidentiary. Hence, “evidence based” researchers often scorn regression analysis or statistical methods that aren’t iron clad randomized trials or blind tests.

This is poppcock and of course belies the soothing claims that qualitative findings are evidence (albeit often of a weak and diffuse sort) that might be helpful. It is a marketing tactic to belittle other methodologies.

21 mulp March 31, 2011 at 12:30 am

Yep, that defines classical mechanics (physics) rather well, and why it took two thousand years to get to the point that quantum mechanics and relativity had to be invented.

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