Originally published in INSIDE HIGHER ED, Oct. 30, 2009
For social scientists starting their careers, creating research models that
work is crucial. A new book suggests that they may be unaware of problems they
face in part because scholars don't share stories of what didn't work on their
projects, and how to deal with particular challenges. Research Confidential:
Solutions to Problems Most Social Scientists Pretend They Never Have has
just been published by the
Q: I was struck by the part of your subtitle where you say "pretend they never have." Why do you think social scientists don't recognize or hide from problems with their research methods?
A: This title refers less to what social scientists recognize and more to what shows up in the final write-up of their projects. When one reads journal articles, the methodological sections tend to make the projects sound rather straight-forward. In books, details about methods are usually relegated to an appendix, at best, and do not tell the reader the reality of data collection. Instead, they are pretty, cleaned-up versions of what happened. For example, they will include the number of final interviews the researcher conducted, but they won't include details about how many attempts it took to get a person to come to an interview.