“To err is human; to admit it, superhuman.” Doug Larson
I selected this image for several reasons. It makes me shake my head and laugh. Humans are gullible and some are more so than others.
When considering what to post for an article, editorial or blog regarding errors, I thought about how our history lessons remind us of times when believing a reassuring lie was far too easy for society to do. Each time I hear Orsen Well’s rendition of War of the Worlds I am reminded of how inconvenient truths, such as those that may surround the government, religion or science, are difficult to swallow regardless of the research behind them.
It’s easy to believe a well-crafted lie.While this radio broadcast was terrifying for many, our understanding of Martians was not based on scientific fact, but rather on cultural ideas.
In this week’s “Food for Thought” blog, I am asked to consider the common errors of human inquiry. While I have relatively little experience in these errors as far as research is concerned, I have seen them unfold in novels, movies and nonfiction work. As a public educator, I collected experiences of students in annotated format for Child Study purposes as well as for educational research purposes.
While Orsen Well’s radio broadcast was well before my time, scandal regarding the Nestle Corporation and the marketing of baby formula to mothers in underdeveloped countries was within my time. Business Insider’s Every Parent Should Know The Scandalous History of Infant Formula reminds us how mother’s around the world trusted the research to help them to become Westernized in the way in which they cared for their children. In 1982, New Internationalist magazine drew attention to the way in which science, business, and marketing used babies to promote products.
In her blog, All Parenting, Janelle Hanchette, continues to ask, “Is Nestle Still Making Poor Choices with Baby Formula?” Nearly 40 years later Nestle, one of the largest food distributors in the world, is still being scrutinized for these behaviors.
Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.
Marcus Tullius Cicero
A Degree of precision vs. inaccurate observations-
Measurement devices guard against inaccurate observations and allow the researcher to be more deliberate when making observations. Ask two individuals what they saw and you’ll get two different responses. There’s no guessing in science.
Babbie presents a selection of errors common to social science research for novice research students (2015). Rather than simply regurgitate the examples, I consider how I may apply the solutions he presented to both this course and future research.
Failing to plan may mean planning to fail-
This is an old adage. It’s one that I’ve used to when speaking to my students and one that I have used when admonishing myself. New ideas regarding research ask me to consider how have I reacted to pressure to come to a conclusion in the past? I also need to consider now how to plan for ways to avoid capitulating to pressure, if faced with it in the future. My research inquiry may be misdirected if I give into the pressure to just find an idea and then move on.
Babbie’s example of the reporter who failed to wait long enough to get “the whole story” is a good reminder to allow time to conduct thorough research and investigation. Skimming the top for basic ideas can result in highly inaccurate results. The editor with egg on his face will think twice before assigning another important story to a rookie reporter. A foundation or department will think twice before allowing an inept researcher to participate in an important study if s/he takes shortcuts when drawing conclusions.
A swat to “pithy” sayings
There is always one person in every crowd who delights in breaking the rules. The concept that there is an”exception that proves the rule” is illogical. Where do rules come from and why do individuals perpetuate them? Group stereotypes may help to diffuse cognitive dissonance, yet impede accurate observations. Robert Wooley‘s post What is the “Gambler’s Fallacy” illustrates the example provided by Babbie regarding illogical reasoning. Engaging my research with others around me will help to not only keep me honest, but remind me to use logical reasoning when considering observations. Babbie reminds us that science “…attempts to protect us from the common pitfalls of ordinary inquiry.” He goes on to say that “observing and understanding reality is not an obvious or trivial matter.” Pithy sayings and science just don’t jive well.
Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow!
Babbie cautions me to remember that scientific understanding of the world is ever changing. When old knowledge is replaced by new knowledge the importance of continuous research on the part of social scientists provides me with hope for tomorrow. Babbie referenced the work of Sam Arbesman at the conclusion of the section regarding errors in human inquiry. While twelve minutes in length, it’s worth the time when considering how vital research is to the advancement of our society.
If what Arbesman suggests about old knowledge and new knowledge is true then young social researchers would benefit from the replication of research study. In doing so, we would learn how to conduct testing, determine how the results were derived while suggesting new methods to explore the topic.
When considering how you know what you know-
- Which aspect of your knowledge of human behavior have changed since the beginning of your graduate course of study?
- Which aspect of your knowledge have either decayed or may do so over time?
Babbie, E. (2015). The practice of social research. Cengage Learning.