Re: realist-rationalist quad

From: wilkins (wilkins@wehi.EDU.AU)
Date: Wed Feb 14 2001 - 02:13:03 GMT

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    From: wilkins <wilkins@wehi.EDU.AU>
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    Subject: Re: realist-rationalist quad
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    Content-Type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1 Content-Transfer-Encoding: 8bit wrote:
    > Umm... I'm kinda curious how you accurately quantify this beyond
    > "guessometrics". If you are unable to deliver hard numbers using a
    > consistent methodology, I think talk of anything beyond putting a blott
    > somewhere that looks about right is a bit overkill.
    > Is there something I'm missing here?
    Not really. Qualitative research must be impressionistic, although I'm
    fairly sure you could do some mapping of it using certain techiques.
    Here's something I wrote a few years back, which badly needs to be
    brought up to date and expanded on:

            5 Social research

            There are similarities to this modelling process in methodologies already
            employed in the social sciences, notably in the health sciences. Social
            researchers Glaser and Strauss (Glaser 1978, Strauss 1986) developed a method
            known as 'grounded theory research', part of the so-called 'discovery mode'
            of social research, in which a hypothesis is tested for properties of a
            specific category. The researcher aims to have a theory to work by
    which is
            both modified by and influences the selection of the collection of
            qualitative data (Glaser 1978: 36, cf Becker 1993). 'Qualitative' is, of
            course, a code word in social research for 'subjective', and the data
            collected represent attitudinal expressions from the subjects under study,
            delineated according to the researcher's field of interest. It therefore
            lends itself to a social constructionist approach (Charmaz 1989). In grounded
            theory, though, there is a feedback loop to the researcher's choice of
            categories, so that emerging issues will enable the researcher to redefine
            what data needs to be collected, and how it is to be interpreted. Out
    of a
            virtual infinity of categories, only a manageable set of categories are
            chosen for study, and this set is refined according to judgements based upon
            the data collected. Grounded theory, along with other phenomenological
            methods in social science, often have a flawed understanding of the
            possibility of completeness in their models, however, and it is instanced
            here only as a feedback model of social research, whereby the categories
            under investigation are refined as the study progresses. This entirely a
            social and semantic approach to research. As with all research into
            subjective states, it is strongly open to preconceptional bias and
            ideological distortion, but it is widely used to guide research into social
            interactions, and cannot simply be dismissed as another sociological fashion.
            I have alluded to earlier approaches of this kind (Osgood and others 1967,
            Tulloch 1972), and something of this kind is a persistent theme in social,
            and therefore historical, research.

            I raise this method here as an example of the prima facie plausibility
    of the
            approach I am sketching - if this sort of approach underpins much actual
            social research, then it may be useful in studying the social aspects of
            science. However, studying the social aspects alone do not give a rounded
            picture of theory development. I reject the simple constructionist approach
            to science, as I would the simple social constructionist approach to
            epidemiology. No matter what the social influences on the course of science
            or disease may be, there are nevertheless asocial causal agents that initiate
            and continue these social movements.

            Having climbed these abstracted heights, the question will arise
    whether it
            can be applied. [25] While the objections to Hull's conception may not be
            fatal in principle, perhaps historians of science will be able to
    ignore this
            and other approaches and continue as before. I feel that the techniques
            developed for both pheneticist and cladist analysis, of clusters in the phase
            space and Hennigian comb cladograms will provide an approach not previously
            available for the study of sociocultural phenomena, and change in
    science in
            particular, but without any reason to apply them, they will be ignored for
            the more familiar techniques of multifactorial analysis and narrative. One
            such technique that could be used is the Wagner Similarity method (cf Wiley
            and others 1991). This method establishes an instance matrix of characters
            (presence and absence, but it could be any value 0>x>1) and calculates the
            sum of the modulus of differences to give the Wagner distance between taxa
            (or theories). From this a net diagram of relationships, or an unrooted tree,
            can be drawn up to give a sharp notion of the overall similarity of
    taxa or
            theories. The same data can be recast as a rooted cladogram if a sister-group
            can be selected. Software, both commercial and public domain, is
    available to
            perform these analyses and others using well-established algorithms. While
            this will not definitively establish ancestry of a conceptual lineage,
    it can
            be used to test hypotheses of ancestry, and to overcome the Whiggish tendency
            of historians to read preferred modern views back into a historical subject,
            such as Darwin's reliance or not on now-discredited views such as
            embryological recapitulation (cf Richards 1992).

    From Wilkins, J. S. (1998). “The evolutionary structure of scientific
    theories.” Biology and Philosophy 13(4): 479–504.

    John Wilkins, Head, Graphic Production, The Walter and Eliza Hall 
    Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne, Australia
    Homo homini aut deus aut lupus - Erasmus of Rotterdam
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