Unformatted text preview: Chapter Two Sociologists Doing Research OUTLINE
Sources of Knowledge
Causation and the Logic of Science
Quantitative Research Methods
Qualitative Research Methods
Doing Research: Emile Durkheim—The Study of Suicide
A Model for Doing Research
Ethics in Social Research
Sociology in the News: Research in Advertising
A Final Note CHAPTER 2: SOCIOLOGISTS DOING RESEARCH L EARNING OBJECTIVES SOURCES OF KNOWLEDGE After careful study of this chapter, you will be able to:
• Identify major nonscientific sources of knowledge and explain why science is a superior source
• Apply the concept of causation and the controlled experiment to the logic of science.
• Differentiate the major quantitative research
methods used by sociologists.
• Describe the major qualitative research methods
used by sociologists.
• Explain the steps in the model sociologists use to
guide their research.
• Describe the place of ethics in research.
• State the place of concern for reliability, validity,
and replication in social research. How do we know what we know? Four major nonscientific sources of knowledge are intuition, common sense,
authority, and tradition. SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATION
What is the relationship between church attendance
and juvenile delinquency? The finding of a statistical
link between church attendance and delinquency
(delinquency increases as church attendance decreases)
meets the test of common sense. One can easily speculate on why this would be the case. An observed relationship between these two events, however, should
not lead us to conclude that one causes the other. In
fact, delinquency increases as church attendance
decreases because of a third factor—age. Age is related
to both delinquency and church attendance. Older
adolescents both go to church less often and are more
likely to be delinquents. The apparent relationship
between church attendance and delinquency, then, is
actually produced by a third factor—age—that affects
both of the original two factors.
Such mistaken ideas as a causal relationship
between lower church attendance and juvenile delinquency can survive in large part because people so
often rely on sources of knowledge not grounded in the
use of reason and the search for reality. One of the
major benefits of sociological research lies in its challenge of commonly held false beliefs and its attempt to
replace such beliefs with more accurate knowledge.
Before turning to the logic of scientific research and the
methods of sociological research, it will be helpful to
examine some major nonscientific sources of knowledge. This will provide a context for the appreciation of
the utility of a scientific approach. Nonscientific Sources of Knowledge
Intuition is quick and ready insight that is not based on
rational thought. To intuit is to have the feeling of
immediately understanding something because of
insight from an unknown inner source. For example,
the decision against buying a particular house because
“it feels wrong” is a decision based on intuition.
Common sense refers to opinions that are widely
held because they seem so obviously correct. The
problem with commonsense ideas is that they are
often wrong. Some claim common sense tells us, for
example, that property values almost always decline
when African Americans move into a white, middleclass neighborhood. Research demonstrating that
property values do not necessarily decline when
African Americans move in is hard for many people to
accept because it goes against common sense. As
philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre writes, “because common sense is never more than an inherited amalgam
of past clarities and past confusions, the defenders of
common sense are unlikely to enlighten us”
(MacIntyre, 1997: 117).
An authority is someone who is supposed to have
special knowledge that we do not have. A king believed
to be ruling by divine right is an example of an authority. Reliance on authority is often appropriate. It is
more reasonable to accept a doctor’s diagnosis of an illness than to rely on information from a neighbor
whose friend had the same symptoms (although even a
single doctor’s diagnosis should not be accepted uncritically). In other instances, however, authority can
obscure the truth. Astrologers who advise people to
guide their lives by the stars are an example of a misleading authority.
The fourth major nonscientific source of knowledge
is tradition. It is traditional to believe that only children
are all self-centered and socially inept. Despite evidence
to the contrary, Americans generally still wish to have
two or more children in order to avoid these alleged
personality traits (Sifford, 1989). Barriers to equal
opportunity for women persist in industrial societies
despite evidence that traditional negative ideas about
the capabilities of women are fallacious. 31 32 SOCIOLOGY What is the major problem with nonscientific sources
of knowledge? The major problem with nonscientific sources of knowledge is that they often provide
misleading or false information. In fact, nonscientific
sources can lead to completely opposite conclusions.
One person’s intuition tells her to buy oil stocks,
whereas another person’s intuition tells him to avoid
all energy stocks. One person’s commonsense conclusion may be that the Equal Rights Amendment will
destroy most sexual differences, although it seems
perfectly obvious to someone else that this will not be
Because these sources of knowledge are often
accepted at face value, most people seldom challenge
the information obtained through them. Consequently,
reality can be distorted for a long time. Science is a more
reliable method for obtaining knowledge because it is
based on the principles of objectivity and verifiability. Science as a Source of Knowledge
What is objectivity? According to the principle of
objectivity, scientists are expected to prevent their
personal biases from influencing their results and their
interpretation of those results. A male, antifeminist
biologist investigating the intelligence levels of males
and females, for example, is supposed to guard against
any unwarranted tendency to conclude that males are
more intelligent than females. Researchers must interpret their data solely on the basis of merit; the outcome
they personally prefer is supposed to be irrelevant. This
is what Max Weber (1946b, originally published in
1918) meant by value-free research. (Refer to Chapter 1,
“The Sociological Perspective.”)
Can scientists really be objective? Inevitably, scientists’ personal views do affect their work. In exceptional
cases, this is deliberate. A promising young Harvard
Medical School physician, John R. Darsee, admitted
faking data in an experiment on heart attack prevention (“Harvard Delays in Reporting Fraud,” 1982). A
National Institute of Mental Health investigatory panel
ruled that Stephen Breuning, an assistant professor of
child psychiatry, deliberately and repeatedly engaged in
deceptive research practices (Brand, 1987).
Sometimes scientists unintentionally let their personal biases influence their work. For example, pioneering sex researcher, Alfred Kinsey, has been accused of
being both a homosexual and a masochist, characteristics said to unduly influence his research. In his recent
book, James Jones (1997) makes this charge and presents
evidence that Kinsey, who revolutionized popular
thinking about sex in America in the 1950s, was a man
with an ideological agenda whose research methods
undermine his claim to objectivity. Jones refers to scientific critics who point out that Kinsey generalized about When forming opinions about the risk of AIDS, many Americans
rely on nonscientific sources. The protestors in this picture are concerned about the harm done to children in an environment void of
scientifically based knowledge. the American population on the basis of data gathered
largely from volunteers, including disproportionate
numbers of male prostitutes, gays, and prison inmates.
Scientists cannot possibly be completely objective.
But if subjectivity in research cannot be eliminated, it
can be reduced.
How can subjectivity be reduced? If researchers are
aware of their biases, they can consciously take them
into account. They can be more careful in designing
research instruments, selecting samples, choosing statistical techniques, and interpreting results. According
to Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal (1969), personal
recognition of biases is insufficient; public exposure of
them is essential. Personal values, Myrdal contends,
should be explicitly stated so that those who read a
research report can be aware of the author’s biases.
What is verifiability? Verifiability means that any
study can be duplicated by other scientists. This is possible because scientists report in detail how they conducted their research. Verifiability is important because
it exposes a piece of research to scientists’ critical examination, retesting, and revision by colleagues. If
researchers repeating a study produce results at odds
with the original study, the original findings will be
questioned. Erroneous theories, findings, and conclusions cannot survive in the long run in this type of system (Begley, 1997). FEEDBACK CHAPTER 2: SOCIOLOGISTS DOING RESEARCH
1. Intuition is quick and ready insight based on rational thought. T or F?
2. The major problem with nonscientific sources of knowledge is that such sources often provide erroneous information. T or F?
3. Define objectivity and verifiability as used in science.
4. According to Gunnar Myrdal, it is enough that scientists themselves recognize their biases. T or F?
Answers: 1. F 2. T 3. Objectivity exists when an effort is made to prevent personal biases from distorting research.
Verifiability means that any given piece of scientific research done by one scientist can be duplicated by other scientists. 4. F C AUSATION AND THE LOGIC OF SCIENCE The Nature of Causation
In science it is assumed that an event occurs for a reason. According to the concept of causation, events
occur in predictable, nonrandom ways, and one event
leads to another. Why does this book remain stationary
rather than slowly rising off your desk, past your eyes,
to rest against the ceiling? Why does a ball thrown into
the air return to the ground? Why do the planets stay in
orbit around the sun? According to Aristotle, heavier
objects fall faster than lighter ones. In the late 1500s,
Galileo contended that all objects fall with the same
acceleration (change of speed) unless slowed down by
air resistance or some other force. It was not until the
late 1600s that Isaac Newton developed the theory of
gravity. We now know that objects fall because the
earth has a gravitational attraction for objects near it.
The planets remain in orbit around the sun because of
the gravitational force that the sun creates.
In sociology, religious affiliation, political preference, educational achievement, child-rearing practices,
and divorce rates can be predicted, in large part, on the
basis of social class membership. Because science is
based on causation, one of its main goals is to discover
cause-and-effect relationships. Scientists attempt to discover the factors—there is usually more than one—that
cause events to happen.
Why multiple causation? Leo Rosten, noted author
and political scientist, once wrote, “If an explanation
relies on a single cause, it is surely wrong.” Events in the
physical or social world are generally too complex to be
explained by any single factor. For this reason, scientists are guided by the principle of multiple causation, which states that an event occurs as a result of
several factors operating in combination. What, for
example, causes crime? Cesare Lombroso, a nineteenthcentury Italian criminologist, believed that the predisposition to crime was inherited and that criminals
could be identified by certain primitive physical traits
(large jaws, receding foreheads). Modern criminologists
reject Lombroso’s (or anyone’s) one-factor explanation of crime. They now cite numerous factors that contribute to crime, including subcultures of violence
turned against society; rapid social change and economic development; excessive materialism; hopeless
poverty in slums; and overly lax, overly strict, or erratic
How does the concept of variable fit into a discussion
of causation? A variable is a characteristic (age, education, social class) that occurs in different degrees.
Some materials have a greater specific gravity than others; some people have higher incomes than others; the
average level of education is higher in developed countries than in developing countries. Each of these is a
quantitative variable, a variable numerically measured.
Because differences can be measured numerically, individuals, groups, objects, or events can be pinpointed at
some specific point along a continuum. A qualitative
variable consists of categories rather than numerical
units; it measures differences in kind rather than
numerical degree. Sex, marital status, and group membership are three qualitative variables often used by
sociologists: People are male or female; they are single,
married, widowed, separated, or divorced; they are
sorority members or they are not.
Variables that cause something to occur are independent variables. Variables in which a change (or
effect) can be observed are dependent variables.
Marital infidelity is an independent variable (although,
of course, not the only one) that can cause the dependent variable of divorce. The independent variable of
poverty is one of several independent variables that can
produce change in the dependent variable of hunger.
Whether a variable is dependent or independent varies
with the context. The extent of hunger may be a dependent variable in a study of poverty; it may be an independent variable in a study of crime.
If a causal relationship exists between an independent variable and a dependent variable, the variables
must be correlated. A c orrelation exists when a
change in one variable is associated with a change
(either positively or negatively) in the other.
Establishment of causation, however, is much more
complicated than establishment of a correlation
between two variables. 33 34 SOCIOLOGY What are the criteria for establishing a causal relationship? Three standards are commonly used for establishing causality (Lazarsfeld, 1955; Hirschi and Selvin,
1973). These standards can be illustrated using the mistaken assumption that lower church attendance causes
higher juvenile delinquency discussed at the beginning
of this chapter (see “Sociological Imagination”).
1. Two variables must be correlated. Some researchers
found that juvenile delinquency increases as
church attendance declines (Stark, Kent, and
Doyle, 1982). Does the existence of this negative
correlation mean that lower church attendance
causes higher delinquency? To answer this
question, the second criterion of causality
must be met.
2. All possible contaminating factors must be controlled. Although all cause-and-effect relationships involve a correlation, the existence of a
correlation does not necessarily indicate a causal
relationship. Just because two events vary
together does not mean that one causes the
other. Two totally unrelated variables may have
a high correlation. In fact, the correlation
between lower church attendance and delinquency is known as a spurious correlation—
an apparent relationship between two variables
that is actually produced by a third variable that
affects both of the original two variables.
The negative relationship between church
attendance and delinquency occurs because age
is related to both church attendance (older adolescents attend church less frequently) and
delinquency (older adolescents are more likely to
be delinquents). Thus, before we could be sure
that a causal relationship exists between church
attendance and delinquency, we would need to
control for all variables relevant to the relationship. In this instance, controlling for age
revealed that the relationship between church
attendance and delinquency is not a causal one.
A major problem in establishing causality lies
in the control of all relevant variables. Normally,
such control is impossible. Researchers are usually not aware of all possible factors that might
affect the relationship between an independent
variable and a dependent variable, and even if
they were, it is often not feasible to control for
all of them. Discovering and controlling for contaminating factors is one of the greatest challenges in science.
3. A change in the independent variable must occur
before a change in the dependent variable can occur.
Does lack of church attendance precede delinquency, or vice versa? Logically, either one could
precede the other, or they could occur simultane- ously. Thus, if the original correlation between
church attendance and delinquency was maintained after controlling for possible contaminating factors, causality between these two variables
could not be established, because it cannot be
said which is temporally prior to the other.
Although the successful use of these criteria of causation is not always complete, the criteria are important
standards for which scientists continue to strive.
Moreover, research results—even if they meet these criteria of causation—require theory to make empirical
data meaningful. The Controlled Experiment as a Model
A description of the controlled experiment provides an
excellent means to illustrate causation. Though used
infrequently by sociologists, the controlled experiment
provides insight into the nature of all scientific research
because it is grounded in the concept of causation.
A controlled experiment takes place in a laboratory and attempts to eliminate all possible contaminating influences on the variables being studied. The basic
idea of the controlled experiment is to rule out the
effects of extraneous factors to see the effects (if any) of
an independent variable on a dependent variable.
According to the logic of the controlled experiment, if
the dependent variable changes when the experimental
(independent) variable is introduced but does not
change when it is absent, the change must have been
caused by the independent variable.
The basic ingredients of a controlled experiment are
a pretest, a posttest, an experimental (independent)
variable, an experimental group, and a control group.
Suppose a researcher wants to study experimentally the
effects of providing information on drug use to junior
high school students. After selecting a class of eighth
graders, the researcher could first measure the teenagers’
attitudes toward drug use (pretest). Then, at a later time
a film demonstrating the harmful effects of drug use
might be shown to the class (experimental variable).
After the movie, the students could again be questioned
about their attitudes toward drug use (posttest). Any
changes in their attitudes toward drug use that took
place between the pretest and the posttest could be
attributed to the experimental variable. Such a conclusion might be wrong, however, because the change
could have been due to factors other than the experimental variable—a student in the school might have
died from an overdose of drugs, a nationally known
rock singer might have publicly endorsed drug use, or a
pusher might have begun selling drugs to the students.
The conventional method for controlling the influence of contaminating variables is to select a control
group as well as an experimental group. In the preceding CHAPTER 2: SOCIOLOGISTS DOING RESEARCH example, half of the eighth-grade class could have been
assigned to the e xperimental group —the group
exposed to the experimental variable—and half to the
control group—the group not exposed to the experimental variable. Assuming that the members of each
group had similar characteristics and that their experiences between the pretest and the posttest had been the
same, any difference in attitudes toward drug use
between the two groups could safely be attributed to the
students’ exposure or lack of exposure to the film.
How can experimental and control groups be made
comparable? The standard ways of making experimental and control groups comparable in all respects
except for exposure to the experimental variable are through matching or randomization. In matching, participants in an experiment are matched in pairs according
to all factors thought to affect the relationship being
investigated and members of each pair are then
assigned to one group or the other. In randomization,
which is preferable to matching, subjects are assigned
to the experimental and control groups on a random or
chance basis. Assignment to one group or the other can
be determined by flipping a coin or by having subjects
draw numbers from a container. Whether matching or
randomization is used, the goal is the same: to form
experimental and control groups that are alike with
respect to all relevant characteristics except the experimental variable. If this requirement has been met, any
significant change in the experimental group as B A S I C S TAT I S T I C A L M E A S U R E S
The trend in sociology today is toward more complicated
and sophisticated statistical measures. However, the statistics you will encounter in this textbook and in the sources
you are likely to read later, such as The Wall Street Journal,
Time, Newsweek, and The Economist, are easily comprehended. Among the most basic statistical measures are
averages (modes, means, medians) and correlations.
An average—a measure of central tendency—provides a
single number representing the way numerical values are
distributed. Consider the following hypothetical salary
figures for the nine highest-paid Major League baseball
players by position:
$3,600,000 (Second Base)
$3,600,000 (Third Base)
$4,200,000 (Center Field)
$4,300,000 (Shortstop) $4,500,000 (First Base)
$4,900,000 (Starting Pitcher)
$5,300,000 (Left Field)
$6,100,000 (Right Field) There are three averages that can be used to make these
numerical values more manageable and meaningful. Each
of these three measures of central tendency gives a different
picture. When any one measure of central tendency is misleading, researchers usually present two or more.
The mode—in this case $3,600,000—is the numerical
value that occurs most frequently. If a researcher were to
rely on the mode alone in a report of these Major League
salaries, readers would be misled, because no mention is
made of the wide range of salaries ($3,300,000 to
$6,100,000). The mode is appropriate only when the objective is to indicate the most popular value.
In common usage, something that is average lies somewhere in the middle of a range. The mean is the measure
of central tendency closest to the everyday meaning of
the term average. The mean of the salary figures above— $4,422,222—is calculated by adding all of the figures
together and dividing by the number of figures
($39,800,000 9). The mean, unlike the mode, takes all of
the figures into account, but it is distorted by the extreme
figure of $6,100,000. Although one player earns $6,100,000,
most players make considerably less—the highest-paid
player earns nearly twice as much as the lowest-paid player
in this elite category. The mean distorts when there are
extreme values at either the high or low end of a scale; it is
more accurate when extremes are not widely separated.
The median is the number that divides a series of values
in half; half of the values lie above it, half below. In this
example, the median is $4,300,000—half of the salaries are
above $4,300,000, half are below. Should there be an even
number of values in a series, the median would be the mean
of the two middle figures. The advantage of the median is
that it is not distorted by extremes.
Measures of central tendency describe a single set of values, whereas a correlation coefficient indicates the strength of
the relationship between two variables. A correlation coefficient of zero indicates that two variables are absolutely unrelated, as in the death rate in South Africa and the number of
victories in a Los Angeles Dodgers’s season. A perfect positive
correlation—as in the case of the rate of descent of a parachutist and the earth’s gravitational pull—has a value of
1.0. A perfect negative correlation, expressed numerically as
1.0, exists when the occurrence of one variable always
leads to the absence of another. A perfect negative correlation exists between sunlight and darkness. Because correlations in sociological research are seldom perfect, judgments
must be made about the strength of relationships.
Correlation coefficients of plus or minus 0.4 and up are considered respectable in most sociological research, although
sociologists have much more confidence in correlation coefficients above 0.6. 35 FEEDBACK SOCIOLOGY
1. Match the following concepts and statements:
____ a. causation
(1) something that occurs in varying degrees
____ b. multiple causation
(2) the variable in which a change or effect is observed
____ c. variable
(3) a change in one variable associated with a change in another variable
____ d. quantitative variable
(4) the idea that an event occurs as a result of several factors operating in
____ e. qualitative variable
____ f. independent variable
(5) a factor that causes something to happen
____ g. dependent variable
(6) the idea that the occurrence of one event leads to the occurrence of
____ h. correlation
____ i. spurious correlation
(7) a factor consisting of categories
(8) when a relationship between two variables is actually the result of a third
(9) a variable consisting of numerical units
2. A __________ attempts to eliminate all possible contaminating influences on the variables being studied.
3. The group in an experiment that is not exposed to the experimental variable is the __________ group.
4. Experimental and control groups are made comparable in all respects except for exposure to the experimental variable through __________ or __________.
Answers: 1. a.(6) b.(4) c.(1) d.(9) e.(7) f.(5) g.(2) h.(3) i.(8) 2. controlled experiment 3. control 4. matching or randomization 36 compared to the control group can be attributed with
considerable confidence to the experimental variable.
That is, a causal link will have been established between
the independent and dependent variables. QUANTITATIVE RESEARCH METHODS
Because sociologists find it difficult to create controlled
situations, they tend to rely more on other research
methods, classified either as quantitative or qualitative.
About 90 percent of the research published in major
sociological journals is based on surveys, so this
approach is discussed first among major sociological
research methods. Survey Research
A s urvey, in which people are asked to answer a
series of questions, is the most widely used research
method among sociologists because it is ideal for studying large numbers of people. In survey research, care
must be taken in the selection of respondents and in
formulating the questions to be asked (Weisberg and
A population consists of all those people with the
characteristics a researcher wants to study. A population could be all college sophomores in the United
States, all former drug addicts now living in
Connecticut, or all current inmates of the Ohio State
Penitentiary. Most populations are too large and inaccessible to permit the collection of information on all
members. For this reason, for example, the U.S. Bureau of the Census has asked Congress for approval to
change its method from an attempted survey of the
entire American population to some limited use of scientific sampling (McAllister, 1997). A s ample, of
course, is a limited number of cases drawn from the
larger population. A sample must be selected carefully if
it is to have the same basic characteristics as the population. If a sample is not representative of the population from which it is drawn, the survey findings cannot
be used to make generalizations about the entire population (Winship and Mare, 1992).
How can a representative sample be drawn? A
random sample—a sample selected on the basis of
chance so that each member of a population has an
equal opportunity of being selected—is the standard
way of selecting a representative sample. A random
sample can be selected by assigning each member of
the population a number and then drawing numbers
from a container after they have been thoroughly
scrambled. An easier and more practical method, particularly with large samples, involves the use of a table
of random numbers in which numbers appear without
pattern. After each member of the population has been
assigned a number, the researcher begins with any
number in the table and goes down the list until
enough subjects have been selected.
If greater precision is desired, a stratified random
sample can be drawn. This is accomplished by dividing
the population into strata (categories such as sex, race,
age, or any other relevant variable) and then selecting a
random sample from each category. The proportion of
persons in a given category, or stratum, should equal
their proportion in the population at large. CHAPTER 2: SOCIOLOGISTS DOING RESEARCH CLOSED-ENDED AND OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS
Please tell me whether you strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with each of the following statements: a. Most school teachers really don’t know
what they are talking about.
b. To get ahead in life, you have to get a good
c. My parents encouraged me to get a good education.
d. By the time children are sixteen years old, they
should be ready to leave school.
e. Too much emphasis is put on education these days.
f. My parents thought that going to school was a
waste of time. Strongly
4 1 2 3 4 1
4 Open-ended Question
In your own words, please describe your views on the education of your children.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ How is information gathered in surveys? In surveys,
information is obtained either through a questionnaire
or an interview. A questionnaire is a written set of questions that survey participants fill out by themselves; in
an interview, a trained interviewer asks questions and
records answers. Questionnaires or interviews may be
composed of either closed-ended or open-ended questions. (See “Closed-Ended and Open-Ended Questions.”)
Closed-ended questions are those for which a limited,
predetermined set of answers is possible. Because participants must choose from rigidly predetermined answers,
closed-ended questions sometimes fail to elicit the participants’ real attitudes and opinions. On the positive
side, closed-ended questions make answers easier to
quantify and compare. Open-ended questions ask for
answers in the respondents’ own words. Answers to
open-ended questions, however, are not easy to quantify. And interviewers make the comparison of answers
even more difficult when they change the meaning of
questions by rephrasing them.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of survey
research? Surveys—especially those based on structured questions—have the advantage of precision and
comparability of responses. They permit the use of statistical techniques, a feature they have in common with
experiments. Statistical techniques can be used because
of still other advantages in survey research. Surveys per- mit the collection of large samples, which in turn permit
more detailed analysis; surveys include a large number
of variables; variables in surveys can be quantified. These employees of the U.S. Census Bureau are entering data from
one of this government agency’s many surveys. The results of these
surveys, considered to be representative of the United States population, are widely utilized for decision making by private individuals,
business organizations, and political leaders. 37 38 SOCIOLOGY to give answers that they think the interviewer wants to
hear or that they think are socially acceptable. Fifth,
surveys cannot probe deeply into the context of the
social behavior being studied; they draw specific bits of
information from respondents, but they cannot capture
the total social situation. Finally, survey researchers
must be on guard for the Hawthorne effect—when
unintentional behavior on the part of researchers influences the results they obtain from those they are studying (Roethlisberger and Dickson, 1964, originally
published in 1939). As researchers and survey participants interact, participants detect cues regarding what
the researchers are trying to find. The participants,
depending on the circumstances, may subsequently
attempt to please the researcher or frustrate the
researcher’s goals. Precollected Data
The use of information already collected by someone
else for another purpose is a well-respected method
among sociologists, known as secondary analysis. In
fact, the first sociologist to use statistics in a sociological study—Emile Durkheim—relied on precollected
data. (See Doing Research.)
The survey is the most widely used research method for collecting
data in sociology. Surveys are usually conducted in person,
although use of the telephone is becoming much more common.
One of the advantages of the survey is that it permits the gathering
of information on a large number of people. The survey research method has several disadvantages, however. First, surveys tend to be expensive
because of the large samples that are usually involved.
Second, because survey questions are predetermined,
interviewers cannot always include important unanticipated information, although they are encouraged to
write such information in the margin or on the back of
the interview form. Third, the response rate—particularly in mailed questionnaires—is often low. A
respectable return rate is about 50 percent, although
researchers make an effort to obtain a return rate of 80
percent or higher. Even in interviews, some people are
not available and some refuse to answer the questions.
Because nonresponses can make the sample unrepresentative, surveys may be biased. Fourth, the phrasing
of survey questions may also introduce bias. For example, negatively phrased questions are more likely to
receive a no answer than neutrally phrased questions. It
is better to ask, “Are you in favor of abortion?” than
“You aren’t in favor of abortion, are you?” Respondents
also interpret the same question differently. If asked
about the extent of their drug use, some respondents
may include alcohol in their answers, others may not.
As in experiments, there is a tendency for respondents What are the major types of precollected data? The
sources for precollected data are as varied as government
data, company records, voting records, prison records,
and reports of research done by other social scientists.
One of the most important sources of precollected
data for sociologists is the census bureau. Countries collect various types of information from their populations. The U.S. Bureau of the Census collects a wealth of
information on the total population every ten years
and conducts countless specific surveys each year.
Because of this, detailed information exists on such
topics as income, education, race, sex, age, marital status, occupation, and death and birth rates. Other government agencies collect additional information. The
U.S. Department of Labor regularly collects information
on the nation’s income and unemployment levels
across a variety of jobs. The U.S. Department of
Commerce issues monthly reports on various aspects of
the economy’s health.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of precollected data? Precollected data provide sociologists
with inexpensive, quality information. Existing sources
of information also permit the study of a topic over a
long period of time. With census data, for example, we
can trace changes in the relative income levels of blacks
and whites since the war on poverty began in the
1960s. Also, because the data have been collected by
others, the researcher cannot influence answers to
questions he or she is using. CHAPTER 2: SOCIOLOGISTS DOING RESEARCH S C R U T I N I Z I N G P O P U L A R R E P O RT S O F S O C I A L S C I E N C E R E S E A R C H
We are being bombarded daily with such a mass of new
information that it is difficult to process it adequately.
Consequently, becoming a critical, selective, and informed
consumer of information is increasingly important.
Discussed below are several means for better evaluating
reports on social science research that you may encounter
in the media.
Maintain a Skeptical Attitude Be skeptical, because the
media have a tendency to sensationalize and distort. For
example, the media may report that a university researcher
spent $500,000 to find out that love keeps families together
when, in fact, this was only one small aspect of the larger
research project. Moreover, chances are the media have
oversimplified even this part of the researcher’s conclusions.
Consider the Source of Information For example, find
out whether a study on the relationship between cancer
and smoking has been sponsored by the tobacco industry or
by the American Cancer Society. Representatives of tobacco
companies deny the existence of any research linking throat
and mouth cancer with dipping snuff. A medical researcher
contended that putting a “pinch between your cheek and
gum” has, in the long run, led to cancer in humans. Whom
do you believe? At the very least you want to know the
background of the source of information before making a
judgment about scientific conclusions. This caution is especially relevant to the Internet, which is now a new major
source of information. Because this information varies Determine Whether a Control Group Has Been Used
Knowing whether a control group has been used in the
research may be important. For instance, increases in selfesteem and physical energy may be reported in a study of
participants in a meditation program. Was this because of
the respect and attention they were given during the training period or because of the meditation techniques themselves? Or a study may report that the productivity of a
group of workers in an office increased dramatically because
the workers were allowed to participate in work-related
decisions. Was the productivity increase due to the employees’ being involved in something new and exciting or
because of the participation in decision making itself?
Without one or more control groups, you cannot be certain
of what caused the changes in the meditation participants
or in the office workers.
Do Not Mistake Correlation for Causation A correlation between two variables does not necessarily mean that
one caused the other. For example, at one time the percentage of Americans who smoked was increasing at the same
time life expectancy was increasing. Did this mean that
smoking caused people to live longer? Actually, a third factor—improved health care—accounts for the increased life
expectancy. Do not assume that two events are related
causally just because they occur together. QUALITATIVE RESEARCH METHODS Surveys and analysis of precollected data have been
adopted by sociology in an attempt to emulate the
quantification of the physical sciences. Another 1. Match the following terms and statements:
____ a. population
(1) selected on the basis of chance so that each member of a population has
____ b. representative sample
an equal opportunity of being selected
____ c. random sample
(2) all those people with the characteristics the researcher wants to study
____ d. sample
within the context of a particular research question
____ e. survey
(3) a limited number of cases drawn from the larger population
(4) a sample that has basically the same relevant characteristics as the
(5) the research method in which people are asked to answer a series of
2. Use of company records would be an example of using __________ data.
Answers: 1. a. (2) b. (4) c. (1) d. (3) e. (5) 2. precollected FEEDBACK The use of precollected data also has disadvantages.
The existing information may not exactly suit the
researcher’s needs, because it was collected for different
purposes. Also, those people who collected the data
may have been biased. Finally, sometimes precollected
data are too old to be currently valid. widely in its accuracy and reliability, sources must be evaluated with particular care. 39 40 SOCIOLOGY DOING RESEARCH Emile Durkheim—
The Study of Suicide
Emile Durkheim, the first person
to be formally recognized as a
sociologist and the most scientific
of the pioneers, conducted a study
that stands as a research model for
sociologists today. His investigation of suicide was, in fact, the
first sociological study to use statistics. In Suicide (1964, originally
published in 1897), Durkheim
documented his contention that
some aspects of human behavior—even something as allegedly
individualistic as suicide—can be
explained without reference to
Like all of Durkheim’s work,
Suicide must be viewed within the
context of his concern for social
integration (Collins, 1994).
Durkheim wanted to see whether
suicide rates within a social entity
(for example, a group, organiza- tion, or society) are related to the
degree to which individuals are
socially involved (integrated and
regulated). Durkheim described
three types of suicide: egoistic,
altruistic, and anomic. Egoistic suicide is promoted when individuals
do not have sufficient social ties.
Because single (never married)
adults, for example, are not heavily involved with family life, they
are more likely to commit suicide
than are married adults. Altruistic
suicide, on the other hand, is
more likely to occur when social
integration is too strong. The ritual suicide of Hindu widows on
their husbands’ funeral pyres is
one example. Military personnel,
trained to lay down their lives for
their country, provide another
Durkeim’s third type of suicide—anomic suicide—increases
when the social regulation of individuals is disrupted. For example,
suicide rates increase during economic depressions. People suddenly without jobs or hope of
finding them are more prone to
kill themselves. Suicide may also
increase during periods of prosperity. People may loosen their social research approach assumes that some aspects of social
reality can be reached only by using qualitative, or nonquantitative, research methods. Qualitative research
methods include f ield research and the s ubjective
approach (Schwandt, 1997). Field Research
Field research is used for studying aspects of social
life that cannot be measured quantitatively and that are
best understood within a natural setting. The world of
prostitution, the inner workings of a Mafia family, and
events during a riot are examples of field research.
The most often used approach to field research is the
case study —a thorough investigation of a small
group, an incident, or a community. Case studies are
accomplished primarily through intensive observation,
information obtained from informants, and informal
interviews. Newspaper files, formal interviews, official ties by taking new jobs, moving to
new communities, or finding
Using data from the government population reports of several
countries (much of it from the
French government statistical
office), Durkheim found strong
support for his line of reasoning.
Suicide rates were higher among
single than married people,
among military personnel than
civilians, among divorced than
married people, and among people involved in nationwide economic crises.
Durkheim’s primary interest,
however, was not in the empirical
(observable) indicators he used,
such as suicide rates among military personnel, married people,
and so forth. Rather, Durkheim
used the following indicators to
support several of his contentions:
(1) social behavior can be
explained by social rather than
psychological factors; (2) suicide is
affected by the degree of integration and regulation within social
entities; and (3) because society
can be studied scientifically, sociology is worthy of recognition in
the academic world (Ritzer, 1996). records, and surveys can be used to supplement these
This method assumes that the findings in one case
can be generalized to other situations of the same type.
The conclusions of a study on prostitution in Chicago,
for example, should apply to other large cities as well. It
is the researcher’s responsibility to indicate factors that
might make one situation different from similar situations in other places. Researchers conducting case studies often use the technique of participant observation.
What is participant observation? In participant
observation, a researcher becomes a member of the
group being studied. A researcher may join a group
with or without informing its members that he or she is
a sociologist. A compelling account of the use of covert
participant observation appears in Black Like Me, a book
written by John Howard Griffin (1961), a white journalist who dyed his skin to study the life of blacks in CHAPTER 2: SOCIOLOGISTS DOING RESEARCH The self-inflicted burning on the part of the Reverend Quang Duc, a Vietnamese
Buddhist monk, is a prime example of altruistic suicide. Durkheim was successful on all
three counts. If Auguste Comte
told us that sociology could be a
science, Durkheim showed us how
it could be a science.
1. Do you believe that Durkheim’s
study of suicide supported his
idea that much social behavior cannot be explained psychologically? State why or
2. Durkheim used precollected
data in researching suicide.
Referring to the other major
methods discussed in this chapter, indicate one or more other
ways this problem could be
studied. the South. Although he had visited the South as a white
man, the behavior of southern whites looked quite different to him through the eyes of a black man.
Sociologists sometimes identify themselves as
researchers who want to observe firsthand a group’s
way of life. Elliot Liebow’s study of two dozen lowerclass black men who hung ar ound a corner in
Washington, D.C., illustrates the open approach to participant observation. Even though he was a white outsider, Liebow was allowed to participate in the daily
activities of the men: “The people I was observing knew
that I was observing them, yet they allowed me to participate in their activities and take part in their lives to
a degree that continues to surprise me” (Liebow,
What are the advantages and disadvantages of field
studies? Field studies can produce a depth and
breadth of understanding unattainable with experi- 3. The functionalist, conflict, and
symbolic interactionist perspectives were discussed in Chapter
1. In which of these theoretical
traditions does Durkheim seem
to belong? Support your choice
by relating his study to the
assumptions of one of the
perspectives. ments and surveys. They cannot be matched in their
ability to reveal the meanings of a social situation from
the angle of the people involved. Adaptability is
another advantage. Once a survey has begun, it is not
practical to make significant changes when new
insights or oversights are discovered. But because it is
unstructured, a field study can easily be altered. Field
studies are especially valuable for situations in which
quantitative research either is impossible or would yield
biased results, as in a study of skid-row derelicts or organized crime. Because of these advantages, field studies
may produce insights and explanations not likely to be
unearthed through quantitative research.
Disadvantages do exist, however. The findings from
one case may not be generalizable to similar situations.
One mental hospital or community may be quite
unlike any other mental hospital or community. If the
possible bias of the sample is a major problem, so is the
potential bias of the researcher. In the absence of more 41 42 SOCIOLOGY R E A D I N G TA B L E S A N D G R A P H S
Tables and graphs are often confusing even though they are
intended to present information concisely and unambiguously. Because of an inability to read tables and graphs,
many people either misinterpret them or rely on an
author’s summary of what the data mean. However, another
person’s interpretation of a table or graph may be deliberately biased, accidentally misleading, or incomplete.
Tables and graphs have a lot of information packed into
them, but if they have been properly organized, you can
easily understand them by following certain steps (Wallis
and Roberts, 1962:195–207). The steps outlined below are
keyed to Table 2.1 and Figure 2.1.
1. Begin by reading the title of the table or graph carefully; it will tell you what information is being presented. Table 2.1 shows median annual incomes in the
United States by sex, race, and education.
2. Find out the source of the information. You will want
to know whether the source is reliable, whether its techniques for gathering and presenting data are sound. The
figures originated from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, a
highly trusted source. If you know the source of data,
you can investigate further on your own.
3. Read any notes accompanying the table or graph. Not
all tables and graphs have notes, but if they do, the
notes should be read for further information about the
data. The notes in Table 2.1 and in Figure 2.1 explain
that all the data refer to the total money income of fulltime and part-time workers, ages 25 and over, in a March
4. Examine any footnotes. Footnotes in Table 2.1 and
Figure 2.1 indicate that the data are categorized by the
highest grade actually completed. Although you may
have assumed this correctly, years of schooling could
have referred to the total number of years in school,
regardless of the grade level attained. precise measuring devices, the researcher has to rely on
personal judgment and interpretation. Because of personal blind spots or because of emotional attachment
to the people being studied, the researcher may not
accurately see what is actually happening. Moreover,
the lack of objectivity and standardized research procedures makes it difficult for another researcher to duplicate or replicate a field study. Because of these
disadvantages, many sociologists regard the results of
field studies as insights to be investigated further with
more precise methods. 5. Look at the headings across the top and down the
left-hand side of the table or graph. To observe any
pattern in the data, it is usually necessary to keep both
types of headings in mind. Table 2.1 and Figure 2.1 show
the median annual income of black and white males and
females for several levels of education.
6. Find out what units are being used. Data can be
expressed in percentages, hundreds, thousands, millions,
billions, means, and so forth. In Table 2.1 and Figure 2.1,
the units are dollars and years of schooling.
7. Check for trends in the data. For tables, look down the
columns (vertically) and across the rows (horizontally)
for the highest figures, lowest figures, trends, irregularities, and sudden shifts. If you read Table 2.1 vertically,
you would be able to see how income varies by race and
sex within each level of education. If you read the table
horizontally, you could see how income varies with educational attainment for white males, black males, white
females, and black females. A major advantage of graphs
is that the sudden shifts, trends, irregularities, and
extremes are easier to spot than they are in tables.
8. Draw conclusions from your own observations. Table
2.1 and Figure 2.1 show that although income tends to
rise with educational level for both blacks and whites, it
increases much less for black men and for women of
both races than for white men. At each level of schooling, black men earn less than white men. In fact, white
male high school dropouts have incomes only $485
below black male high school graduates; white male
high school graduates earn nearly $2,000 more than
black males with some college but no degree. White
women appear to improve their earning power through
college education to a greater extent than do black
women. The Subjective Approach
The subjective approach to research has a long and
honorable place in sociology. Recall from Chapter 1
Max Weber’s method of verstehen, in which the subjective intentions of people are to be discovered by an
attempt to imagine ourselves in their place. The
subjective approach, then, studies some aspect of
social structure through an attempt to ascertain the
interpretations of the participants themselves. A prominent example of the subjective approach is e th- CHAPTER 2: SOCIOLOGISTS DOING RESEARCH TABLE 2.1 Median Annual Income by Sex, Race, and Education Demographic
Income Less than 9 9–11 12 13–15 16 or More White males $30,409 $13,995 $18,403 $26,135 $30,293 $45,228 Black males $21,531 $11,791 $16,323 $18,888 $24,161 $35,122 White females $17,784 $ 9,338 $ 9,883 $15,133 $17,385 $28,492 Black females $16,754 $ 9,730 $ 9,416 $14,017 $17,757 $27,280 Years of Schooling* Note: These figures include the total money income of full-time and part-time workers, ages 25 and over, as of March 1995.
* In terms of highest grade completed.
Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, unpublished data: “Table 15. Educational Attainment—Total Money Earnings in 1995 of Persons 25 Years Old and Over, by Age, Race, Hispanic
Origin, Sex, and Work Experience in 1995.” How does ethnomethodology work?
Ethnomethodology is the study of processes people
develop and use in understanding the routine behaviors expected of themselves and others in everyday life.
Ethnomethodologists assume that people share the
meanings that underlie much of their everyday behavior. Through observing others and a process of trial and
error in social situations, people develop a sense of
appropriate ways of behaving. This understanding prevents them from making silly or serious social errors
and saves them from having to decide constantly how
they should behave in particular situations. Predictable,
patterned behavior is a product of this process (Handel,
1982; Sharrock and Anderson, 1986; Livingston, 1987;
Atkinson, 1988; Hilbert, 1990; Pollner, 1991). deprived of their taken-for-granted social routines. The
following passage describes a situation in which an Figure 2.1 Median Annual Income by Sex,
Race, and Education
$30 Thousands n omethodology, a relatively recent development in
microsociology that attempts to uncover taken-forgranted social routines. $25
$0 How can ethnomethodologists discover what is going
on in the minds of individuals as they construct a
mental sense of social reality? Because they are not
mind readers, ethnomethodologists have had to seek
other solutions. Harold Garfinkel, a prominent advocate of ethnomethodology, believes that the best way
to understand how people construct social reality is to
deprive them momentarily of their mental maps of
daily routines. If people are deprived of their previous
definitions of expected behaviors, they reconstruct a
coherent picture of social reality. Ethnomethodologists can then learn by observing this process of
Garfinkel writes of situations that his students have
created in order to observe what people do when White
females Years of schooling* Up to 8 9–11 12 13–15 16+ Note: These figures include the total money income of full-time and
part-time workers, ages 25 and over, as of March 1995.
*In terms of highest grade completed.
Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, unpublished data: “Table 15. Educational
Attainment—Total Money Earnings in 1995 of Persons 25 Years Old and Over,
by Age, Race, Hispanic Origin, Sex, and Work Experience in 1995.” Internet Link: To learn more about income in the United
States, visit the U.S. Bureau of the Census
web site at http://www.census.gov. On its
home page, select “Subjects A–Z,” then
select “I,” “Income,” and then your
choice of topics. 43 SOCIOLOGY
(E): What do you mean? Do you mean all old movies, or
some of them, or just the ones you have seen?
(S): What’s the matter with you? You know what I mean.
(E): I wish you would be more specific.
(S): You know what I mean! Drop dead! (Garfinkel,
1984:43). (S): I don’t know, I guess physically, mainly.
(E): You mean that your muscles ache or your bones?
(S): I guess so. Don’t be so technical.
(After more watching)
(S): All these old movies have the same kind of old iron bedstead in them. The researcher continues this type of conversation
until the subject is disoriented and can no longer
respond within a previously developed frame of reference. The researcher can then observe the subject creating a new definition of what the expected or “normal”
pattern of social interaction should be. FEEDBACK experimenter (E) is attempting to deprive a subject (S)
of his sense of expected routine by asking for more
detailed information than is normally required in
everyday situations. In the context of watching television, the experimenter first asks, “How are you tired?
Physically, mentally, or just bored?” 1.
4. Field studies are best suited for situations in which __________ measurement cannot be used.
A __________ is a thorough investigation of a small group, an incident, or a community.
In __________, a researcher becomes a member of the group being studied.
According to the __________ approach, some aspect of social structure is best studied through an attempt to ascertain
the interpretations of the participants themselves.
5. __________ is the study of the processes people develop and use in understanding the routine behaviors expected of
themselves and others in everyday life.
Answers: 1. quantitative 2. case study 3. participant observation 4. subjective 5. Ethnomethodology 44 A MODEL FOR DOING RESEARCH In an effort to obtain accurate knowledge, sociologists,
like other scientists, use a model that involves the
application of several distinct steps to any research
problem. These steps, regularly referred to as the “scientific method,” include identifying a problem, reviewing the literature, formulating hypotheses, developing
a research design, collecting data, analyzing data, and
stating conclusions (Hoover and Donovan, 1995). Identify the Problem
Research begins with determining the object of investigation. A research question may be chosen because it
interests the researcher. Or it may be pursued because it
addresses a current social problem, attempts to test a
major theory, or responds to a government agency
wishing to support the research. Review the Literature
Once the object of study has been identified, it is then
defined within the context of relevant theories and previous research findings. For example, a sociologist
investigating suicide will probably develop an approach
by relating it to the classic study of suicide by Emile
Durkheim (see Doing Research in this chapter) and to
other sociologists who have done research on the topic. Formulate Hypotheses
From a careful examination of relevant theory and previous findings, a sociologist is able to state one or more
hypotheses—tentative, testable statements of relationships among variables. These variables must be defined
precisely enough to be measurable. One hypothesis
might be “The longer couples are married, the less likely
they are to divorce.” The independent variable (length
of marriage) and the dependent variable (divorce) must
be defined and measured. Scientists measure variables
through the use of operational definitions—definitions of abstract concepts in terms of simpler, observable procedures. Divorce could be defined operationally
as the legal termination of marriage. Measurement of
divorce would be qualitative—the couple is either
legally married or not. Length of marriage would be
measured quantitatively—for example, the number of
years a couple has been legally married. Other operational definitions may involve defining poverty for a
family of four at some dollar level ($16,183 in 1996) or
determining social class level by a combination of occupational, educational, and income levels. Develop a Research Design
A research design defines the procedures for collecting
and analyzing data. Will the study be a survey or a case
study? If it is a survey, will data be collected from a cross
section of an entire population, such as the Harris and CHAPTER 2: SOCIOLOGISTS DOING RESEARCH Gallup polls, or will a sample be selected from only one
city? Will simple percentages or more sophisticated statistical methods be used? These and many other questions must be answered while the research design is
being developed. Collect Data
There are three basic ways of gathering data in sociological research: asking people questions, observing behavior, and analyzing existing materials and records.
Sociologists interested in studying the harmony in interracial marriages could question couples directly about
how well they get along. They could locate an organization with a large number of interracially married couples and observe the couples’ behavior. Or they could
compare the divorce rate among interracially married
couples to the divorce rate of the population as a whole. Analyze Data FEEDBACK Once the data have been collected and classified, they
can be analyzed to determine whether the hypotheses
were supported. This is not as easy or automatic as it
sounds, because results are not always obvious. Because
the same data can be interpreted in several ways, judgments have to be made. Guarding against personal
biases is especially important in this phase of research. State Conclusions
After analyzing the data, a researcher is ready to state
the conclusions of the study. It is during this phase
that the hypotheses are formally accepted, rejected, or
modified. The conclusions of the study are related to
the theory or research findings on which the hypotheses are based, and directions for further research are
suggested. Depending on the findings, the original
theory itself may have to be altered. Whether the
statement of conclusions appears in a scientific journal, a book, or a mimeographed report, it includes a
description of the methods used. By making the
research procedures public, scientists make it possible
for others either to duplicate the research, conduct a
slightly different study, or go in a very different
Some sociologists believe that this model is too rigid
to capture spontaneous, subjective, and changeable
social behavior. They prefer to discover what exists
rather than to bias their observations with preconceived hypotheses and an inflexible research design.
Even sociologists who generally follow the steps outlined above usually do not do so mechanically. They
may conduct exploratory studies prior to stating
hypotheses and developing research designs. Or they
may alter their hypotheses and research designs as their
investigations proceed. 1. Listed below are the steps in the research model. Beside these steps are some concrete examples related to the sociability of the only child. Indicate the appropriate example for each step number.
____ Step 1: identify the problem
a. Read past theory and research on the sociability of only children.
____ Step 2: review the literature
b. From previous research and existing theory, a researcher states that
____ Step 3: formulate hypotheses
only children appear to be more intelligent than children with
____ Step 4: develop a research design
____ Step 5: collect data
c. A researcher collects data on only children from a high school in a
____ Step 6: analyze data
____ Step 7: state conclusions
d. A researcher writes a report giving evidence that only children are
more intelligent than children with brothers or sisters.
e. A researcher decides to study the intelligence level of only children.
f. A researcher classifies and processes the data collected in order to
test a hypothesis.
g. A researcher decides on the data needed to test a hypothesis, the
methods for data collection, and the techniques for data analysis.
Answers: 1. Step 1: e. Step 2: a. Step 3: b. Step 4: g. Step 5: c. Step 6: f. Step 7: d. ETHICS IN SOCIAL RESEARCH The Issue of Ethics
Sociological research is a distinctly human endeavor.
Although there are canons for conducting research, such as objectivity and verifiability, scientists don’t
always live up to them. As for people in other occupations, among scientists there is sometimes a discrepancy
between the rules of work and the actual performance
of work. Conducting scientific research requires ethical
values as surely as it requires theoretical and methodological skills (Kuznik, 1991; Hessler, 1992). 45 46 SOCIOLOGY Unfortunately, there is a long list of examples that
call into question the ethical standards of researchers.
During the Nuremberg trials, twenty Nazi doctors were
convicted of conducting sadistic experiments on concentration camp inmates. From 1932 to 1972, the
Public Health Service of the U.S. government deliberately did not treat approximately four hundred
syphilitic black sharecroppers and day laborers so that
biomedical researchers could study the full evolution of
the disease (Jones, 1993). Ethical questions have been
raised upon disclosure that researchers at Germany’s
University of Heidelberg had, for twenty years, used
human corpses, including children, in high-speed automobile crash tests (Fedarko, 1993). Federal investigators
in the United States have documented over ten years of
fraud in some of the most important breast cancer
research ever done, including a study that sanctioned
lumpectomy as a safe operation (Crewdson, 1994).
Several social scientists have been criticized for conducting what many scientists view as unethical research.
In each case, subjects were placed in stressful situations
without being informed of the true nature of the experiments (Milgram, 1963, 1965, 1974; Zimbardo,
Anderson, and Kabat, 1981). These and other studies
have created great interest in a code of ethics. There is,
in fact, a formal code of ethics for professional sociologists (American Sociological Association, 1997). restaurant work (Brajuha and Hallowell, 1986). Because
of suspected arson after a fire at the restaurant where he
was employed as a waiter, his field notes became the
object of interest of the police, the district attorney, the
courts, and some suspects. By refusing to reveal the
contents of his field notes, Brajuha protected the rights
of those individuals described in his notes. He did so in
the face of a subpoena, threats of imprisonment, and
the specter of personal harm to himself, his wife, and
his children. The case was finally dropped after two difficult years.
Though infinitely rarer, much can be learned about
ethics in sociological research from examination of a
negative case. A case study of homosexuals conducted
by sociologist Laud Humphreys (1979) provides a background against which to examine further the code
Humphreys studied homosexual activities in men’s
public bathrooms (“tearooms”). By acting as a lookout
to warn the homosexuals of approaching police officers, he was able to observe their activities closely.
After the men left the tearooms, Humphreys recorded
their license plate numbers to obtain their addresses
for subsequent personal interviews. Humphreys waited
a year so that any memory the men had of him would
have faded, and then he falsely presented himself to
them as a survey researcher to obtain additional
information. A Code of Ethics in Sociological Research
The formal code of ethics for sociologists covers a variety of important areas beyond research, including relationships with students, employees, and employers
(American Sociological Association, 1997). In broad
terms, the code of ethics is generally concerned with
maximizing the benefits of sociology to society and
minimizing the harm sociological work might create.
Of importance in the present context are the researchrelated aspects of the code.
In this regard, sociologists are committed to objectivity, adherence to the highest technical research standards, accurate public exposure of their findings and
methods, and protection of the rights, privacy,
integrity, dignity, and autonomy of the subjects of their
research. Because most of these topics have already
been covered in this chapter, the focus in the present
section is on the rights, privacy, integrity, dignity, and
autonomy of participants in sociological research.
Sociologists routinely protect the rights of participants and avoid deceiving or harming them, so it is
normally only the violators of the code of ethics that
are publicized. Occasionally, adherence to the code is
documented. Mario Brajuha, a graduate student at a
major American university, kept detailed field notes
while engaging in a participant observation study of Did Humphreys violate the code of ethics as a covert
participant observer? Yes, Humphreys violated the
privacy of these people. Most did not want their sexual
activities known, and Humphreys did not give them
the opportunity to refuse to participate in the study.
Humphreys also deceived the men by misrepresenting
himself in both the tearooms and their homes. Finally,
by recording his observations, Humphreys placed these
people in jeopardy of public exposure, arrest, or loss of
employment. (Actually, because of his precautions,
none of the subjects was injured as a result of his
research. In fact, to protect their identities, Humphreys
even allowed himself to be arrested.)
Good scientific research is difficult from both a
financial and a technical viewpoint. Ethical concerns
make it even harder. Still, it is the researcher’s responsibility to decide when a particular action crosses an
ethical line—a decision not always easy to make,
because moral lines are often blurred. Moreover, the
researcher must balance a concern for the rights and
protection of those being studied with the need to use
certain methods to obtain knowledge. Kai Erikson is
one of the most sensitive and outspoken critics of disguised observation, but he has defended it on the
grounds that it is sometimes the only way to obtain
information. CHAPTER 2: SOCIOLOGISTS DOING RESEARCH
inform every person who figures in their thinking exactly
what their research is about (Erikson, 1967:368). Balance is the key to the issue of ethics. Subjects—
whether in experiments, surveys, or field studies—
above all should be protected from social, financial,
psychological, or legal damage. 1. Three situations involving ethics in social research are cited below (Babbie, 1995:475). Match each situation with the
appropriate aspects of the social science code of ethics for research on human subjects.
____ (1) concern for participants’ privacy
a. After a field study of deviant behavior during a riot, law
____ (2) avoidance of deception
enforcement officials demand that the researcher identify
____ (3) obligation not to harm participants
those people who were observed looting. Rather than risk
arrest as an accomplice after the fact, the researcher complies.
b. A research questionnaire is circulated among students as part
of their university registration packet. Although students are
not told they must complete the questionnaire, the hope is
that they will believe they must—thus ensuring a higher
c. Researchers obtain a list of right-wing radicals they wish to
study. They contact the radicals with the explanation that
each has been selected “at random” from among the general
population to take a sampling of “public opinion.”
2. Match the concepts on the left side with the definitions on the right side.
____ a. reliability
(1) when a measurement technique yields consistent results on repeated applications
____ b. validity
(2) the duplication of the same study to ascertain its accuracy
____ c. replication
(3) when a measurement technique actually measures what it is designed to measure
Answers: 1. a. (3) b. (2) c. (1) 2. a. (1) b. (3) c. (2) FEEDBACK Some of the richest material in the social sciences has been
gathered by sociologists who were true participants in the
group under study but who did not announce to other members that they were employing this opportunity to collect
research data. . . . It would be absurd, then, to insist as a
point of ethics that sociologists should always introduce
themselves as investigators everywhere they go and should SOCIOLOGY IN THE NEWS ®
Research in Advertising
This CNN report illustrates the role research now plays in the retail industry. For example, studies of women and men reveal that their patterns of shopping behavior are quite
different. This information is used by business to encourage more purchasing by both
genders. Such market research strikes some sociologists as deceptive and manipulative.
1. Name research methods that would be suitable to explore this area of human
2. Do you see any ethical issues for a sociologist conducting market research on
shopping behavior? Why or why not?
____________________________________________________________________________ Suppose that you were sent to a
department store to investigate
the attitudes of men and
women about shopping. What
questions would you ask to
determine any differences
between the genders? 47 48 SOCIOLOGY A F INAL NOTE Reliability, Validity, and Replication
Researchers can be guided by all the important research
considerations we have discussed in this chapter and
still not conduct a good study. They can be mindful of
objectivity, sensitive to the criteria of causation, careful
in the selection of the most appropriate method (survey, precollected data, field study), and still fail to produce knowledge superior to that yielded by intuition,
common sense, authority, or tradition.
What else must a researcher do? To practice good
social science, sociologists must pay careful attention
to the quality of measurement (Babbie, 1995).
Consequently, they must emphasize reliability and
validity in the creation and evaluation of the measuring devices they use for the variables they wish to
What is reliability? Reliability exists when a measurement technique yields consistent results on repeated
applications. Reliability is tested by repeated administration of a measurement technique, such as a questionnaire, to the same subjects to ascertain whether the same
results occur each time. Suppose a researcher, after deciding to study satisfaction with day care among parents,
designed a questionnaire. If, on repeated applications,
the level of satisfaction with day care on the part of the
sample of parents remained consistent, then confidence
in the reliability of the measurement device rises.
Should, on the other hand, the level of satisfaction from
one administration of the questionnaire to the next vary
over a period of time, then we would doubt that satisfaction with child care is actually being measured.
The problem of reliability is involved in qualitative
research also. Suppose that our researcher is also interested in satisfaction with day care among the children.
If different conclusions about the level of satisfaction
among the children, arrived at by asking them questions or observing their behavior, seemed different each
day to the researcher, then doubt is raised about the
reliability of the measurement technique being used.
Although a measurement technique may be reliable
when used in a study, it still may not produce scientifically sound results. This is because a measurement technique must be not only reliable, but also valid.
What is validity? Validity exists when a measurement technique actually measures what it is designed
to measure. Thus, a technique intended to measure
parental satisfaction with day care may yield consistent
results on repeated applications to a sample of parents, but not really be measuring satisfaction at all. The measurement device might be tapping parental need to
view day care positively in order to mask guilt feelings
about permitting someone else to be the care-provider
during working hours. Children at a day-care center
may appear satisfied to the visiting researcher because
they are neglected during the day and welcome his or
her attention or because the children have been
coached by the day-care provider to appear satisfied. A
measurement technique, in short, may be consistently
measuring something very different from what it purports to measure.
What is the relationship among reliability, validity, and
replication? In the first part of this chapter, attention
was drawn to the importance of verifiability in science.
Verifiability, we stated, is crucial to science as a superior
source of knowledge due to its contribution to the selfcorrective nature of research. Verifiability depends on
the process of replication—the duplication of the
same study to ascertain its accuracy. Replication is
closely linked to both reliability and validity in that
reliability and validity problems unknown to original
researchers are likely to be revealed as subsequent social
scientists repeat their research. It is partially through
replication that scientific knowledge accumulates and
changes over time.
A major goal of scientific research is to generate
knowledge that is more reliable than can be obtained
from such nonscientific sources as intuition, common
sense, authority, and tradition. Through efforts to be
objective and to make their research subject to replication by others, researchers attempt to portray reality as
accurately as possible. The methods of research presented in this chapter are the specific tools sociologists
use to create knowledge of social life that is as accurate
as possible at the time.
However, empirical results obtained through the use
of research methods are not the final goal of science. As
Gerhard Lenski has stated, “Science is more than
method: its ultimate aim is the development of a body of
‘verified’ general theory” (Lenski, 1988: 163). For this reason, there is constant interaction between sociological
theory and research methods. Theory is used to develop
hypotheses capable of being supported or falsified
through testing. These results, in turn, may support
existing theory, alter it, or lead to its ultimate rejection
and the creation of a new theory. One of Lenski’s major
points is that, divorced from research methods, “sociological theory has more in common with seminary
instruction in theology and biblical studies” (1988:165)
than it does with the natural sciences model that sociology is emulating. Theory is trustworthy and useful
only to the extent that it has been tested and found to
be valid. CHAPTER 2: SOCIOLOGISTS DOING RESEARCH 1. People tend to get information from such nonscientific
sources as intuition, common sense, authority, and tradition. Generally speaking, these sources are inadequate for
obtaining accurate knowledge about social life. The
advantage of scientific knowledge is its grounding on the
principles of objectivity and verifiability.
2. Complete objectivity is impossible because sociologists,
like all scientists, have values, beliefs, attitudes, and prejudices that affect their work to some extent. Subjectivity
can be minimized, however, if researchers make themselves aware of their biases and make their biases public
when presenting their findings.
3. The concept of causation—the idea that the occurrence of
one event leads to the occurrence of another event—is
central to science. All events have causes, and scientists
attempt to discover the factors causing the events.
4. Three criteria must be met before a cause-and-effect relationship can be said to exist. First, two variables must be
correlated. That is, change in the independent variable
(the causal factor) must be associated with a change in the
dependent variable (effect). Second, the correlation must
not be spurious, that is, due to the effects of a third variable. Third, it must be shown that the independent
variable always occurs before the dependent variable.
Scientists think in terms of multiple causation because
events are usually caused by several factors, not simply by
a single factor.
5. Although sociologists rarely use the controlled experiment, they must understand this research method because
it is based on the idea of causation. Sociologists generally
employ nonexperimental research methods in attempting
to establish causality. This is dictated by the difficulty of 6. 7. 8. 9. controlling relevant variables in the world outside the
Two major quantitative research methods in sociology are
the survey and precollected data. Surveys can draw on
large samples, are quantitative, include many variables,
are relatively precise, and permit the comparison of
responses, but this method must take care to collect representative samples. Use of precollected data permits sociologists to do high-quality research at reasonably low cost
and to trace changes in variables over an extended period
Field studies are best used when some aspect of social
structure cannot be measured quantitatively, when interaction should be observed in a natural setting, and when
in-depth analysis is needed. The case study is the popular
approach to field research. Some sociologists have adopted
a subjective approach in which emphasis is on ascertaining the subjective interpretations of the participants
A research model involves several distinct steps: identifying the problem, reviewing the literature, formulating
hypotheses, developing a research design, collecting data,
analyzing data, and stating conclusions. These steps are a
model for scientific research, but it is not necessary that
they always be strictly followed.
Researchers have an ethical obligation to protect participants’ privacy and to avoid deceiving or harming participants. Preserving the rights of subjects is sometimes
weighed against the value of the knowledge to be gained.
Most of the time these compromises are harmless, but
they sometimes place the subjects in jeopardy. LEARNING OBJECTIVES REVIEW
After careful study of this chapter, you will be able to:
• Identify major nonscientific sources of knowledge and
explain why science is a superior source of knowledge.
Apply the concept of causation and the controlled experiment to the logic of science.
Differentiate the major quantitative research methods
used by sociologists.
Describe the major qualitative research methods used by
• Explain the steps in the model sociologists use to guide
Describe the place of ethics in research.
State the place of a concern for reliability, validity, and
replication in social research. REVIEW GUIDE SUMMARY 49 REVIEW GUIDE 50 SOCIOLOGY CONCEPT REVIEW
Match the following concepts with the definitions listed below them:
e. participant observation
experimental group ____
j. independent variable
sample 1. The group in an experiment exposed to the experimental
2. A statistical measure in which a change in one variable is
associated with change in another variable.
3. A research approach for studying aspects of social life
that cannot be measured quantitatively and that are best
understood within a natural setting.
4. A thorough, recorded investigation of a small group, incident, or community.
5. All those people with the characteristics a researcher
wants to study within the context of a particular research
6. The principle of science stating that scientists are
expected to prevent their personal biases from influencing their results and their interpretation of the results. ____
____ k. field research
l. case study
n. replication 7. A variable that causes something to happen.
8. The type of field research technique in which a
researcher becomes a member of the group being studied.
9. A principle of science by which any given piece of
research can be duplicated (replicated) by other scientists.
10. A research method in which people are asked to answer a
series of questions.
11. The duplication of the same study to ascertain its accuracy.
12. A limited number of cases drawn from a population.
13. A laboratory experiment that attempts to eliminate all
possible contaminating influences on the variables being
14. A research method in which the aim is to understand
some aspect of social reality through the study of the
subjective interpretations of the participants themselves. CRITICAL THINKING QUESTIONS
1. Suppose that on a break from college you return home and a noncollege friend insists that you are wasting your time because
the experience gained from the “university of hard knocks” is all she needs to know the truth. What arguments would you
use to defend science as a better source of knowledge?
2. In class, your sociology professor reports on his recent study showing that men are generally better managers in business
than women. If you were concerned about a possible lack of objectivity on his part, what questions would you ask him in
order for you to place more confidence in his results?
3. The controlled experiment is the research model for investigating causal relationships. What is there about the nature of causation and the design of experiments that supports this claim?
4. Do you think that selecting a sample of three thousand individuals would produce an accurate picture of the U.S. population? Why or why not?
5. Pretend that you are a sociologist studying the relationship between the receipt of welfare payments and commitment to
working. Describe the research method you would use and show why it is the most appropriate to this topic.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ CHAPTER 2: SOCIOLOGISTS DOING RESEARCH 1. The concept of intuition refers to
a. quick and ready insight that is not based on rational
b. opinions that are widely held because they seem so
c. someone who is supposed to have special knowledge
that we do not have.
d. the fourth major nonscientific source of knowledge.
e. a variable that causes something to happen.
2. According to your text, causation can be asserted when
a. going from particular instances to general principles.
b. there are only a limited number of cases taken from
c. events occur in a predictable, nonrandom way, and
one event leads to another.
d. people develop and use routine behaviors expected of
themselves and others in everyday life.
e. a change in one variable is often accompanied by a
change in another variable.
3. Several factors have been shown to influence
crime rates in poor neighborhoods. This illustrates the
a. the poverty/crime hypothesis.
b. multiple causation.
4. A variable that causes something else to occur is a/an
a. dependent variable.
b. correlation variable.
c. causation variable.
d. independent variable.
e. qualitative variable.
5. The term correlation is defined as
a. a change in one variable associated with a change in
b. an apparent relationship between two variables that is
actually produced by a third variable that affects both
of the original two variables.
c. an event that occurs as a result of several factors operating in combination.
d. something that occurs in different degrees among
individuals, groups, objects, and events.
e. a research method in which people are asked to
answer a series of questions.
6. All of the following are criteria for establishing a
causal relationship except:
a. All possible contaminating factors must be controlled.
b. A relationship representing a spurious relationship
c. The independent variable must occur before the
d. Two variables must be correlated. 7. All of the following statements about controlled
experiments are true except:
a. A description of the controlled experiment provides
an excellent means to illustrate causation.
b. A controlled experiment provides insight into the
nature of all scientific research.
c. Controlled experiments take place in a laboratory.
d. The basic idea of the controlled experiment is to rule
out the effect of extraneous factors to see the effects
of an independent variable on a dependent variable.
e. Controlled experiments do not need a control group
because of the controlled atmosphere the laboratory
8. The experimental group is exposed to the experimental variable; the group that is not exposed to the
experimental variable is a/an
a. natural group.
b. experiential group.
c. control group.
d. dependent group.
e. independent group.
9. The standard ways of making experimental and control groups comparable in all respects except for exposure to the experimental variable are through
a. qualifying or quantifying.
b. matching or randomizing.
c. pretesting or posttesting.
d. testing or retesting.
e. verification or replication.
10. What do we call a written set of questions that survey
participants are asked to fill out by themselves?
d. survey research
e. independent variable
11. Use of data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census is an
a. primary analysis.
b. population sampling.
c. the Hawthorne effect.
d. secondary analysis.
e. a case study.
12. What type of research is used for studying aspects of
social life that cannot be measured quantitatively and
that are best understood in a natural setting?
a. field research
b. survey research
c. participant observation
d. analysis of precollected data
e. content analysis REVIEW GUIDE M U LT I P L E C H O I C E Q U E S T I O N S 51 REVIEW GUIDE 52 SOCIOLOGY 13. Ethnomethodologists assume that
a. the subjective approach relies too much on intuition.
b. the behavior of people is random.
c. the underlying factor explaining human behavior is
d. questionnaires need to be tightly structured.
e. people share the meanings underlying much of their
14. What is defined as a tentative, testable statement of a
relationship among variables?
b. operational definition c. formal argument
15. In Laud Humphreys’s study of homosexual activities
occurring in men’s public bathrooms (“tearooms”),
what ethical standard did he violate?
a. He studied homosexuals.
b. He acted as a participant observer.
c. He violated the privacy of the participants.
d. He used the research to become famous.
e. He did not violate any ethical standards. FEEDBACK REVIEW
1. The major problem with nonscientific sources of knowledge is that such sources often provide erroneous information. T or F?
2. According to Gunnar Myrdal, it is enough that scientists themselves recognize their biases. T or F?
Fill in the Blank
3. The group in an experiment that is not exposed to the experimental variable is the __________ group.
4. Field studies are best suited for situations in which __________ measurement cannot be used.
5. In __________, a researcher becomes a member of the group being studied.
6. A __________ attempts to eliminate all possible contaminating influences on the variables being studied.
7. Use of company records would be an example of using __________ data.
8. According to the __________ approach, some aspects of social structure are best studied through an attempt to ascertain the
interpretations of the participants themselves.
9. Listed below are the steps in the research model. Beside these steps are some concrete examples related to the sociability of
the only child. Indicate the appropriate example for each step number.
____ Step 1: identify the problem
a. Read past theory and research on the sociability of only children.
____ Step 2: review the literature
b. From previous research and existing theory, a researcher states that only
____ Step 3: formulate hypotheses
children appear to be more intelligent than children with siblings.
____ Step 4: develop a research design
c. A researcher collects data on only children from a high school in a large city.
____ Step 5: collect data
d. A researcher writes a report giving evidence that only children are more intelli____ Step 6: analyze data
gent than children with brothers or sisters.
____ Step 7: state conclusions
e. A researcher decides to study the intelligence level of only children.
f. A researcher classifies and processes the data collected in order to test a
g. A researcher decides on the data needed to test a hypothesis, the methods for
data collection, and the techniques for data analysis.
10. Three situations involving ethics in social research are cited below. Match each situation with the appropriate aspect of the
social science code of ethics for research on human subjects.
____ (1) concern for participants’ privacy
a. After a field study of deviant behavior during a riot, law enforcement officials
____ (2) avoidance of deception
demand that the researcher identify those people who were observed looting.
____ (3) obligation not to harm participants
Rather than risk arrest as an accomplice after the fact, the researcher complies.
b. A research questionnaire is circulated among students as part of their university registration packet. Although students are not told they must complete the
questionnaire, the hope is that they will believe they must, thus ensuring a
higher completion rate.
c. Researchers obtain a list of right-wing radicals they wish to study. They contact
the radicals with the explanation that each has been selected “at random”
from among the general population to take a sampling of “public opinion.” CHAPTER 2: SOCIOLOGISTS DOING RESEARCH Table 2.1 displays the median annual income in the United States by sex, race, and education. Demonstrate your understanding
of the information in this table by answering the following questions:
1. State briefly what this table tells us about the relationship among sex, race, and education in the United States.
2. Identify the demographic group that enjoys the greatest economic benefits of education.
3. Identify the demographic group that benefits the least economically from higher levels of education.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ ANSWER KEY
n. 11 Multiple Choice
15. c Feedback Review
5. participant observation
6. controlled experiment
9. Step 1: e
Step 2: a
Step 3: b
Step 4: g
Step 5: c
Step 6: f
Step 7: d
10. 1. c
3. a REVIEW GUIDE GRAPHIC REVIEW 53 ...
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