On the quality of qualitative studies in psychological and social research
By Walter H. Schneider
Fathers for Life, 2006 08 05
The terms psychological research and social research are often used
interchangeably. Furthermore, we frequently hear or read that the
results of psychological or social research are based on qualitative
Qualitative studies are generally based on non-randomly-selected samples,
such as opinion polls. It can be said that, from the perspective
of the field of statistics and probabilities (a.k.a. statistical
mathematics), the prominent characteristic of qualitative studies is
that they have no redeeming qualities.
Still, provided that sample selection is made by rigorously controlled
random sampling methods, the results of a qualitative study do permit to
draw valid conclusions pertaining, or to make projections, to the
general population from which a study sample was selected.
However, study samples that are analyzed in psychological or social
research are almost invariably chosen selectively and not randomly, such
as that a request for respondents and participants in a survey is made
by some biased, non-random process, for example through an e-mail alert
or through an Internet opinion poll. Such sample selection methods
will not result in randomly selected, representative study samples.
The resulting study samples are self-selective samples. A
self-selective study sample can only be used to establish a hypothesis.
A hypothesis established on the basis of the characteristics of a
self-selected sample can be valid for the sample population, but it
cannot be used to draw valid conclusions about the general population
from which the self-selected or skewed sample was chosen.
On account of the wide audience of the website of Fathers for Life,
social or psychological researchers often make inquiries on whether we
would like to participate or assist in sample selection. For
example, recently we received a telephone call from a social researcher
in Texas who is working on her doctoral dissertation and is trying to
find survey respondents for a study that is to become the "scientific"
foundation of her dissertation. She became elated when I offered
to post her request for respondents to
the anorexia-nervosa pages of Fathers for Life, provided that she
would provide a more detailed outline of what she intended to achieve
with her study. She then wrote:
I am a doctoral student at [omitted] University in [omitted], TX and am
currently recruiting fathers of women in recovery from, or who are fully
recovered from anorexia nervosa. If you fit this criteria and are interested
in participating, please contact me at [omitted]@hotmail.com or (210)
[telephone number omitted]. Your participation is totally voluntary,
confidential and you can withdraw at any time. The study requires a one on
one, confidential interview regarding your role in your daughters' [sic]
recovery, any obstacles you've encountered in helping your daughter recover
and your general experience of how your daughters' [sic] recovery has
changed your relationship with her. Interviews may be conducted in person,
online or through telephone and you can choose a male or female interviewer.
If you have any further questions, please contact me at the above email
address or phone number. Thanks! [omitted]
I responded to the woman:
I will post your request to the anorexia-nervosa pages at Fathers for
Life, but I have some reservations regarding the intentions of your study.
It seems to me that your study will not permit to draw valid conclusions
from the study sample you wish to recruit to the full population of fathers
of women in recovery from anorexia nervosa or of women recovered from
Your selection method is a classic example of how not to select a random
Your sample will be a self-selected sample from a selected population
sector, namely such fathers who are willing to participate in an interview
and who are active on the Internet.
No valid projections can be made from the results of a statistical analysis
of a non-randomly selected study sample.
I will post your request for recruits, along with the reservations I
expressed here. Do you still wish to have me post your notice?
A good number of days went by since then; and we did not hear from her again.
That appears to indicate that she is quite well aware of the limitations of
qualitative studies using self-selected study samples. Even though she
would be able to recruit far more respondents with far less effort than she had
dreamed was possible, once the limitations of her approach to sample selection
were to be pointed out along with her request for respondents, she lost
qualitative research has come to be defined as research whose findings
are not arrived at by
statistical or other quantitative procedures.
Qualitative research approaches began to gain recognition in the
1970s. The very phrase 'qualitative research' was until then
marginalized as a discipline of anthropology or sociology, and terms like
participant observation and
Chicago school (sociology) approach were used instead. During the 1970s
and 1980s qualitative research began to be used in other disciplines, and
became a dominant - or at least significant - type of research in the fields
education studies, social work studies,
nursing service studies, human service
studies and others. In the late 1980s and 1990s after a spate of
criticisms from the quantitative side, new methods of qualitative research
have been designed, to address the problems with
reliability and imprecise modes of
data analysis.[Taylor, 1998, quoted in Wikipedia]
Social or psychological research is dominated by feminist ideology and by
feminist ideologists. It matters little whether the feminist ideologists
(male and female) are leaders, activists or merely followers. What matters
is that the field of social research is dominated by "researchers" who deprecate
the value of logical "linear" thinking that they hold to be a deplorable
characteristic of the dreaded and hated patriarchy.
In contrast, quantitative research based on logically correct projections from
the characteristics of study samples to the populations from which the study
samples were randomly and objectively selected does permit to draw valid
conclusions about the populations from which the samples were taken.
social sciences, qualitative research is a broad term that describes
research that focuses on how individuals and groups view and understand the
world and construct
meaning out of their experiences. Qualitative research methods are
sometimes used together with
quantitative research methods to gain deeper understanding of the causes
of social phenomena, or to help generate questions for further research.
Unlike quantitative methods, qualitative research methods place little
importance on developing
statistically valid samples, or on searching for statistical support for
In other words, the basis of the belief of researchers who engage in
qualitative research is that a correct view of reality can be constructed from
beliefs, from perceptions and opinions, and that perception trumps reality and
Research findings in the hard sciences (e. g.: mathematics, physics, chemistry)
are based on mathematical proof, often provided through extrapolations and
projections provided by the mathematics of statistics (quantitative research)
and never on qualitative research, as correct mathematical validation of a
hypothesis based only on qualitative research is logically impossible.
"Social sciences" are regarded by many to be pseudosciences, rightfully so when
study reports claimed to be the results of valid research studies are based on
nothing more than selective and self-selected study samples. That does
not mean that the social sciences are not influential. After all,
uncorroborated hypotheses, even if they were demonstrably nothing more than
superstitions (such as the belief that the Earth is flat and the
centre of the
universe, see also:
The Copernican myths), dominated the course of human social and cultural evolution for many
centuries and kept humanity for far too long in the Dark Age. It does mean
that the field of social sciences provides fertile ground in which ignorant or
false prophets can thrive and profit.
In consequence, the main goal of true scientific endeavors — the age of
enlightenment — has lately become not only ever more elusive but is even being
actively avoided and deplored, while the proponents of enlightenment and the
truth are being hounded and have their careers destroyed. The revival of
the Dark Age is very much a reality now.
The New Dark Age
The Frankfurt School and 'Political Correctness'
By Michael Minnicino
Schiller Institute, Winter, 1992 issue of FIDELIO Magazine.
....The optimistic belief that
one could compose music like Beethoven, paint like Rembrandt, study the
universe like Plato and Nicolaus of Cusa, and change world society
without violence, was alive in the 1890's—admittedly, it was weak, and
under siege, but it was hardly dead. Yet, within twenty short years,
these Classical traditions of human civilization had been all but swept
away, and the West had committed itself to a series of wars of
What started about a hundred years ago, was what might be called a
counter-Renaissance.....it was as though a long checklist had been drawn
up, with all of the wonderful achievements of the Renaissance
itemized—each to be reversed. As part of this "New Age" movement, as it
was then called, the concept of the human soul was undermined by the
most vociferous intellectual campaign in history; art was forcibly
separated from science, and science itself was made the object of deep
suspicion. Art was made ugly because, it was said, life had become ugly.
For the Frankfurt School conspirators, the worst crime was the belief
that each individual was gifted with sovereign reason, which could
enable him to determine what is right and wrong for the whole society;
thus, to tell people that you have a reasonable idea to which they
should conform, is authoritarian, paternalistic extremism.
By these standards, the judges of Socrates and Jesus were correct in
condemning these two individuals (as, for example, I.F. Stone asserts in
one case in his "Trial of Socrates.") It is the measure of our own
cultural collapse, that this definition of authoritarianism is
acceptable to most citizens, and is freely used by political operations
like the Anti-Defamation League and the Cult Awareness Network to
"demonize" their political enemies....
Full Story (22 pages)
Posted 2006 08 05