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  • Writer's pictureKeidra Navaroli

Reflections on Week One Reading

The publication When to Use What Research Design is explicitly explained as a guide for those involved in conducting research projects. The authors organize the selected chapters around five categories of design including surveys, interviews, experiments, archival research, and combined designs.[1] All of these, they argue, should use the research question as a primary basis for exploration and be motivated by a spirit of methodological pluralism. In the conclusion, the authors define the distinctions and misconceptions of research types – namely quantitative and qualitative. They explain, “quantitative and qualitative research are often seen as worldviews or paradigms that are seldom tolerant of one another because they are believed to be fundamentally incompatible” and convincingly argue to the contrary that “progress in knowledge is often the result of applying new approaches to problems or combining methods of investigation previously kept distinct.”[2] In line with this structure, instead of focusing on whether one research method is inherently superior to another, the authors focus instead on the project’s concepts (reliability/consistency and validity/appropriateness), its variables, and indicators to evaluate the most advantageous method for a given project. Indicators are further divided into components, symptoms, causes and proxies – elements that allow the variables a concrete basis on which to be codified.

In Chapters 3 and 15, the text specifically examines the experimental research method in detail, addressing when to use such design and the ethics and responsibility of researchers and practitioners. They begin by defining experiments -- as randomized control trials or RCTs -- and address the central question of when it is most appropriate to employ them as a method. Experiments are noted as having several features in common: “they are especially suitable when your research question is casual, when you can manipulate the casual variables of interest, and when you can randomly assign cases or experimental (treatment) and control (comparison) groups.”[3] Other qualifiers for using experimental design as a viable option include cost-effectiveness; whether the research question is focused on internal (rather than external) validity; and when intervention does not distort the subject or object of study.

The final chapter of the assignment focuses on the ethical implication and responsibility of experimental design, using historical examples to illustrate the challenges and importance of informed consent, harm, and privacy. Although experimental ethics are rooted in medical models, they are applicable to many fields including social sciences and the humanities. For this student, immediate examples that came to mind while reading this chapter are the cases of Henrietta Lacks – the African American woman whose so-called “immortal” cells were used, initially without her family’s knowledge or consent, in the study of various forms of cancer – and the Tuskegee Experiment (Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male) – the infamous case of researchers studying the effects of syphilis on a group of African American men by deceptively denying them treatment for decades. Such violations have resulted in a wealth of mistrust in the African American community towards scientific research. Although historical, these examples underscore current debates within the Black community concerning the coronavirus vaccine. As such, the ethics of experiments often have ramifications that affect communities across multiple generations.

Throughout the chapters, the authors effectively argue for responsibility in research projects, notably asserting “the data do not speak for themselves. You have to speak for the data regardless of the symbols used to collect and record [it]. But the way you handle the data can either limit what you say or open up possibilities.”[4] However, this reader did notice opportunities for further examination on data security. For example, an extended section of chapter 15 discusses the significance of privacy and confidentiality but neglects to discuss the way that these issues have been affected by increased challenges to cybersecurity. The responsibility is placed on researchers, but how does that apply to the employing institutions and their risk of targeting by cybercriminals? Given the sophistication of data manipulation and influence within social media, there are new avenues to explore regarding the role, limitations, and possibilities of experimental research.

[1] Vogt, W. Paul, Dianne C. Gardner, and Lynne M. Haeffele. When to Use What Research Design. New York: The Guilford Press, 2012. [2] Vogt et al., When to Use What Research Design, 319. [3] Vogt et al., When to Use What Research Design, 63. [4] Vogt et al., When to Use What Research Design, 332.


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