Qualitative vs. Quantitative Research (in Medicine and elsewhere)

In a commentary and a blog post, the editors of PLoS Medicine ask:

....is there still a reluctance to accept that anything useful can be learned from research without numbers?

An old question that tends to generate a lot of heat. Where do you stand on it, within medicine or within your own area of research?

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I have no objection to qualitative research on principle, but I don't want to do any myself -- because it's too hard. This is why disciplines like biology and physics have made so much more progress than sociology et al.: the latter deal with questions that are exceedingly difficult to formulate in ways that can be tested.

"like biology" eh bill? Like that "representative" figure of a band, blot or N=1 histology slide? sorry but modern molecular biology prioritizes the way data "look" over the quantifiable verification that the results are indeed something other than chance. at least "sociology" has moved beyond that even if the questions are hard for (you) to formulate...

In the fields I study, I'd say it's harder to do quantitative research than qualitative, but I'm not a scientist. I'm just a rhetorician and sometime historian. :)

By Interrobang (not verified) on 31 Aug 2007 #permalink

"Like that 'representative' figure of a band, blot or N=1 histology slide?"

When I see stuff like this in papers I am reviewing, I always insist that proper statitical analysis be performed. And if that means doing more experiments, tough noogies.

By PhysioProf (not verified) on 01 Sep 2007 #permalink

Dude, you've seen my blog. I don't like the way modern biology is practiced any more than you do. (Neither does PhysioProf, it seems.) That doesn't take away the fact that biological (or physical... I note you don't seem to have any scorn left over for physics, why is that?) science addresses questions that are easier to test than the questions that arise in sociology, anthropology, etc. At least, it seems that way to my small understanding.

The biggest problem with qualitative science is that it is much easier for someone to see what they want to see and call data that doesn't fit into that an "outlier". It also doesn't allow for someone else to re-examine the findings as easily. I am not a huge fan myself, but i guess that doesn't necessarily mean it has to go.