Thursday, November 4, 2010

People as Scientific Instruments.

Good article from Spontaneous Generation. Social scientists generally assume that, to quote the article, "subjects (people) can give valid reports of their own subjective states" and that it is the scientist's job to collect these reports and analyze them. But usually in order to do this they must carefully construct an environment in which the respondent feels comfortable speaking honestly otherwise the results won't be "valid." Think about how carefully survey questions are worded and how much controversy occurs when pollsters are deemed to have written/produced "biased" reports.
In this line of thinking humans are scientific instruments that produce reliable data only when calibrated (controlled) very carefully. Pretty much like any other instrument actually.

But I'm not sure this line of thinking is worth pursuing. "Valid" here is too fuzzy a term with too many unspoken assumptions tied to it. While acknowledging that there are ways of obtaining more or less reliable data from people, unlike other instruments, it is perfectly conceivable that a person may produce contradictory data during the course of a series of test that all still valid or honest or whatever.


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