PSCI 2024 Lecture Notes - Lecture 4: Construct Validity, Operational Definition, Fallacy

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Concepts and Variables
I. Measurement
a. Critical to quantitative research
b. Need to be able to measure concepts
c. For example, Income and voter turnout. One of the essential questions is how do
I measure income? Individual or aggregate? Projected or actual income?
d. Measurement is the process of assigning a number or a value to your subject to
describe a property of that subject
e. We turn a concept into a variable by measuring it
f. The goal is to reduce errors in measurement so the value we obtain is as close to
the truth as possile
II. Moving from theory to measurement
a. Conceptual question
i. A broad question expressed using ideas
ii. Typically, unclear and difficult to answer empirically
b. Determine concepts
i. Concept- an idea or mental construct that represents the phenomena in
the real world.
ii. Determine the relationships between two concepts in political research
c. Conceptual definition for each concept
i. Describes the concepts measurable properties and specifies the unit of
analysis to which the concept applies
d. Concrete Question
i. Expressed using tangible properties, more specific or narrow
e. Operational definition
i. Describes the instrument to be used in measuring the concept
f. Obtain the measurement- translate the concept into a variable
III. Unit of Analysis
a. Is the entity (person, city, country, university, state, agency, etc.) we want to
describe and analyze
b. Individual or aggregate level
i. Individual level- survey respondents, voters
ii. Aggregate level- precincts, congressional districts, states, countries, or
c. Needs to be consistent; it guides your research design
IV. Ecological Fallacy
a. The improper use of aggregate date to draw conclusions about the
characteristics of individual cases or groups
b. The relationship between your concepts may be stronger, weaker, or completely
different at different levels
V. Ecological Fallacy Example
a. Just because something happens at the aggregate level does not mean it can
occur the same way in the individual level
b. You cannot generalize, because you might be completely wrong
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