Chapter 1 – doing social research
RESEARCH is a means of finding answers to questions to seek answers to questions about the social world. People conduct research to learn something new about the social world.
A researcher must treat the people in a study in ethical and moral ways.
SOCIAL RESEARCH is a process in which people combine a set of principles, outlooks, and ideas (like methodologies) with a collection of specific practices, techniques, and
strategies (a method of inquiry) to produce knowledge.
Alternatives to social research
• We learn most of our knowledge about the social world using an alternative to social research, based on what your parents and other people (friends, teachers) have told us.
• You also have knowledge based on your personal experiences, the books and magazines, and the movies and TV you watched.
• Knowledge based on research is more likely to be true and have fewer errors.
• You have acquired knowledge from parents, teachers, and experts as well as from books, TV, and other media.
• When you accept something as true because someone in a position of authority says it is true or because it is in an authoritative publication, you are relying on authority as a basis
• Limitations to relying on authority:
o It is easy to overestimate the expertise of other people.
o Authorities may not agree and all authorities may not be equally dependable.
o Authorities may speak on fields they know little about, or they may just be wrong.
• There is also the misuse of authority. Sometimes organizations or individuals give an appearance of authority so they can convince others to agree to something they might not
• When we accept the authority of experts but don’t know how the experts arrived at their knowledge, we lose the ability to evaluate what experts say.
• This is a special case of authority – the authority of the past.
• This means you accept something as being true because it’s the way things have always been
• This is from your everyday reasoning or common sense.
• This is valuable in daily living, but it allows logical fallacies to slip into thinking.
• Common sense can originate in tradition. It is useful and sometimes correct, but it also contains errors, misinformation, contradiction and prejudice.
• TV portrayals off crime and other things don’t accurately reflect social reality. Doesn’t represent reality accurately. Their primary goal is to entertain and that’s it.
• Competing interests use the media to win public support. Public relations campaigns try to alter public opinion about scientific findings, making it difficult for the public to judge
Personal Experience • When you personally experience something, you believe it to be true.
• Personal experiences can lead you astray too. There might’ve been a slight error or distortion in judgement.
• Four errors in personal experience:
o Overgeneralization: occurs when some evidence supports your belief, but you falsely assume that it also applied to many other situations.
o Selective observation: the tendency to take notice of certain people or events based on past experience or attitudes.
o Premature closure: an error that is often made when using personal experience as an alternative to science for acquiring knowledge. It occurs when a person
feels he or she has the answers and doesn’t need to listen, seek information, or raise questions any longer.
o Halo effect: when people use personal experience as an alternative to science for acquiring knowledge. It is when a person overgeneralizes from what he or she
accepts as being highly positive or prestigious and lets its strong reputation or prestige rub off onto other areas. EXAMPLE: like you interview a student from a
prestigious university (like UOFT) and you think this person is really smart and talented. But it’s different when you interview a student from an unknown university
HOW SCIENCE WORKS (this is also a source of knowledge)
• It is the study of people, their beliefs, behaviour, interaction, institutions and so forth. Science is a social institution and a means of producing knowledge.
• Scientists gather data using specialized techniques and use the data to support or reject theories.
• Data: are the empirical evidence or information that a person gathers carefully according to established rules or procedures; can be qualitative or quantitative.
• Qualitative data: information in the form of words, pictures, sounds, visual images, or objects.
• Quantitative data: information in the form of numbers
• Empirical evidence: the observations that people experience through their senses touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste. These can be direct or indirect.
• Scientific community: a collection of people who share a system of rules and attitudes that sustain the process of producing scientific knowledge.
Scientific method: the process of creating new knowledge using the ideas, techniques, and rules of the scientific community
Journal articles in science
• Basically how journal articles are created. The researcher creates a description of their study and their results as a report or paper. Then they have to present the information to
professionals to seek feedback. Then the researcher sends the manuscript to the editor of a scholarly journal. The editor is chosen by other scientists to oversee the journal. The
editor will send it out to reviewers. The reviewers are respected scientists who have conducted studies in the same specialty area or topic.
• The reviewers don’t know who conducted the study, and the author of the paper doesn’t know who the reviewers are, and this is called “blind review”. This reinforces the scientific
principle of judging a study on its merits alone.
STEPS IN THE RESEARCH PROCESS:
1. Select a topic
2. Create a focus questions