Saturday, January 14, 2012

Qualitative v. quantitative

The qualitative vs. quantitative divide in political science annoys me. It annoys me even more when people use the cutesy "qual" and "quant" as pronouns (as in "quant" for "person who uses quantitative methodology"). It annoys me because in my opinion it should be self-evident that either method can be used really well or very poorly. I've read reams of both, and found some interesting and some banal, some downright terrible. Why so many people want to self-segregate is beyond my comprehension.

This is why I felt compelled to comment on Andrew Gelman's post at The Monkey Cage. He mocks David Brooks and then equates journalism with qualitative work:

Just to be clear: my point here is not to pick on Brooks, it’s more to demonstrate the gap betweenthe quals and the quants. Statisticians such as myself see sweeping statements and immediately think, “Yeah? Really? Why do you say that?”, while journalists such as David Brooks or Samantha Power seem to think deterministically and don’t seem to let data get in the way of their ideas. 
Paradoxically, it is the quants who can be more accepting of uncertainty, while the quals are always ready to think that some simple formula can explain the world.

He makes fun of those who make sweeping statements, and then makes the sweeping statement that all qualitative analysis is inferior. The idea that qualitative research looks for "simple formulas" is absurd and has no empirical foundation.

I just don't understand the sneering, combined with the need to proclaim superiority.


Margarita,  5:06 PM  

Brilliant and spot on. I am equally as annoyed as you are.

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