||Evaluating Social Science Research: An Introduction
||Thomas R. Black
||Sage Publications Inc. © 1993
Sage Publications Inc.
2455 Teller Road
Thousands Oaks, CA 91320
$55.00 (c) $18.95 (p)
In eight chapters and 1,803 pages this book presents a concise and
readable course of study enabling the reader to achieve the ability to do
what the title portends — evaluate social science research. In
addition to didactic material, each chapter includes assignments designed
to provide the reader with an opportunity to practice and demonstrate the
skills described. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the nature of
social science research and the aim of the book. Chapter 2 presents
criteria for ascertaining if a given study has a proper research question
and testable hypothesis. The extremely critical issues of
generalization from a given study to any wider application is presented in
chapter 3. How to discern the quality of data in a study is taught
in chapter 4. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 carefully introduce a
mathematics-phobic audience to statistical concepts. These chapters
are clearly and carefully written so as to enable a nonmathematician to
follow along and to learn what to look for in determining the quality of
the statistical evidence conveyed in a research study. In the final
chapter, one learns how to determine how and if variable were controlled
in a study and what conclusions may be warranted.
This book is must reading for professionals who are consumers of social
science research but are not trained in the social sciences themselves.
This includes attorneys, judges, law enforcement, and social workers who
deal with allegations of child abuse. The fundamental premise of the
book is that there is good research and bad research and a whole range in
between. The aim of the book is to teach how to tell the difference
by recognizing the attributes of a credible study versus the poor design
of those investigations which should be discarded. The user of
social science research who is unable to sort through the mass of material
available and separate the wheat from the chaff is very likely to be
misled and consequently to adopt false convictions which they nevertheless
believe are supported by research. Such falsely grounded beliefs can
become perniciously resistant to change or refutation, and result in
policies and practices which ultimately cause great harm to individuals
who are the target of efforts based on such research.
In courtroom after courtroom, sworn testimony is offered that begins
"Research shows ..." or "Studies demonstrate ..." and ends with dogmatic
assertions which any competent social scientist would recognize as false or
unfounded. This occurs because so many professionals remain uninformed and
ignorant of the standards of credible scientific research. The tragedy
that emerges is the obfuscation of the difference between good and bad research
that ensues from battles of experts each claiming the research supporting the
others' position is unfounded or in error. The resulting box score
approach to resolving issues of social science applicability in courtroom
proceedings and determinations serves neither the judicial system nor social
science well. The cost for the social sciences may be great due to the
perceived softness of the social sciences by those in the legal professions who
witness the spectacle of such battles. In reality, such softness is
actually the manifestation of a nonscientists' inability to eschew the quest for
easy answers and low-demand intellectual effort.
A nonscientifically trained professional can grasp the material of this book.
All professions have some minimal requirement for competence in the exercise of
that profession. To the extent that any profession requires the
application of social science research, then an ethical imperative exists for
competency in that application. This book may assist a profession to meet
the challenge of that imperative. The practice of anything less may be
ethically irresponsible and unprofessional.
Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological
Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.