IPT Book Reviews

Title: Evaluating Social Science Research: An Introduction  Positive Review Positive Review
Author: Thomas R. Black
Publisher: 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.

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