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Chapter 1. Science, Society, and Criminological Research. Reasoning about the Social World. Social vs. physical world Ask questions such as: why people do what they do how organizations and agencies function how people are affected by their experiences

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Chapter 1 l.jpg

Chapter 1

Science, Society, and Criminological Research

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Reasoning about the Social World

  • Social vs. physical world

  • Ask questions such as:

    • why people do what they do

    • how organizations and agencies function

    • how people are affected by their experiences

  • Criminological and criminal justice research is an area of social science research:

    • Science - a set of logical, systematic, documented methods for investigating nature and natural processes; the knowledge produced by these investigations

    • Social Science - the use of scientific methods to investigate individuals, societies, and social processes; the knowledge produced by these investigations

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Everyday Errors in Reasoning

  • Overgeneralization

    • What is true for one case is true in all cases

  • Selective Observation

    • Look at things according to personal beliefs, regardless of fact

  • Inaccurate Observation

    • We think we see something that did not occur, or perceive the same situation differently from someone else

  • Illogical Reasoning

    • Draw conclusions from invalid assumptions

  • Resistance to Change

    • New information fails to change one’s mind

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Avoid Errors in Reasoning through Use of Good Research Methods - I

  • Reduce the likelihood of overgeneralization, when we conclude that what we have observed to be true for some cases is true for all or most cases

    • Example: Study a wide range of school shootings rather than drawing conclusions from those that receive the most publicity.

  • Avoid illogical reasoning, when we prematurely jump to conclusions or argue on the basis of invalid assumptions

    • Example: Base conclusions on what you learn about school shootings, rather than on how you feel about the shooters or situations surrounding the shootings.

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Overgeneralization: “All school shooters are depressed loners.”

Selective Observation: “All school shooters are depressed loners.”

Avoid Errors in Reasoning through Use of Good Research Methods - II

  • Reduce the risk of selective or inaccurate observation.

    • In emotionally charged situations, it is easy to obtain inaccurate observations and faulty information.

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Avoid Errors in Reasoning through Use of Good Research Methods - III

  • Lessen the tendency to answer questions about the social world from ego-based commitments, excessive devotion to tradition, and/or unquestioning respect for authority

    • Example of ego-based commitment: School shooters are not mentally ill, but evil.

    • Example of excessive devotion to tradition: Middle class kids aren’t prone to violence, so most school shooters are probably from poor families.

    • Example of unquestioning respect for authority: Fox News says that school shootings happen frequently, all over the country.

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Why do research?

  • Policy motivations

    • Assess programs and policies to determine their success and develop ways to improve outcomes and better address problems

  • Academic motivations

    • Learn more about complex social phenomena to better understand crime and society’s response to it

  • Personal motivations

    • Improve society, solve a problem of personal interest

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Define and describe, count

Who? What? Where? When? How many?


Gather more information on newly identified areas/concerns

What’s going on?


Cause and effect



Effects of intervention

What is the magnitude of youth violence?

How do schools respond to gun violence?

What factors are related to youth delinquency and violence?

Do violence prevention programs in schools work?

Research in Practice

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More Practice….

When we see results of research studies, how do we know what type of research we are seeing?

Your first clue is that different research methods often answer different research questions.

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How do you think we know how many victimizations occur?

Descriptive Research: Crime Victimization

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How might a researcher collect information about such a sensitive subject?

Exploratory Research: Date Rape

What is it?

Is it a new phenomenon?

Who are the victims of date rape?

In what situations does it occur?

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Is race related to how high school students believes their fathers would react to their drinking?

Explanatory Research: Parental Attitudes toward Teen Drinking

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Did the crackdown on speeding reduce fatalities?

Evaluation: Effectiveness of a Crackdown on Speeding

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Types of Research Methods

  • Experimental

    • Used most often in evaluation research

  • Asking questions

    • Directly: Use surveys and face-to-face interviews

    • Indirectly: Use records to answer questions by extracting specific items of information

  • Participant and other field observation

    • Observe something in its natural environment, as it happens

    • Intensive interviews to obtain in-depth information

  • Secondary data

    • Content analysis

    • Analysis of data collected for another study or purpose

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Approaches to Research

  • Quantitative

    • Using numbers to describe social phenomena

      • Count events

      • Analyze information with statistical techniques

  • Qualitative

    • Written or spoken words with no direct numerical interpretation

    • Interpretation of events observed as they occur

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Social Research Philosophies ORHow do Researchers Think about Things?

  • Positivism

    • An objective reality exists apart from perceptions (also called “empirical” reality)

    • Goal of research is to study things in a way that helps discover or understand reality

  • Postpositivism

    • Empirical reality exists, but because of complexity of human behavior and associations, we may not be able to understand it completely

    • Goal of research is to achieve intersubjective agreementbecause limitations in research techniques often prevent ability to perceive objective reality

Agreement among different researchers on what is happening in the social world

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More Social Research Philosophies

  • Interpretivism

    • No single empirical reality

    • People have different understandings of situations

    • Research should study how people perceive reality

  • Constructivism

    • Extends interpretivism to emphasize the importance of how different stakeholders construct their beliefs

  • Participatory Action Research

    • Researcher collaborates with some of the persons studied

    • Uses their insights to help develop valid definitions and conclusions

    • Used most often by researchers with interpretivist or constructivist orientation, but can be used by researchers with positivist or post-positivist orientation, as well

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Test ideas against empirical reality without becoming invested in the outcome

Plan and execute research systematically

Document all procedures and make them available to other researchers

Clarify assumptions on which research is based

Define all terms

Maintain skepticism about current knowledge

Replicate studies to build and refine theory

Search for patterns in social behaviors or relationships


Identify stakeholders (people to whom the subject of the research is important) and ask them about their “claims, concerns, and issues”

Share these claims, concerns, and issues with other stakeholder groups to obtain their perspectives

Focus further investigation on areas of disagreement among stakeholder groups

Work with stakeholder groups to attempt to reach consensus in areas of disagreement

Different Philosophies Lead to Different Research Activities

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Mainly, We Want Research to be Valid

  • Validity

    • Statements about reality or perceptions are correct

    • Major focus of all types of research studies, regardless of method or philosophy

  • Nature of social science and social behavior make it virtually impossible to achieve perfect validity

    • As we move farther away from direct observation, it becomes harder to achieve validity

  • Three general types

    • Measurement: a measure measures what we think it measures

    • Generalizability: conclusions from our study hold true outside our limited research setting

    • Causal (Internal): we are correct when we conclude that “A” leads to or results in “B”

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