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Can Qualitative Social Science Make it in the Health Research Field? Mathieu Albert Wilson Centre University of Toronto
Two Papers • Albert, M., Laberge, S., & Hodges, Brian D. (2009) Boundary work in the health research field: Biomedical and clinician scientists’ perceptions of social science research. Minerva. A Review of Science, Learning and Policy. 47(2): 171-194. • Albert, M., Laberge, S., Hodges, B.D., Regehr, G. & Lingard, L. (2008). Biomedical scientists’ perception of social science in health research. Social Science & Medicine, 66: 2520-2531. • Personal experience
Interdisciplinary Research Organizational Boundaries
CULTURALBOUNDARIES (Bourdieu, Gieryn)
Participants 31 BIOMEDICAL SCIENTISTS 30 CLINICIAN SCIENTISTS • Semi-structured interviews
SELECTION CRITERIA Members of peer review committees at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Exert influence on scientific activities • Embody an institutionalized definition of scientific excellence
THEME Opinions concerning the value of the social sciences
THEME • Appraisal of different research methods(experimental, quasi-exp., qualitative and quantitative survey approaches)
INDIVIDUAL RECEPTIVENESS Highly receptive 5 4.6 4.6 4.5 4.4 4.3 4.2 4 4 3.8 3.8 3.6 3.5 3.4 Ambivalence zone 3.3 3.2 3 3 2.8 2.8 2.6 2.5 2.4 2.3 2.3 2.2 2.2 2 2 1.8 1.8 1.7 1.6 1.6 1.5 1.5 1.4 1.3 Clinician scientists 1.2 1.2 Biomedical scientists 1 Highly unreceptive
INDIVIDUAL RECEPTIVENESS Highly receptive 5 4.6 Ambivalence zone Clinician scientists 1.2 Biomedical scientists 1 Highly unreceptive
INDIVIDUAL RECEPTIVENESS Highly receptive 5 4.6 4.6 4.5 4.4 4.3 4.2 4 4 3.8 3.8 Ambivalence zone Clinician scientists Biomedical scientists Highly unreceptive
INDIVIDUAL RECEPTIVENESS Highly receptive Ambivalence zone 2.4 2.3 2.3 2.2 2.2 2 2 1.8 1.8 1.7 1.6 1.6 1.5 1.5 1.4 1.3 Clinician scientists 1.2 1.2 Biomedical scientists 1 Highly unreceptive
INDIVIDUAL RECEPTIVENESS Highly receptive 3.6 3.5 3.4 Ambivalence zone 3.3 3.2 3 3 2.8 2.8 2.6 2.5 Clinician scientists Biomedical scientists Highly unreceptive
RECEPTIVE INDIVIDUALS The questions arejust as relevant
RECEPTIVE INDIVIDUALS The methods arejust as scientific & rigorous
RECEPTIVE INDIVIDUALS Some aspects of health can only be studied by the Social Sciences
THE LEGITMACYOFAMETHOD • Depends on its capacity to adequately respond to a research question
THE LEGITMACYOFAMETHOD • Not the degree to which it conforms to a given scientific paradigm
RECEPTIVE INDIVIDUALS There are no universal criteria that would make it possible to determine a priori the superiority of one method over another
“The choice of a method depends exclusively on the research question. Certain questions can only be studied using qualitative methods; one must therefore use them without asking oneself if they are less rigorous than quantitative methods. All methods are rigorous; it depends on the way in which they are used.”
“It’s not fair to critique the social sciences by saying they interpret data because we do that all the time in basic science when we get data that doesn’t fit with what we expect. When that happens, we start looking at alternative explanations. So, my first answer would be that there is more bias in social science, but if I were really thinking critically – which we don’t often do – I might probably be willing to sit on the fence and say it is probably the same in basic science.”
Although half of the clinician scientists appeared to be receptive to social science...
... are they actually receptive to the kind of science that social scientists do?
good methodology =good qualitative research
Multiple coding • Purposive sampling • Sample saturation • Triangulation • Member checking • Peer debriefing • Audit trail
UNRECEPTIVE INDIVIDUALS The best science must involve theperformance of an intervention on variables
UNRECEPTIVE INDIVIDUALS This intervention must be done in a controlled environment or with a randomized sample in order to permit the establishment of a causal relationship or a correlational relationship
UNRECEPTIVE INDIVIDUALS Results must be reproducible to ensure that they are not due to chance
Social Science is not a legitimate scientific practice Hierarchy among research methods
“Experiments where there is perturbation of some parameters and measures to establish causality is sort of the highest level of scientific research, and then the next level is looking at relationships, and this would be quantitative surveys and epidemiology. Interviews and focus groups? They’re anecdotes. They’re opinions. And opinions are not science.”
AMBIVALENTINDIVIDUALS A cautious acceptance of the Social Sciences Reservations regarding qualitative research
EXPOSURE No Exposure Exposure
“Like most of my colleagues in the biomedical sciences, I thought that rigor and logic were the characteristics of the basic sciences. But when I got to know the social sciences better, I realized that logic and rigor actually constitute one of their strengths. And that, for me, was a real shock. ”
CONCLUSION The perception of social science research differ importantly both among Biomedical scientists and Clinician scientists.
CONCLUSION Clinician scientists seem to be more receptive
CONCLUSION Biomedical scientists seem to be more unreceptive
CONCLUSION It could be worthwhile to put in place educational mechanisms to better educate health scientists about the usefulness and rigor of social science research
Can Qualitative Social Science Make it in the Health Research Field? • Comments inspired by my professional experience
Yes and No • Yes, if you follow the rules of the game in Health Research • No, if you persist in playing the scientific game according to the rules in SSC
3000 words paper (clinical journals) • Often to provide useful information (problem-solving) • No theory (descriptive analysis) • No thorough review of the literature • No comprehensive discussion (data, interpretation and theoretical implications) • Limited contribution to (basic) knowledge-building
Productivity (3000 words versus 10000 words papers) • Books, book chapters, reports
If you don’t play the scientific game according to the (medical) Health Research rules, it is unlikely that you will be successful in the Health domain...
A potential strategy: Have a dual production, one for the community of social scientists and one for the community of health scientists.
Thank you Questions? Comments?