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Cases In Research. Examples for a course on methods of social research. Case 1: the Panama Canal Treaty. Researchers – staff for a United States Senator

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Cases in research l.jpg

Cases In Research

Examples for a course on methods of social research

Case 1 the panama canal treaty l.jpg
Case 1: the Panama Canal Treaty

  • Researchers – staff for a United States Senator

  • Purpose – to find out what the people in the senator’s state thought about an idea the senator had concerning a treaty the Senate was debating about whether or not the United States should turn over the Panama Canal to the Republic of Panama

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Case 1: Panama Treaty, cont.

  • Design

    • systematically select phone numbers from phone books for the two largest cities in the state

    • Call the numbers until 400 calls with interviews are completed

    • Ask people one or two questions about the treaty without the senator’s suggestion and with his suggestion

    • Compare the answers to see if attitudes are more favorable to the treaty when the suggestion is included

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Case 2: Men’s Room Handwashing

  • Researcher – A sociology major at Buffalo State College

  • Purpose – to see if modeling hand washing behavior in a men’s room would affect the likelihood that other people in the bathroom would wash their hands

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Case 3: Rudy Wants to Know

  • NOTE: this is an example of bad research

  • “Researcher” – staff for Senator Rudy Boscovitch (I think) of Minnesota

  • Purpose -- Apparently to see if people in Minnesota were as enthusiastic about President Reagan as good old Rudy was

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Case 3 – Rudy, cont.

  • Importance

    • In terms of answering whether or not Minnesotans were enthusiastic about Reagan, zero, zilch, nada, none

    • However, it may have had important non-research consequences

      • It might have helped link the senator in the public’s eye with the very popular (at that time) president

      • For those with research knowledge, it may have marked him as a research bozo

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Case 4: Cults in Europe

  • Researcher – J. Gordon Melton with Gary Ward and Isotta Poggi

  • Purpose – create a list of cults in Europe

  • Design – multi-method approach, including checking occult and similar bookstores and developing informants

  • Dates – about 10 years beginning in the early 1980s

  • Importance – theory said there should be many cults in Europe, but people had not been able to find them. This research supported the theory

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Case 4 – Cults in Europe, cont.

  • Importance for SOCY3700

    • Illustrates the value of research skill

    • Illustrates one role of theory in research

      • Theory told Melton to look for cults even though others had not found them

  • Source: pp. 401-3 in Rodney Stark. 1998. Sociology. 7th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth

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Case 5: The Double Helix

  • Researchers – Francis Crick and James Watson, assisted somewhat accidentally by Maurice Wilkins, who shared the Nobel Prize with them, Rosalind Franklin, and their competitor, Linus Pauling

  • Purpose – to determine the chemical and physical structure of DNA

  • Design – modeling the structure of the molecule based on data collected by others

  • Dates – 1951-3

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Case 5 – Double Helix, cont.

  • Importance – at the time some scientists considered DNA to be the basic component of heredity

  • Importance today

    • Now we believe DNA is even more important than Crick and Watson thought

    • Much of what DNA does derives from its structure

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Case 5 – Double Helix, cont.

  • Importance for SOCY3700

    • Most important, illustrates the principle that scientists try to solve the most important problem they think they can

    • Illustrates importance of knowing what is important

    • Illustrates scientific opportunism

    • Illustrates Crick’s “water cooler” principle: study the thing you find most interesting to talk about around the water cooler

    • Illustrates the problems of secrecy in science

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Case 5: Double Helix, cont.

  • Events

    • Recent biology PhD Watson and former physicist Francis Crick meet at a lab in England

    • Watson in Europe to learn enough chemistry to unravel the nature of the gene

    • Crick used water cooler test to decide to go into biology after war work on naval mines

    • Both have decided DNA is the essential “stuff” of genes and that understanding genes will require knowing their structure

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Case 5: Double Helix, cont.

  • Neither has any DNA to work with; both have been assigned other problems in the laboratory

  • Taking advantage of information about DNA that is published, presented orally, talked about informally by experts, or included in funding agency documents, they eventually use little pieces of metal to build a model of DNA.

  • They publish details in Nature.

    • A major contribution was from an expert who explained that textbooks have fouled up their descriptions of adenine, guanine, thymine, and cytosine

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Case 5: Double Helix, cont.

  • Sources

    • James D. Watson. [1968] 1980. The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA. Norton critical edition edited by G. S. Stent. New York: Norton

      • This book is a classic in the history of science. I seem to re-read it every few years.

    • Matt Ridley. 2006. Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code. New York: HarperCollins

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Case 6: Backman/Adams

  • Researchers – Carl Backman and Murray Adams

  • Purpose – to asses the importance of self-perceived physical attractiveness for self-esteem, with comparisons by race and gender

  • Design – questionnaire administered to sociology students at Auburn, Tuskegee, and Alabama State

  • Date – 1985

  • Importance – contribution to literatures on the effects of physical attractiveness and on differences by race in self-esteem

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Backman/Adams, cont.

  • Importance for SOCY3700 – illustration of typical academic study

  • Source – Backman, Carl B. and Murray C. Adams. 1991. “Self-Perceived Physical Attractiveness, Self-Esteem, Race, and Gender.” Sociological Focus 24(4):283-90.

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Case 7: Policing in Buffalo

  • Researchers – Carl Backman and Ron Stewart

  • Client – Buffalo, NY Police Department

    • really Gil Kerlikowske, Police Commissioner

  • Purpose – assess the attitudes and preferences of Buffalo citizens toward the police department

  • Date – 1984-5

  • Design – random telephone survey of 497 residents

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Policing in Buffalo, cont.

  • Importance – Intended for use in Buffalo’s community policing planning and to help bring new mayor and police commissioner up to speed on police-community relations

  • Importance for SOCY3700

    • Illustrates applied research for a client

    • Illustrates form of final reports

  • Source – Carl B. Backman and Ron Stewart. 1995. Policing in Buffalo: The Community’s Attitudes, Opinions, and Preferences. Final Report.

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Case 8: Lazarsfeld on The American Soldier

  • Researcher – Paul Lazarsfeld, commenting on research by Samuel Stouffer and others

  • Date – 1949

  • Purpose – to evaluate the extensive series of studies of soldiers conducted by the Army during World War II.

  • Importance – a spirited defense of survey research when much skepticism existed in the public and among the intelligentsia

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Case 8: Lazarsfeld on The American Soldier, cont.

  • Importance for SOCY3700 – explicitly makes the case for the primacy of empirical research in the scientific enterprise

  • Lazarsfeld’s argument:

    • Surveys are [in 1949] an increasingly important tool for social science

    • Surveys have some limitations

    • Some people think surveys are just an expensive way to discover what we already know from common sense

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Case 8: Lazarsfeld on The American Soldier, cont.

  • Lazarsfeld’s argument (cont.):

    • Let’s examine the common sense argument with some representative results

      • All the results can be explained by common sense

      • All the results are the opposite of what was found!


      • Common sense is a lousy guide to truth

      • Empirical observations are necessary to get at truth

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Case 8: Lazarsfeld on The American Soldier, cont

  • Source: Lazarsfeld, Paul F. 1949. “The American Soldier – An Expository Review.” Public Opinion Quarterly 13:377-81.