Quantitative Data in a Pit of Qualitative Soup

A few weeks ago I posted an article to a right wing online magazine arguing against one of its author’s stance on Youth crime in Canada. Once I finished and posted my article, I found that many of the other readers responded to it too, and that most said that you can only measure numbers from hard data, and that everything else (qualitative data) is just plain speculation. In fairness I will not post my article, nor give out the URL of the website that I posted to until my friends there have had a change to post their rebuttal to it. I want to remain as faithful to the academic rules of conduct as possible, and not prejudiced my cause by making assumptions based on very thin sources and facts. Also in fairness, I want to hear them out first before I post my conclusions on my weblog.

So, the nasty accusations about calling qualitative research bunk, and not very scientific. Well, let me try and explain it. For those of you who have no idea about what I am talking about, qualitative research is based on data that is descriptive in nature, and tries to measure worldly things that cannot be changed or converted into numbers. Not a complete answer, and one I am sure some of my profs are rolling their eyes right about now with, but it is a basic outline of some of the data that I collect and work with. On the other hand, there is qualitative research, which we are probably more familiar with, which takes sources we want to measure and translates them into numbers of various values. This, the common person on the street would call statistics. I would take those numbers and plug them into fancy equations, and out the other end a number would appear, and I would say something like, “yes, there is a positive effect that supports my hypothesis… Eureka!”

One of the more complex measurements in social science that I try and measure are “feelings.” How do you measure feelings?

According to my friends, you cannot measure it. Sadly my friends are not Criminologists, nor were they taught in the field of quantitative research methods. I like to think of quantitative research as the field that qualitative research cannot fill, or explain—like feelings. I could dumb it down to, “how strong do you feel about this topic, a: good, b: fair, c: worse, d: bad”? But that does not get me the information that I want. I want to know how they feel, in their own words, and then when I have gathered several dozens answers, I will perform an analysis of all the responses and draw commonalities, or differences, from the information I have. Next, I will to draw conclusions from my analysis. So, yes, you can measure it.

I do not hide behind my data. What I mean by this is I post all of my data, in its entirety, for my peers to use for their analysis. I give my source, citing them in my submission, so not to commit plagiarism and academic dishonesty. It is then peer reviewed. Other academics will pick it apart, criticize it, and if it is still standing in the end, then “yay.”

If it is not my data, I then cite my source(s), and link them to where you can get the data for yourself that was used my me sources, and you can practice some data mining for yourself to see if my argument holds water or not. For my article, I used thirty-one different sources to support and build my argument with. All of my sources are based around describing how youth feel about crime in general today—stay tuned when I post it.

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