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Thursday, February 17, 2005

The various definitions of "analysis"

In the current issue of Journal of Higher Education, which is a pretty good journal, is the article "Which Way Out? A Typology of Non-Heterosexual Male Collegiate Identities." It is only slightly interesting, but in reading the article you can see a stark difference between what economists and other fields consider "analysis." I offer three significant examples:
  1. Participants
    For this study, I interviewed 57 men who were college undergraduates between 1945 and 1999. The participants' years of attendance were not concentrated in any single period of time but rather represented fairly equally each year of the 55-year period. The men attended over 50 different institutions (some attended more than one institution to complete their undergraduate education), located in 22 states across the U.S. The schools include public and private, religiously-affiliated and state-supported, smaller liberal-arts institutions and larger research universities. Racial diversity was less stratified: 48 of the respondents were Caucasian, two Hispanic, one Asian-American, one African-American, and five of international origin.

  2. Procedure
    The respondents were solicited primarily through direct contact with key informants from academic, alumni, and/or social groups (chiefly graduate/faculty/staff groups at the University of Southern California and the University of California at Irvine), as well as from non-heterosexual social clubs (particularly the Phoenix, AZ, chapter of Primetimers, a national organization for senior gay men), academic conferences, and establishments catering to non-heterosexual males. I also placed requests for participants in local publications with audiences matching the target population and postsecondary institutions' gay/ lesbian/bisexual student and/or alumni electronic mailing lists.

  3. Data Analysis
    I utilized a pragmatic approach throughout my analysis of the data, drawing from a number of analytic strategies, including constant-comparative (Glaser & Strauss, 1967), typographic (Lofland & Lofland, 1995), and narrative (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). I also blended queer theory (Dilley, 1999; Jagose, 1996) and queer historiography (Bravmann, 1997; cf. Chauncey, 1994; Dilley, 2002b; Howard, 1999) into my examinations of the men's lives, particularly in how their sensibilities related to normative concepts of both heterosexual and non-heterosexual identities.

I do not research the area of tyopology, however these three paragraphs are troubling for the econometrician in me. First, the sample is rather small (perhaps not for one-on-one interviews, but nevertheless it is small) and it is not clear if a general typology over a fifty year span can be derived from talking to fifty different people. Perhaps there were data collected about where people went to school, when they went to school, etc., however it doesn't seem to have been reported by the author nor is it every referred to in the article. What exactly did the author do?

Second, the way the sample was selected is frought with potential problems. How did people self-select into the sample? How did the researcher select those to interview? Surveys are reknown for being unreliable. Did the researcher simply talk to the individuals or did he ask questions with codeable responses that could be checked for underlying consistency?

Finally, when I read statements like "I utilized a pragmatic approach throughout my analysis of the data," my ears perk up while my eyes start to roll. What exactly does this mean? What data were gathered? How were the data "analyzed." Did the researcher consider anything in the way of statistical analysis (which I don't think he did) or was it simply looking at a bunch of responses/interviews and creating the structure or typology that was desired.

It seems that the article is extremely niche-oriented because of the use of "queer historiography" which is obviously not in everyone's repertoire.

Such "analysis" would not pass muster in most of the top economics journals, but it is interesting to see what does pass for analysis in other fields.

I will have more on this later...

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