Assignment 1: Evaluating Bias in Research
Due Week 3 and worth 60 points
Read the article titled, “As drug industry’s influence over research grows, so does the potential for bias,” located athttp://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/as-drug-industrys-influence-over-research-grows-so-does-the-potential-for-bias/2012/11/24/bb64d596-1264-11e2-be82-c3411b7680a9_story.html
Review the six (6) rules of critical thinking (Chapter 1) and the steps of “Doing Sociology: A Student’s Guide to Research” (Chapter 2).
CHAPTER 1 :
Applying the sociological perspective requires more than an ability to use the sociological imagination. It also demands critical thinking, the ability to evaluate claims about truth by using reason and evidence. In everyday life, we frequently accept things as “true” because they are familiar, feel right, or are consistent with our beliefs. Critical thinking takes a different approach—recognizing poor arguments, rejecting statements not supported by evidence, and questioning our assumptions. One of the founders of modern sociology, Max Weber, captured the spirit of critical thinking in two words when he said that a key task of sociological inquiry is to openly acknowledge “inconvenient facts.”
Critical thinking requires us to be open-minded, but it does not mean that we must accept all arguments as equally valid. Those supported by logic and backed by evidence are clearly preferable to those that are not. For instance, we may passionately agree with Thomas Jefferson’s famous statement “that government is best that governs least.” However, as sociologists we must also ask, “What evidence backs up the claim that less government is better under all circumstances?”
To think critically, it is useful to follow six simple rules (adapted from Wade & Tavris, 1997):
- Be willing to ask any question, no matter how difficult. The belief in small government is a cherished U.S. ideal. But sociologists who study the role of government in modern society must be willing to ask whether there are circumstances under which more—not less—government is better. Government’s role in areas such as homeland security, education, and health care has grown in the past several years—what are the positive and negative aspects of this growth?
- Think logically and be clear. Logic and clarity require us to define concepts in a way that allows us to study them. “Big government” is a vague concept that must be made more precise and measurable before it provides for useful research. Are we speaking of federal, state, or local government, or all of these? Is “big” measured by the cost of government services, the number of agencies or offices within the government, the number of people working for it, or something else? What did Jefferson mean by “best,” and what would that “best” government look like? Who would have the power to define this notion in any case?
- Back up your arguments with evidence. Founding Father Thomas Jefferson is a formidable person to quote, but quoting him does not prove that smaller government is better in the 21st century. To find evidence, we need to seek out studies of contemporary societies to see whether there is a relationship between a population’s well-being and the size of government or the breadth of services it provides. Because studies may offer contradictory evidence, we also need to be able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of arguments on different sides of the issue.
- Think about the assumptions and biases—including your own—that underlie all studies. You may insist that government has a key role to play in modern society. On the other hand, you may believe with equal passion that big government is one root of the problems in the United States. Critical thinking, however, requires that we recognize our beliefs and biases. Otherwise we might unconsciously seek out only evidence that supports our argument, ignoring evidence to the contrary. Passion has a role to play in research: It can motivate us to devote long hours to studying an issue. But passion should not play a role when we are weighing evidence and drawing conclusions.
- Avoid anecdotal evidence. It is tempting to draw a general conclusion from a single experience or anecdote, but that experience may illustrate the exception rather than the rule. For example, you may know someone who just yesterday received a letter mailed 2 years ago, but that is not evidence that the U.S. Postal Service is inefficient or does not fulfill its mandates. To determine whether this government agency is working well, you would have to study its entire mail delivery system and its record of work over time.
- Be willing to admit when you are wrong or uncertain about your results. Sometimes we expect to find support for an argument only to find that things are not so clear. For example, consider the position of a sociologist who advocates small government and learns that Japan and Singapore initially became economic powerhouses because their governments played leading roles in promoting growth of a sociologist who champions an expanded role for government but learns from the downturn of the 1990s in the Asian economies that some things can be better achieved by private enterprise. The answers we get are sometimes contradictory, and we learn from recognizing the error of our assumptions and beliefs as well.
CHAPTER 2 :
Doing Sociological Research Sociological research requires careful preparation and a clear plan that guides the work. The purpose of a sociological research project may be to obtain preliminary knowledge that will help formulate a theory or to evaluate an existing theory about society and social life. As part of the strategy, the researcher selects from a variety of research methods—specific techniques for systematically gathering data. In the following sections, we look at a range of research methods and examine their advantages and disadvantages. We also discuss how you might prepare a sociological research project of your own. Sociological Research Methods Sociologists employ a variety of methods to learn about the social world (Table 2.4). Since each has strengths and weaknesses, a good research strategy may be to use several different methods. If they all yield similar findings, the researcher is more likely to have confidence in the results. The principal methods are the survey, fieldwork (either participant observation or detached observation), experimentation, working with existing information, and participatory research. Survey Research A survey relies on a questionnaire or interviews with a group of people in person or by telephone or e-mail to determine their characteristics, opinions, and behaviors. Surveys are versatile, and sociologists often use them to test theories or simply to gather data. Some survey instruments, such as National Opinion Research Center questionnaires, consist of closed-ended questions that respondents answer by choosing from among the responses presented. Others, such as the University of Chicago’s Social Opportunity Survey, consist of open-ended questions that permit respondents to answer in their own words. An example of survey research conducted for data collection is the largest survey in the nation, the U.S. Census, which is conducted every 10 years. The census is not designed to test any particular theory. Rather, it gathers voluminous data about U.S. residents that researchers, including sociologists, use to test and develop a variety of theories. Usually, a survey is conducted on a relatively small number of people, a sample, selected to represent a population, the whole group of people to be studied. The first step in designing a survey is to identify the population of interest. Imagine that you are doing a study of behavioral factors that affect grades in college. Who would you survey? Members of a certain age group only? People in the airline industry? Pet owners? To conduct a study well, we need to identify clearly the survey population that will most effectively help us answer the research question. In your study you would most likely choose to survey students now in college, because they offer the best opportunity to correlate grades with particular behaviors. Once we have identified a population of interest, we will usually select a sample, as we seldom have the time or money to talk to all the members of a given population, especially if it is a large one. Other things being equal, larger samples better represent the population than smaller ones. However, with proper sampling techniques, sociologists can use relatively small (and therefore inexpensive) samples to represent large populations. For instance, a well-chosen sample of 1,000 U.S. voters can be used to represent 100,000 U.S. voters with a fair degree of accuracy, enabling surveys to make election predictions with reasonable confidence. Sampling is also used for looking at social phenomena such as drug or alcohol use in a population: CNN reported recently that 17% of high schoolers drink, smoke, or use drugs during the school day, based on a 1,000- student sample polled by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (Azuz, 2012).
Student Success Tip: As you review the steps, jot a few notes or thoughts down. Relax and prepare to write a concise and accurate essay.
Write a one page essay in which you:
Identify the first step in the student’s guide to research.
Define the first step of research in your own words.
Identify the major assumptions and bias of the drug industry that underlie drug research.
Identify the personal bias that you, as a consumer, have on the drug industry’s influence over research.
Your assignment must follow these formatting requirements:
Be typed, double spaced, using Times New Roman font (size 12), with one-inch margins on all sides. Check with your professor for any additional instructions.
To keep this essay short and manageable, your only sources for the essay should be the article from The Washington Post and the sections noted in your text. For this reason, APA citations or references are not required for this assignment.
Include a cover page containing the title of the assignment, the student’s name, the professor’s name, the course title, and the date. The cover page is not included in the required assignment page length.
The specific course learning outcomes associated with this assignment are:
Define the basic concepts used in the discipline of sociology.
Define the various methodologies for sociological research.
Use technology and information resources to research issues in sociology.
Write clearly and concisely about sociology using proper writing mechanics.