December 06, 2007

Matching Research Methods to Research Questions

author_janis By Janis Prince Inniss

Dr. James Watson, the 79- year-old American scientist credited with co-discovering the DNA double helix recently told a reporter that black people are naturally less intelligent than whites, and that although he wished this was not the case, “people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true.”

At the very least, Watson seems to have a penchant for making outrageous statements, but I refer to him not to discuss the obvious. Instead, I want to focus clip_image002on the data on which he based his headline-grabbing conclusion. Or put another way, how could we attempt to compare intelligence levels of blacks and whites? What would be some reasonable sources of data from which one could conclude that black people are “naturally” less intelligent than whites? 

First, we would have to define the two groups of people: whites and blacks. What criteria would we use to define blacks? And whites? Would we apply the “one drop rule” as I discussed in a previous post on Tiger Woods? Would we use people’s self-definitions? 

Would we, as researchers, assign people to one of the two groups based on appearance? What if someone ”looked” white or self- identified as white, but has a black parent or grandparent? And given that the comparison is of blacks and whites, with no mention of country, we would have to include people from around the world in our study; this can be quite complicated, as conceptions of race vary significantly in different parts of the world. And assuming we could come up with acceptable definitions in any one country, we would have to use these definitions all across the world in order to have common definitions for the study -- regardless of how alien they are to others. 

clip_image003Let’s say that we managed to come up with a fairly precise definition of blacks and whites that would work in the real world, all over the world. What would be the next step? What research method would we use to answer this empirical question?

If we chose to conduct an ethnography, (and do a good job) we could produce rich data, but of what nature? Ethnography includes interviews and participant observation; we could interview people and get their opinions and thoughts about the intelligence levels of blacks and whites. Fascinating as this might be, it would not answer our research question. We could observe blacks and whites and opine about their intelligence, but any conclusions would not address the central question posed by our research. Further, our observations will likely be biased by any preconceived notions we may have, and we might notice examples that justify our beliefs more than those that do not.

Besides ethnography, we could develop a questionnaire to measure intelligence or use an existing IQ (intelligence quotient) test and mail them out to people and/or administer them ourselves. Clearly, administering or mailing the questionnaire to every black and white person in the world, or even in the U. S. is an impractical task.

Therefore, we would have to focus on a sample or a fraction of the world’s population of blacks and whites. Once the sample is carefully chosen, we could feel confident that it represents and applies to the entire population. In our case, every black and white person in the world should have an equal possibility of being involved in our study; then, we would randomly choose our sample. 

As an clip_image004illustration, in order to conduct a study with a random sample of college students at your university, we would obtain a list of all students and then, for example, include every 10th name in the sample. Once we had figured out how to obtain a random sample of the world’s population of blacks and whites, we would administer our IQ test to the sample. Managing the cost, resources, and other logistics for a survey of this magnitude is not a responsibility I would sign up for, but I suppose it could be done. 

I have devoted more time discussing the definition of black and white, which might suggest that defining intelligence is easy; it is not. What is intelligence? What kind of intelligence would we measure? Emotional? Spatial? Conceptual? Mathematical? All of the above and more? 

clip_image005If you are familiar with some of the criticisms of IQ tests, you would have raised an eyebrow at their earliest mention. How would we account for differences in access to formal education for example, given that less formal education results in lower IQ test scores? How would we sort out social and cultural factors that related to scores? 

clip_image006It is shocking to me that a scientist, a Nobel Laureate, would mention the experiences of unspecified “people” as a source of data regarding anything, including his claim that black people are less intelligent than whites. The claim implies a biological difference between the races and fundamentally would require an ability to differentiate between blacks and whites in some absolute manner; this is difficult to do when race is a socially constructed concept with no biological basis. 

I wonder which “people” was Watson referring to? How does he know what “people” believe or think? Did he interview some people about this question? How many such people did he interview? Good, in-depth interviews provide a deep understanding of behavior or beliefs, but no evidence regarding a biologically based difference between races. Did he send questionnaires to a random sample of “people”? Surveys could provide the opinions of a large number of people, but not some “truth” about blacks and whites. What rigorous research method was Watson employing?

Even a fledgling scientist recognizes that research is a process, and that matching the research method to the research question is critical. Sadly, when such a highly regarded scientist makes outrageous claims, those with little understanding of the scientific method (and more than a little prejudice) might just believe that he is right.


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I feel the problem with saying that one race or ethnicity is smarter than the other is a matter of research. He may have been researching in an area where the black population was not very intelligent. He also may have influenced the data to lean a certain way. He could've created questions that were confusing so that way the blacks seemed less intelligent than the whites. There are many other ways he could've biased this information. Besides personal biases, there are many other factors that could've gone into the results that Watson found. I believe scientists should use their knowledge in a positive way, not trying to put another race or religion down.

I believe that trying to survey one group of people would be really hard like how the author had said. You would have to survey areas where blacks were highly populated in one area and whites were not, and vice versa. But just saying whites are smarter then blacks would push them back to when they were fighting for the right to vote or be considered a citizen.

Another consideration the author may have skirted in criticizing the methods employed in answering the question as to whether blacks are less intelligent than whites follows: What if, in the sub-groups or sample groups from all around the world, ethnology, questionairres, and so forth, were employed. What if some of the blacks taking IQ tests or the other above-cited research methodologies were starving in sub-sahara Africa from famine or suffering as refugees from the Darfar region of Sudan and on the run. Does anyone really think a starving person would do well on an IQ test or would they do better with some great food. Would those fearful of extremists who they are running from accurately paint their ethnology. I think not. So, within all the possibilities and as we think on this deeper and go to sub-groups within the larger group, the complexities of testing Watson's misdirected notion are further exacerbated. The author seems to really be on to something almost proving in short prose that Watson's propostion is unprovable and unthinkable.

I also think it is impossible to survey all the people in the U.S. This research was probably bias and he probably picked the richest and priviledged people for the white side and the opposite for the black.

How can we as a society answer this question without bias? From pervious data demonstrate bias. Until we can actually pen what is “white” and “black” this question will continue forever…It is my belief there is no pure anything. The world is a big melting pot with many races blending into one.

If I may voice an opinion on this being a highly intelligent woman of the African American race, I do not agree with this biased statement. For one, how the heck could any human being on this planet say how “dumb” or “much smarter’ another race is because of “superiority.” Of min every human is smart indeed, despite what circumstances they acquire and what mistakes they make. It seems to me looking back through history, the white race is the only race that hasn’t been through any suffering or pain. Think about it for a minute: blacks have been slaves and practically killed (women, men and children) because of our skin color, the Jews because of their religion and looks (not having blonde hair and blue eyes), native Americans made slaves and killed for trying to escape to US to make a better life for themselves, but he would go as far as to call the black race unintelligent? This biased opinion also serves as a perfect example of correctly matching research methods to research questions. Significant information was not given to make an educated guess (hypothesis) about the question or statement raised. First information should be gathered and researched to make sure there will be a good amount of information to include in this question raised to make an education guess or statement. Then it should be carried out accordingly. Every one is smart and if not shown has the capability to be. How can you measure intelligence? You cant. Just like love.

I myself feel that this would be a very long process to complete. It would takes months maybe a year or years to complete this process and complete it correctly at that. Is this type of research even in capability of being completed? or completed correctly? There are so many different types of people, races, and ethnicities. You have some people who could be one race but classify themselves as another race because they have a certain percentage of a different race in them. I believe this would be a tough and unrealistic study to research.

Reasearch as you have very well shown can be exteremly complex to questions that some people may answer in a heart beat or assume easy to figure out. As you have shown the proper research to the research question is critical to maintain or the answer will never be trully discovered. In addition this kind of question I personally would find to be a waste of time-blacks are clearly capable of the any form of intelligence that whites can achieve-reasearch would be better placed on another question of intrique.

I beg to differ with Miranda's idea that the many races are blending into one...But generally i like the whole article by Janis Prince.

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