Strength and limitations of quantitative and qualitative data

The laws obtained through natural science are more definite and deterministic because we are able to control the variables and constants in the experiment. But real life does not always tend to be able to work that way. “In the real world, it is often difficult to untangle a complicated web of causal relationships to determine which one is decisive.

” (Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma, 272) However, scientists have developed ingenious methods to combat these problems and still be able to run fairly successful and efficient experiments. For example, if we want to learn about how babies perceive the world, we must speculate in order to gain more insight upon this topic. But this type of experiment leans more toward qualitative data since we need descriptions to get some idea of the babies’ minds and quantitative data would pretty much be useless.

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Two psychologists, Elizabeth Spelke and Renee Baillargeon, ran an experiment and described their observations about babies by asserting that “before they are six months old, babies have figured out that objects consist of parts that move together, are aware of the difference between living and non-living things, and can even do simple arithmetic. ” (TOK for IB, 268) This type of speculation and behavior cannot be explained through numbers, but only through observation and perception.

In this case, they both lead to a qualitative analysis – as with most other human sciences experiments. As a consequence of the nature of how most human science experiments and observations turn out, “human free-will would seem to conflict with the idea that there are law – like regularities in human behavior. ” (TOK for IB, 270) The main purpose of human science and natural science is to develop laws to explain certain phenomena through observation, measurement, experiments, etc.

But some generalizations could be made due to the law of large numbers, which says that “random variations tend to cancel out,” in a large group. This allows us to predict the probability of certain behaviors in nature, although it still is not definite. Therefore, most universal laws are usually constructed through and for the study of natural sciences. Furthermore, due to the qualitative (as opposed to the quantitative) characteristics associated when dealing with human sciences, many of our predictions are mostly fallacies.

This forces us to consider trends, versus laws, when striving to predict or understand certain behaviors. We tend to typically find correlations rather than ascertain theories or hypotheses. My friends and I tried to predict whether one’s preference to skittles had any correlation to how high or low the person’s math grade leaned. After we surveyed a small sample of students, we drew a graph and found that the curve showed that the people who did not prefer skittles had higher math grades, or vice versa.

But after we increased our pool of survey participants, we came to the understanding that there was really no correlation between people’s preference to skittles and how high or low their math grades were – but rather it correlated to the time they spent studying (which was another part we added to the survey). This is an example of the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc – “just because two things are correlated,” it does not mean that the first is the cause of the second since there are other factors to be considered, especially when dealing with the human sciences.

Qualitative analysis and data helps strengthen the evidence and knowledge gained through studying human nature. However, quantitative measurements are better suited towards natural sciences since human sciences have to deal with complex and holistic phenomena. Human sciences “lack the explanatory power of the natural sciences. ” Nevertheless, they give a great deal of insight pertaining human nature and more knowledge about our behaviors. Natural science is easier to defend and accept as the absolute truth because of its use of and need quantitative information.

Despite these issues, however, human sciences are “neither as flawed as their critics believe nor as successful as their defenders hope. ” Many of it has to do with one’s own individual perception of the nature of things they witness. Scientific research helps ascertain theories and ideas in natural sciences, but whether it will help unlock the mysteries of human beings and their behavior may always lie beyond our abilities to understand or gain knowledge about human sciences.

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