Laura Thompson Project: The Difficulty of Conducting Speculative Causal Research within the Social Sciences
Laura Thompson 1Laura Thompson Project: The Difficulty of ConductingSpeculative Causal Research within the Social Sciences by Edgardo Donovan BUS 504 – Dr. Roger Rensvold Module 4 – Case Analysis Monday, March 3, 2008
Laura Thompson 2 Laura Thompson Project: The Difficulty of Conducting Speculative Causal Research within the Social Sciences Can the creation of Community Networks enhance social capital in rural Scotland? Can new technologies be employed to enhance communities? What do community networks provide, and who uses these networks? To what extent can the use of Community Networks create social capital in rural communities? LAURA HAMILTON THOMSON www.caithness.org, 2008 n her analysis of the local interest website Caithness.org, Laura Thomson attempts to measure its societal impact within the greater context of social capital and online community phenomena. In so doing she often generalized, vaguely referenced abstract concepts,and demonstrated myopic focus in an attempt to substantiate her broad thesis. Social science research is probably the most difficult in terms of involving a greatnumber of influencing causal factors. The cause of individual perception, motivation, andultimately behavior is very difficult to isolate and can usually only be done whenattempting to define a reaction to a particular well defined circumstance. Successful business research must strive to produce hypotheses that can be clearlysupported by a thorough analysis of related qualitative and quantitative data. Much caremust be taken in the research model planning phase in order to prevent disconnectsbetween thesis findings. Generally, research cohesion and believability are positivelyrelated. This is also true for research efforts conducted within advocative/participative andconstructivist frameworks where the research intent may be more focused on stimulating
Laura Thompson 3future inquiry or building upon the work of others. Given that all projects are not immuneto external pressures and expectations extra care must be taken in rigorously scrutinizingfindings in an attempt to provide the research consumer with a valid and reliable argumentas to how we know what we know. I found Laura Thomson’s research questions to be neither useful nor interesting. Ithink that her work would have been more appropriate if it were conducted as a webstatistics report, utilization study, or focus group regarding Caithness.org. The latter areconducted regularly in the private, public, and non-profit sectors to gauge effectiveness ofmarketing and outreach programs. She chose instead to conduct a participatory andadvocative type of research where she attempted to use pre-defined terms such as socialcapital and online communities to validate her perception of the Caithness.org and vice-versa. The terms social capital and communities are vague at best and would requireextensive research efforts because they require context within every imaginable instance ofthe human experience. For example, capital is usually understood to be an asset or moneythat can be spent in order to obtain a commensurate good or service. How do you spendsocial capital? Do you quantify social capital as good will or a potential affinity of theparticular demographic towards a product or service? How do you define a community?What level of interaction or similarity is required to classify people within a certaincommunity and what associated behavior can you ascribe to it? If social capital andcommunity studies are to be scrutinized for validity to be used as an argument for a thesismuch more information is needed.
Laura Thompson 4 Laura Thomson should have made a larger effort to study the different ways thatpeople around the world came to discover and learn about Caithness prior to its web site.This would have involved a careful review of all public, civic, business, and social eventstaking place involving Caithness. She would have needed to correlate these findings withher analysis of Caithness.org. She would need to demonstrate that the latter did notcannibalize the effectiveness of any of the other outreach vehicles if she were to prove thatthere had been indeed a “community enhancement” (Thomson). The quality of Thomson’s quantitative analysis is nominal at best. Althoughformulas are not called into question, she attempts to utilize a form of regression analysisto substantiate the basis of her hypothesis (Chappie). Her questionnaires only measuretemporal responses without causal antecedents regarding a specific group of people thatvisited the Caithness.org web site. The core value of statistical methodology is its ability to assist one in making inferences about a large group (a population) based on observations of a smaller subset of that group (a sample). In order for this to work correctly, a couple of things have to be true: the sample must be similar to the target population in all relevant aspects; and certain aspects of the measured variables must conform to assumptions which underlie the statistical procedures to be applied. CLAY HELBERG www.execpc.com/~helberg/pitfalls/, 2008 The qualitative references used in Thomson’s work would have required a lot moredepth to be effective. One gets the sense that she quickly cherry-picked her sources andthat she already made up her mind regarding the existence of virtual online communities
Laura Thompson 5and social capital prior to undertaking her research. There is not a lot of consensus in theresearch community regarding the latter topics. Although research in these fields can bepotentially interesting and may offer opportunities to gleem insight into the causes forcertain sets of human social behavior, they cannot be utilized effectively a-priori as iron-clad evidence to substantiate related phenomenon. Measurements are seldom if ever perfect. Particularly when dealing with noisy data such as questionnaire responses or processes which are difficult to measure precisely, we need to pay close attention to the effects of measurement errors. Two characteristics of measurement which are particularly important in psychological measurement are reliability and validity. CLAY HELBERG www.execpc.com/~helberg/pitfalls/, 2008 Thomson affirms that Caithness.org has enhanced tourism as well as creatingidentity and collective solidarity within the Caithness community. Greater or bettertourism cannot be proven without at least a general increased revenue and web activity bymonth correlation with Caithness.org which was not provided. Caithness identity andcollective solidarity brought on by Catiness.org cannot be proven despite supportivequestionnaire responses simply because they only evaluate a small number of people. Theonly way to surely prove or disprove the latter phenomenon would be to include anextensive definition of the terminology within a questionnaire submitted to every livingperson who had ever come into contact or was interested in Caithness. In her analysis of the local interest website Caithness.org, Laura Thomson attemptsto measure its societal impact within the greater context of social capital and online
Laura Thompson 6community phenomena. In so doing she often generalized, vaguely referenced abstractconcepts, and demonstrated myopic focus in an attempt to substantiate her broad thesis.
Laura Thompson 7BIBLIOGRAPHYI. Works Cited Chappie, Mike. (2008). Data mining: an introduction. Retrieved on 11 April 2008 from http://databases.about.com/od/datamining/a/datamining.htm Helberg, Clay. (2008). Pitfalls of data analysis. Retrieved on 11 April 2008 from http://www.execpc.com/~helberg/pitfalls/ Thomson, Laura. (2008). Can the creation of community networks enhance social capital in rural Scotland? Retrieved on 11 April 2008 from http://www.caithness.org/laurathompson/chapter_one.htmII. Works Consulted Allen, Cliff. (1999). Mining for gold. Retrieved on 11 April 2008 from http://retailindustry.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http%3A%2F%2Fclickz.com%2 Farticle%2Fcz.681.html Berry, Michael. (2008). Understanding variables. Retrieved on 11 April 2008 from http://www.crm2day.com/library/EpAZpuAFyAzpbJTtYp.php Chappie, Mike. (2008). Data mining: an introduction. Retrieved on 11 April 2008 from http://databases.about.com/od/datamining/a/datamining.htm Cook, T.D. (1983). Quasi-Experimentation: Its Ontology, Epistemology, and Methodology. In Gareth Morgan (Ed.), Beyond Method.
Laura Thompson 8Dereshiwsky, M. (1998). Understanding hypotheses. Northern Arizona UniversityDereshiwsky, M. (1998). Understanding variables. Northern Arizona UniversityHelberg, Clay. (2008). Pitfalls of data analysis. Retrieved on 11 April 2008 fromhttp://www.execpc.com/~helberg/pitfalls/Hutchinson, Paul. (2007). Discussion on the process of doing research. Retrieved on 11 April2008 from http://www.angelfire.com/biz/rumsby/ARES.htmlKrishnamurthy, S. (n.d.). An empirical study of the causal antecedents of customerconfidence in e-tailers. First Monday JournalMalhotra, Y. (2007). Scientific method, and evolution of scientific thought. Retrieved on 11April 2008 from http://www.brint.com/papers/science.htm.Murray, David (1998). Group-randomized trials. Oxford University Press.Ozz, E. (2001). Organizational commitment and ethical behavior: An empirical study ofinformation system professionals. Journal of Business EthicsNational Academy of Sciences. (2007). On being a scientist. Retrieved on 11 April 2008 fromhttp://www.nap.edu/readingroom/books/obas/.Oulton, Tony. (1995). Management research for information. Library Management.Thomson, Laura. (2008). Can the creation of community networks enhance social capital inrural Scotland? Retrieved on 11 April 2008 fromhttp://www.caithness.org/laurathompson/chapter_one.htm
Laura Thompson 9Trochim, W. (2007). Research methods website. Retrieved on 11 April 2008 fromhttp://www.socialresearchmethods.net/index.htm.Webtrends, Inc. (2008). Identify, target, and engage your customers like never before.Retrieved on 11 April 2008 fromhttps://www.webtrends.com/upload/DS_WebTrends_Visitor_Intelligence.pdf