Thursday, 10 December 2015

The book that made me cry....

Oh right Vanessa...the book that made me cry? My "Statistical Analysis in Psychology and Education : Fourth Edition" by George A Ferguson, 1976 (McGraw Hill). And, does a manual count? If so then it would have to be the SPSS manual - Statistical Package for the Social Sciences. I loathed them. I wept tears over the trouble they caused me.
Now, what else do you need to know?
I hated statistics - I still hate statistics. I recognise they have their place. My doctor nephew is currently doing some research in which statistics very definitely have their place. We discussed what he was doing over the weekend and, between us, explained to the Senior Cat what ANOVA meant and why it was important.
That's fine. I can handle that.
What I couldn't handle was the reliance on statistics in so much of psychology. I kept being told how important it was. I kept being told I had to be able to "prove" something - and I couldn't. My doctorate turned a psychological theory upside down or perhaps inside  or perhaps back to front - simply because I asked the same question in a different way. I kept being told that I "must be doing something wrong" because I could not get the results from my control group that psychological theory said I should be getting. Right.
I sat there for hours trying to work out what I was doing wrong. I read Professor Ferguson again and again. In those days he was the standard text for the likes of me - and the SPSS manual was supposed to help me apply the necessary tests.
In the end I didn't do a neat piece of straightforward research. I had to argue something quite different. I suppose it was good for me. It has made me wary of all research in the social sciences. Human beings are just too complicated. Statistics have their uses but please keep your mind open because, if you ask the same question in a different way, then you might get a different answer.
It is timely I should think of this because yesterday a complete stranger butted in on a Twitter exchange between myself and a senior journalist. This individual was irate because a piece of research had "proven" the ABC was not biased. It had said so in the papers.
I tried gently pointing out that the research had not "proven" anything. It had been based on the number of questions asked and those they had been asked of and the time allotted. It had not looked at what sort of questions had been asked, whether people were allowed to answer, whether people fronted the camera, what was said about them and much more. As a piece of "research" it was so full of holes as to be meaningless. It would in fact be very difficult to conduct such a pieces of research. The question of "bias" has not been resolved at all - and is unlikely to be resolved.
But the individual who butted in was upset - so upset s/he blocked me. Perhaps that is just as well. They can keep their prejudices. I don't need to be bothered by them.
But, it brought back floods of memories of a small, stressed out Cat sitting there in tears because of that wretched book and that equally wretched manual.


Allison said...

The first book to make me cry? The first I remember was *The Yearling* by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

catdownunder said...

I howled over a few in my childhood too -and I don't think for a moment that this was what Vanessa intended but it was such an awful book I had to share it.