Changing conceptions of science, I

A lot of methodology is about what’s called in science studies “boundary work” — struggles to control the boundary between what counts as “science” and what’s other stuff.  The qualitative/quantitative methods disputes are examples of boundary work (and what you see now with “mixed-methods” is a secondary strategy by  the quantitative researchers, who realizing they can’t completely win, seek to discipline and incorporate elements of qualitative inquiry.  Qualitative researchers, for their part, have been using ‘quantitative methods’ from the start, just not the kind of things popular in ed psych).

But focusing on qualitative and quantitative is too myopic.  In fact, the whole notion of ‘science’  as a relatively autonomous domain (a claim that’s never been secure — corporations have been major players for a long time) is being challenged — researchers follow the money and the money is with the corporations now. And with this shift the boundaries shift.  So consider the following news items (not about qualitative research):

A piece in the Guardian reporting from the AAAS meetings -“Attacks paid for by big business are ‘driving science into a dark era'”

       Most scientists, on achieving high office, keep their public remarks to the bland and reassuring. Last week Nina Fedoroff, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), broke ranks in a spectacular manner.

She confessed that she was now “scared to death” by the anti-science movement that was spreading, uncontrolled, across the US and the rest of the western world.

“We are sliding back into a dark era,” she said. “And there seems little we can do about it. I am profoundly depressed at just how difficult it has become merely to get a realistic conversation started on issues such as climate change or genetically modified organisms.” . . . .

You can read the complete article at:

The Union of Concerned Scientists report mentioned in the Guardian piece is available at:

So, what kind of science do Corporations actually want??  From the New York Times Magazine of the same day:

How Companies Learn Your Secrets

Andrew Pole had just started working as a statistician for Target in 2002, when two colleagues from the marketing department stopped by his desk to ask an odd question: “If we wanted to figure out if a customer is pregnant, even if she didn’t want us to know, can you do that? ”

Pole has a master’s degree in statistics and another in economics, and has been obsessed with the intersection of data and human behavior most of his life. . . . . while other kids were going to 4-H, Pole was doing algebra and writing computer programs. “The stereotype of a math nerd is true,” he told me when I spoke with him last year. “I kind of like going out and evangelizing analytics.” . . .

You can read the complete article at:

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