Do you mean “methods”, or “methodology”?

I’m writing a short piece on research methods for a proposal and it reminds me that I think we need to draw a distinction between two terms that are frequently conflated: methodology and methods (6, Perri and Christine Bellamy. (2011). Principles of Methodology: Research Design in Social Science. London: Sage.).

Whereas methodology properly refers to the branch of logic dealing with the general principles of knowledge, the theoretical analysis of methods proper and principles particular to specific branches of knowledge, the term methodology has increasingly come to be used as a grandiose substitute for the correct term – method – frequently inflated to the even grander methodological.

This concern is not simply pedantic (I hope), as the misuse of the term methodology confuses the important difference between the tools and techniques – i.e., the methods – and the principles and philosophical assumptions for considering how and where to use those methods.

Behind important choices in conducting research – what data to collect and what procedures to use – lie important philosophical and foundational questions: is there a single, absolute truth or multiple realities? What is more reliable: our senses or our reasoning? Is knowledge waiting to be discovered, or is it constructed through our thinking? These questions are evaluated within a framework of this researcher’s ontological and epistemological position. (More on these last points later).


GovLab Editorial Board Meeting Links, 8/16/13

(this is the full post from the truncated version published at

Today’s theme was “how can you have open governance if we don’t agree on the basic parameters?”

The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” But what if people dispute the facts, or find their own facts hidden in the open data? How can we have open governance when we can’t rely on evidence to frame our discussions.

Is the Season for Climate Change Denial Finally Over? The Huffington Post: Three years after the National Academy of Sciences, a grouping of our country’s top scientists, declared “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks,” it’s hard to believe that there are still Senators who call climate change a “hoax.” But there are.
What’s with rich people hating vaccines? Salon: You may not immediately peg the woman in yoga pants sipping Kombucha outside Whole Foods as a science-denier, but she might be. The anti-vaccination movement, which posits — in the face of overwhelming empirical research — that vaccines cause autism and other diseases, seems to be picking up steam in many of the country’s wealthier, educated enclaves where parents are interested in living “natural” lifestyles.
(Warning: discussion contains limited references to Jürgen Habermas (between facts and norms) and Chantal Mouffe (agonistic pluralism).)

A late addition – not shared prior to the Ed Board meeting, but sent to me afterward by my colleague Rod Dobell – does a much better job than me of discussing the issue from a different angle:

Moment of Truthiness by Paul Krugman
In a well-known paper with a discouraging title, “It Feels Like We’re Thinking,” the political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels reported on a 1996 survey that asked voters whether the budget deficit had increased or decreased under President Clinton. In fact, the deficit was down sharply, but a plurality of voters — and a majority of Republicans — believed that it had gone up.
I wondered on my blog what a similar survey would show today, with the deficit falling even faster than it did in the 1990s. Ask and ye shall receive: Hal Varian, the chief economist of Google, offered to run a Google Consumer Survey — a service the company normally sells to market researchers — on the question. So we asked whether the deficit has gone up or down since January 2010. And the results were even worse than in 1996: A majority of those who replied said the deficit has gone up, with more than 40 percent saying that it has gone up a lot. Only 12 percent answered correctly that it has gone down a lot.
And then there’s this, which is a reiteration of the adage “where you stand depends on where you sit”:
News Flash: Obamacare Haters Hate Obamacare, by Cass R. Sunstein
Last week, the Obama administration announced that it would postpone until 2015 enforcement of the Affordable Care Act’s so-called employer mandate, which will require employers with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance or face significant financial penalties.
To the critics of the health-care law, the real lesson of the announcement is clear: OBAMACARE IS A DEBACLE. And to those critics, that is the real lesson of essentially every development in health-care reform.
No one should doubt that the implementation of the health-care law is creating serious challenges. Reasonable people have objections and concerns. But as with Durning-Lawrence [see the full post to understand this reference, and extension by analogy to the current setting], so with many of Obamacare’s critics, whose conclusions are motivated and preordained.
The same phenomenon can be found among people with diverse political views; it is hardly limited to those on the right. When public officials reduce regulatory costs imposed on the private sector, or decline to issue environmental or other regulations, left-wing critics often conclude that BUSINESS INTERESTS CONTROL GOVERNMENT. This is so even if the regulatory costs are likely to hurt workers and consumers, not merely some abstraction called “business.”