How do we recognise good research?
Peter Salmon discusses anarchism, methodologism and the quantitative vs. qualitative debate.
Psychology has evidently been vexed by qualitative research. Articles in The Psychologist and elsewhere have passionately argued whether it will save the discipline from the perils of positivism, or herald its banishment from the community of sciences into subjectivity and obfuscation (e.g. Gillett, 1995; Morgan, 1996). Of course, qualitative methods have long been employed by other disciplines, and are now being quietly embraced by medicine (Macnaughton, 1996; Mays & Pope, 1995). Nevertheless, the vehemence of this debate in psychology is not surprising. After all, this is the science whose practitioners challenge not only each other’s results but also their methods. However, to accept the debate as just another instance of the tensions inherent in psychology would be to miss an opportunity. Rather than becoming involved in the debate, this article will take a novel look at it and will argue that issues it has helped expose can clarify our thinking about how we evaluate research in general – quantitative and qualitative.
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