(1) First, have each group select a general topic of interest to them (e.g., crime, religion, politics, etc.). Next, instruct them to search the Internet and locate 5–10 statistics about this topic (e.g., percentage of eligible voters who voted in the last election, percentage of people who claim no religious affiliation, violent crime rates, etc.). Then, have them find 5–10 direct quotations about it (these can be from newspaper articles, journal articles, etc.). Next, have each group compile one paragraph in which they assess the topic quantitatively and one paragraph in which they assess the topic qualitatively. Finally, have each group write one paragraph assessing whether the statistics and information they found contribute more to basic science or to applied research.
(2) Popular magazines (especially men’s and women’s magazines like Details or Cosmopolitan) are wonderful places to look for errors in everyday reasoning. Collect several of these (or ask students to collect them) and have students browse the articles and advice columns. Ask them to identify some of the common errors in reasoning (overgeneralizations, selective or inaccurate observations, etc.) and to suggest how a social scientist might conduct research on the same topic. If possible, have students conduct a search through academic journals to find research conducted on this topic. Ask students to compare their findings in the academic literature to both methods and conclusions found in popular magazines.
(3) Compare politicians’ statements selected from media sources as likely to be in error OR likely to depend principally on values. This is especially useful when an election looms in the near future. The class can discuss the type of evidence that would improve the validity of several such statements. Can students reach a consensus on the strengths of the evidence behind these statements and the additional evidence that would improve them? Is it possible to overcome personal political preferences when evaluating the arguments of politicians or others?
(4) Break students into small groups and have them come up with a general social research topic (body image, race relations, fear of crime, etc.). Alternatively, you can assign each group a general research topic. Using the general topic, have each group construct a research question for each of the four types of social research: descriptive, exploratory, explanatory, and evaluative. To go a step further, ask students if they think quantitative or qualitative methods (or both) would be most appropriate to answer their research questions and have them explain why.
Individual and Group Activities
1. How Popular Is Social Science?
What use is made of the results of social science research in the popular press? Provide students with the following instructions:
(1) Review one week’s daily papers and check all those articles that report or refer to social science research results.
(2) Calculate the proportion of news articles that take advantage of social science research.
(3) Read each of the articles you checked. Indicate for each article the type of research involved (descriptive, evaluative, explanatory, or exploratory). Also, note whether the article focuses more on basic science or applied research.
(4) Describe your findings and review your conclusions in a short paper (1–2 pages).
2. What Are Social Scientists Researching?
You are to focus on four issues of a social science journal, such as American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, Social Problems, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Journal of Marriage and the Family, or Criminology.
(1) Count the number of articles involving empirical research in the four issues. Express this count as a percentage of the number of regular articles in these issues.
(2) Create a coding matrix, in which the rows will represent journal articles and the columns will contain codes to indicate they type of research used (descriptive, evaluative, explanatory, or exploratory). The coding matrix should also identify whether the article contributes to basic science or applied research. Also, be sure to include whether the articles are quantitative or qualitative in nature (or if they are a combination).
(3) Code each of the articles in this matrix. In a footnote for each article, identify any errors that seem to have been made in reasoning.
(4) Tally up your codes across the articles. Write a brief summary of what you have learned about the characteristics of research reported in these social science journals.