Thursday, August 30, 2007
Qualitative vs. Quantitative
Earlier this month, I drove to Indianapolis, Indiana to drink in all of the geeky goodness that is Gencon. I regret that I didn't take my camera. There were some pretty interesting things to see. Some of highlights included a lot of costumes, game demonstrations, and free loot (conventions are great for this). Some of the costumes were very cool. I really liked the Storm Trooper security guards and the Klingons running the charity jail. Some costumes were just wrong, and by wrong I mean, some of the costumes were tests of the holding capacity of all kinds of plastics, leathers and unfortunately elastic waste bands. I only spent one day there so I am sure I missed a lot but I plan on spending more time next chance I get to go.
On my way to Indianapolis, I stopped off in Terre Haute, Indiana to visit my friend Dan and to avoid having to pay for a hotel in Indianapolis. We talked about many things that evening, but one conversation stuck with me, and that was the relative merits of Qualitative and Quantitative analysis. It seems that the divide in these research methodologies is pretty vast and I find it somewhat humorous to watch the humanities and "hard"sciences duke it out over what is valid and what isn't.
I am in the great position of being a Geographer. Very few disciplines walk the line of the two Q's the way we do. Unlike most disciplines, Geographers have an interdisciplinary divide between human and physical geographers. This divide became much larger during the quantitative revolution in the last 50 or so years. Despite this divide there seems to be a much friendlier and more reasonable line of communication between the two groups than there is betweens hard sciences and humanities in general. I have always been a logical and quantitative leaning person. I like to be able to measure results and get clear cut answers, but at the same time I recognize that when "people" are involved in the equation, the answers are never exactly what you expect. Those strange, seemingly arbitrary reasons people do things, are the same things that make strange and arbitrary people interesting.
I doubt this debate will ever end. Many of the combatants on either side are too entrenched in their philosophies to give up any ground or even concede that the other has some validity. Maybe as more interdisciplinary research happens they will begin to regard each other with less contempt and a little more respect.
This debate in general reminds me of the debate between Science and Faith. There are many scientist that claim they don't need faith because they have science. On the other hand there are men of faith who refuse to use science because they have faith. Once again I am in the fortunate position to fall on the line of these two opposing viewpoints. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints I am definitely a person of faith. I am a Christian and believe in God and miracles, the whole gamut. I am also a scientist and I really believe that there are truths out there to be understood that aren't detailed in a book of scripture. The problem lies with the mutual exclusivity that many people assign to faith and science. I believe all "truth" is from God, it doesn't matter what that "truth" is. Unfortunately many people think the most current, or accepted theory equals truth, or whatever falls from the lips of their pastor is truth, and they do this without ever finding out for themselves.
I believe God created this world using the natural laws that exist. His understanding of those laws is far in advance of anyone on Earth. Some religious people argue, and try to prove that God exists, or that one thing or another happened. I also think that this isn't necessarily the best way to go about things. Certainly a little archaeological confirmation is nice once in awhile, but what really matters is "faith" you can't argue faith. It is a real thing, just as palpable as love. When you fall in love, it is hard to explain, you just know what it is. The same thing applies to faith.
I think many people steer clear of faith because of the same reasons people steer clear of loving relationships. If you fall in love, and it isn't reciprocated, it is very painful. It is easy to love someone that already shows that they love you. Families are easy to love because they start out showing you love (hopefully anyway). I think this is why some scientists like science, it is like a loving family, the proof is right there in front of them. They don't have to risk anything, there is no chance of being wrong. Unfortunately, by not choosing to show any faith in God, they have still chosen to place their faith in man, and mankind has shown over and over it can't be trusted.
On the other hand when a religious man is sick and refuses to go to the doctor and refuses to take medicine and then dies from his disease, when he asks God "why did you take me from Earth?" God is going to say "you chose to come here, I sent medicine, and doctors to treat you, but you refused my hand." If he had used the science and understanding that God had granted to men he would have survived. It is as Paul said "Faith without works is dead" we need faith, but we also need to put some effort into learning for ourselves. I hope that one day Men of Faith and Men of Science will be one and the same....besides if Charles Xavier and Erik Magnus can get along, anyone can.