Idea: Collecting and analyzing data requires categories: Have we omitted relevant categories or mixed different phenomena under one label? What basis do we have for subdividing a continuum into categories? How do we ensure correct diagnosis and assignment to categories? What meaning do we intend to give to data collected in our categories?
1. We can identify a chain of steps in scientific inquiry in which each step involves assumptions and is open for negotiation and wider influences (Taylor 2005, chapter 2).
All possible phenomena
- (-> experimental manipulation)
- -> phenomenon deemed interesting
- -> questions asked
- -> categories demarcated
- -> observations made
- -> data collected
- -> patterns perceived
- -> predictions made
- and/or hypotheses about causes
Decisions made at early steps influence outcomes at later steps. E.g., if schizophrenia is used as a category as defined by the DSM, it is harder for a clinician to pay attention to the contextual and life history information of patients (Poland 2004). This is not a one-way sequence. There is also the possibility that desired outcomes for the later stages (especially the actions the researcher favors in advance and would like to be supported by the inquiry) influence decisions made at earlier steps.
2. When reading a study, take note of:
* a) where the categories demarcated seem to favor certain kinds of action over others (e.g., Galton only collected data about similarities among relatives so there was no way he could explore hypotheses about non-hereditary or environmental influences or illuminate action regarding those influences); and
* b) what kinds of remedies you would propose whenever the categories seem limited (e.g., disaggregate the category “approve of Congress,” which includes Democrats who want the Democratic majority in the Senate not to accede to filibustering Republicans and Republicans who don’t want Democrats to get their way).
Hymowitz (2007) [not a scholarly article] disaggregates divorce rates in the USA, which hide different phenomena and trends in different social classes.
Pickles and Angold (2003) review the debate about whether categories of psychopathology are best thought of as categorical (e.g., one has schizophrenia or doesn’t) or dimensional (e.g., there are degrees of schizophrenic behavior).
Poland (picking up on both points above) argues that the category “of schizophrenia and the associated received view [does not] have anything useful to add to clinical practice concerned with severe mental illness.”
George Brown (UK) and Bruce Dohrenwend (USA) have done research for decades on the relationship between mental illness and life events or difficulties. Brown (as described by Birley and Goldberg 2000) developed methods that tried to expose the meaning of an event for the person and was critical of the US emphasis on “objective” surveys (where the same event, e.g, death of a spouse, might have very different meanings and significance for the subject). Dohrenwend describes his group’s eventual realization of this issue, but they still wanted to measure events without having the context fused into the rating of the event.
Davey-Smith et al. (2000) consider comparative methods for studying socioeconomic position and health in different ethnic communities, e.g., — Does socio-economic status (SES) mean the same thing for different communities? If not, what is our proposed remedy?
Marks (2003) describes a case that bridges the themes of the session on Phenomena and this session on Categories. Marks makes clear that the categories in which data were available both allowed the researchers to present pellagra not as a hereditary or infectious disease, but, at the same time, meant the gendered and racial dimensions were obscured.
3. Classifying problems with categories:
Have we omitted relevant categories?
Have we mixed different phenomena under one label?
What basis do we have for subdividing a continuum into categories?
Have we divided the continuum at the right point?
How do we ensure correct diagnosis and assignment to categories?
What meaning do we intend to give to data collected in our categories?
Is our category correctly named?
Identify an example of a problem related to each question. What can be done in practice to overcome the problem?
In what ways does the problem illustrate #1 above.
Notes and annotations from 2007 course
Common readings and cases: Davey-Smith et al. 2000 (Comparative methods for studying socioeconomic position and health in different ethnic communities), Poland 2004 ("schizophrenia")
Supplementary Reading: Birley 2000, Dohrenwend 1993, Hymowitz 2007, Pickles 2003
- Birley, J. and D. Goldberg (2000). George Brown’s contribution to psychiatry: The effort after meaning. Where Inner and Outer Worlds Meet. T. Harris. London, Routledge: 55-60.
- Brown, G. W. and T. O. Harris (1978). Sociology and the aetiology of depression; Depression and Loss; A Model of Depression; Summary and conclusions. Social Origins of Depression: a Study of Psychiatric Disorder in Women. New York, Free Press: 3-20; 233-293.
- Davey-Smith, G. et al. (2000). Ethnicity, health and the meaning of socio-economic position Pp. 25-37 In Graham, H., Ed. Understanding health inequalities. Buckingham [England], Open University Press.
- Dohrenwend, B. P., K. G. Raphael, et al. (1993). The structured event probe and narrative rating method for measuring stressful life events. Handbook of Stress: Theoretical and Clinical Aspects. L. Goldberg and S. Breznitz. New York, Free Press: 174-199.
- Hymowitz, K. S. (2007). “Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a PostMarital Age.” Heritage Lecture #1005.
- Marks, H. M. (2003). "Epidemiologists Explain Pellagra: Gender, Race, and Political Economy in the Work of Edgar Sydenstricker." Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 58(1): 34-55.
- Pickles, A. and A. Angold (2003). “Natural categories or fundamental dimensions: On carving nature at the joints and the rearticulation of psychopathology.” Development and Psychopathology 15: 529-551.
- Poland, J. (2004). “Bias and schizophrenia.” Pp. 149-161 in P. J. Caplan and L. Cosgrove, eds. Bias in Psychiatric Diagnosis. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
- Taylor, P. J. (2005). Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Annotations on common readings
Annotated additions by students
(In alphabetical order by author's name with contributor's initials and date at the end.)
Neblett, N., & Schnabel Cortina, K. (2006). Adolescents’ thoughts about parents’ jobs and their importance for adolescents’ future orientation. Journal of Adolescence, 29(5), 795-811.
In this article, the connection between adolescent's perception of their parents' job satisfaction and the adolescent's own optimism about his or her future is explored. It was found that especially among African American adolescents, the relationship between the perception of parental job satisfaction and the adolescent's own optimism about his or her future is strong. The study had a confounder: parental support buffered the effect of parental job dissatisfaction. Are parents who have job satisfaction more inclined to provide emotional support to their children? (JT)
Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a PostMarital Age
by Kay S. Hymowitz (March 23, 2007)
Heritage Lecture #1005
Delivered January 30, 2007
In this lecture, Kay S. Hymowitz addresses the imposition of a caste system (an unmarried proletariat demarcated from married capitalists) that has given rise to distinct and unequal family structures in America. Hymowitz asserts that stakeholders have been engaged in the wrong conversation in regards to marriage, noting that prescription cannot circumvent an initial diagnosis of the core disease of marriage. The lecturer affirms the authenticity of publicized statistics relating to marriage but demonstrates the fallacy it incurs in an aggregate form. Hymowitz maintains that when statistics on marriage are disaggregated by income and education, the marriage disparity (prevalence of single-family households and hence its adverse socioeconomic correlates) is concentrated among blacks and the less educated. At this junction, Hymowitz argues that the marriage gap poses an even larger social divide than race. Hymowitz, reasons that marriage (a human universal) defines the rights and responsibility of parenthood. The “American marriage programs people to organize their lives according to a middleclass life script: childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood preparing for work through schooling, at least high school; marriage; and only then children (Hymowitz)”. The lecturer contends that from the1960s, America has been the subject of a radical experiment catalyzed by shifts in basal social norms, such as marriage and childbearing being designated as two separate life phenomena. The attested results of this natural testing experiment (in effect unraveling the intuition of marriage) are noted to be decades of rising divorce and illegitimacy. Hymowitz conclude that without a program (such as the ‘life script’ archetypal ‘American Marriage’ outlines) individuals accrue difficulties in organizing their lives, in orienting themselves towards the future and in devising a plan for building wealth.
One interesting observation from this lecture was that even when employing disaggregated data, blacks in general (despite their implicit heterogeneity of experience) were cited as being disproportionately represented in the ‘unmarried proletariat.’ Is this artifact evidential of residual confounding factors? In the black community, are income and education meaningful indicators for marriage outcomes? To what degree in the black community is the Anglo-American marriage (with private property and the accumulation of wealth as the purported focal point) idealized? Is there an existing alternative construct of marriage in the black community? (SY)