Methodology

Clarification on quals and quants

Jan 14 '12

In response to my post criticizing David Brooks for making a broad claim that seemed unsupported by the facts, several commenters rightly jumped on my for making my own sweeping statements about “quals” and “quants.”

Let me briefly clarify. I think both qualitative and quantitative work is necessary. Just for example, The Road to Wigan Pier is a classic work of qualitative social science as well as being classic journalism. My criticism of Brooks (and earlier of Samantha Power, Michael Barone, and others) was that they made claims which they could easily evaluate quantitatively—simply by carefully enumerating—but they didn’t seem to think of doing so. In other contexts, I’ve criticized quantitative researchers for jumping to a poorly-thought-through qualitative “story time” without noting the gap in their reasoning. In those latter situations, it is the quantitative researchers who are not taking seriously the demands of qualitative thinking.