Re: Serious thoughts about objectivity

Michael Cahill (MCBlueline@AOL.COM)
Thu, 10 Oct 1996 12:11:48 -0400

In a message dated 96-10-09 23:23:24 EDT, (John McCreery)

<< One observation-one inference is always a risky business.>>

So if we eliminate this tendency methodologically, have we overcome
sufficiently the tricky problems associated with "sustaining the difference
between observed and composed" (or interpreted)?"

Perhaps. And if that's the case, then research design's like Aunger's, which
do everything that John enjoins and more, should lead us toward the
"asymptote where representation approximates Truth."

But what about the fact that while "[e]ase of agreement on
measures and methods makes objectivity easy to sustain, [d]ifficulties arise
when properties less easy to measure are disregarded as inconsequential or
epiphenomenal to those which lend themselves to measurement."

My purpose in leaning on Wade's excellent example was not to force a bad
choice in the context of a poor methodology. I was to trying to explore
"properties less easy," to probe the area where fiction or intepretation and
Truth meet and to look at how the former might head down a path that deviates
from the latter.

While it's great to be able to reliably sort Wade's dilemma -- is it an event
or isn't it -- based on our new methodology -- are there not third
possibilities, ones which simply applying the method wouldn't necesarily

1) Couldn't Wade be dealing with a new kind of event, a different kind of
go-betweening -- not a ritual one but some other sort, perhaps one relating
to market penetration into the community? (The informant did say, after all,
"I just went over there to talk and arrange some little things.") The event
may or may not be "surreptitious." It might just be hard to distinguish
because, on the surface, it looks similar to ritual go-betweening.

2) Could we be seeing an observer effect on what's being observed and
measured? Our go-between guy doesn't really know who we are or what we're up
to and, frankly, he doesn't trust us. What started out as a ritual
go-between ended up just what he said it was, chatter.

Both possibilities could be pregnant with unexplored significance.

Simply piling up observations and inferences from different perspectives is,
I think, not enough to turn up this kind of information (though it could
certainly sensitize one to the possibility of their existence). One has to
explore the discrepancies between "what the eyes are seeing and the ears are
hearing," a different kind of process. A process which people with strong
preconceived ideas may not always find easy to undertake? (I'm thinking here
of the tendency to force data into categories and of that "cool,
tough-minded, "objectivity" when it comes to the sufferings inflicted on
others.") Missing stuff like 1) and 2) above means to me that we've begun to
deviate from the asymptote.

Mike Cahill

PS -- As funny and as obvious as some of John's "bloopers" are, some may not
be bloopers at all. This gets into the area of what a "technicality" is. A
highly signficant category, but one that is not likely to be explored without
attention to the discrepancies between "what the eyes are seeing and the ears
are hearing." Ask the lawyers in the OJ trial.