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Qualitative and Quantitative Social Science: Unifying the Logic of Causal Inference?

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - QUALITY (Qualitative and Quantitative Social Science: Unifying the Logic of Causal Inference?)

Reporting period: 2019-01-01 to 2020-06-30

Social scientists spend a lot of time and money hunting causes. For example, a political scientist might want to explore the causal relationship between natural resource wealth and civil war: did the fact that a country has lots of natural resource wealth causally contributed to the start of a civil war in that country? There are two broad traditions within social science, the quantitative tradition and the qualitative tradition, and each has a different way of hunting causes. Qualitative social scientists tend to hunt causes by talking to people and trying to understand their motivations, their experiences and their reactions. In contrast, quantitative social scientists tend to hunt causes by collecting data on a very large number of cases (a large number of countries and civil wars, for example) and then running statistical analyses of this data. Qualitative researchers are very good at pointing out general problems that apply to most quantitative work. And quantitative researchers are very good at pointing out general problem that apply to most qualitative work. This raises the question: in light of this, what methods can social scientists use to hunt causes? What should we make of various suggestions for “mixing” together both qualitative and quantitative methods? This project uses cutting-edge tools from the philosophy of science to address these two questions.
In discussing these issues, methodologists use some rather vague and abstract terminology: “quantitative” “qualitative” “evidential support” “causation” “necessary cause”. Our project has found a way to make this terminology more clear and precise. Our hope is that this will make it much easier to engaged in discussions of these complex issues.

We have examined some of the reasons why people think a key method from the quantitative tradition (a method called econometrics) is a reliable method.

We have examined the implications of our research for several areas of societal relevance, for example how to study and measure the degree to which women are treated equally to men.
To do this we have organized a number of events bringing together philosophers and social scientists. These include: weekly university reading groups on (i) sex work, (ii) measuring wellbeing, (iii) what one can learn in political science and social science from individual people’s reports of their personal experiences; and a two-day workshop on the various problems that arise when social scientists try to understand violence against women.
The clear definitions we offer will (we hope) allow the debate about quantitative vs qualitative evidence to be more productive, with each side understanding better where the other side is coming from.