Sunday, 31 March 2013

Generalizability Question Answered

In my post from February 26, I discussed the implications of the inclusion of the word "generalizable" in research legislation or guidelines (see: "Research Ethics and Generalizability"- In Wednesday's workshop on research ethics, I asked Dr. Dean Sharpe to clarify what the implications for the inclusion of this word in U.S. research ethics legislation has for research in the United States. Dr. Sharpe said that the research ethics reviews boards (known as "institutional review boards" (IRBs) in the U.S.) spend valuable time debating whether a particular proposal's research is generalizable, at the expense of discussing the ethical issues in the same proposal. I did further research on the topic, and discovered this article-"Institutional Review Board mission creep: the common rule, social science, and the nanny state" by Ronald F. White. The following passage illustrates the problem:

"In the narrow sense, the term generalizable might be interpreted reasonably as synonymous with quantifiable. This category would seemingly include any research that employs statistical analysis of collected data. It would certainly include all surveys, questionnaires, and so forth. It would seemingly exclude all journalistic or historical research that involves interviewing a single person. However, if researchers interview two persons and compare their answers, are they not, in a sense, generalizing? So, if we construe generalizable in the broadest sense, any research that makes generalizations apparently falls into this category. Consequently, the malleability of the concept "generalizable" has made it difficult to decide whether all, some, or none of the research in journalism, communication, ethnology, and history come under the jurisdiction of the Common Rule." (White, 2007, p. 552).

Does anyone have any further thoughts on this matter?

White, R.F. (2007). Institutional review board mission creep: The common rule, social science, and the nanny state. The Independent Review, 11(4), 547-564.

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