19.015 surveying surveying

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 11 May 2005 05:42:00 +0100

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 15.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Wed, 11 May 2005 05:34:07 +0100
         From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
         Subject: surveying surveying

Many thanks to those who sent in suggestions concerning the methodology of
surveying. If there's more, please don't stop. I thought, however, that I
might expose the reason for asking, as that helps to make the point that
the contributions have implied. This I take to be that surveying to good
effect requires more than a little thought and far more than eagerness. I
have it on good authority, from someone in a position to know, that not
only "of the making of many surveys there is no end" but also that their
proliferation is less than helpful, and therefore annoying to those who
have things they really want to get on with. I'm astonished that the makers
of surveys actually expect people to respond -- just as I am amazed that
the people who come to my door, here in East London, expect me to welcome
their spiels, as if the thumb-twiddling had become just too boring, and yet
another housing-ladder or dirty-house programme on the telly insufficient
to stave off the barking. As anyone who wants responses to what they write
will know, attention is a precious resource. So one really should think
about what one's asking before asking, yes?

I have enormous respect for people who have the knowledge and skill to do
social science research well. May their tribes increase. As the Belgian
demographer Guillaume Wunsch said -- this was the title of a conference
paper he gave -- "God has chosen to give the easy problems to the
physicists, or why demographers need theory". If you think about it for a
moment, it will become obvious why getting useful information out of people
about what they do and about what's driving them is *exceedingly*
difficult. People are very poor informants about their own behaviours and
beliefs (i.e. what their actions show that they actually believe). And it
gets much more difficult when one wants to extract from people anything
about where, say, development of tools for humanities computing should go.
You're then asking them to imagine the future usefully, i.e. to have
intelligent desires, largely without the education in crucial matters that
the exercise requires. As if the history of inventions demonstrated the
immediate creativeness of democracy.

This is, however, to provoke some discussion, not to go on oi vey'ing. What
do those here who really know about such matters have to say?


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Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
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Received on Wed May 11 2005 - 00:57:10 EDT

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