ERIC Identifier: ED410232
Publication Date: 1996-11-00
Author: Daniel, Larry G.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Assessment and Evaluation Washington DC.
Kerlinger's Research Myths. ERIC/AE Digest Series.
Fred N. Kerlinger has been appropriately hailed as having "contributed to the
transformation of the way behavioral scientists and educators read research
reports, design and execute research, and draw conclusions and implications from
their findings" (Pedhazur, 1992, p. 45). In 1960, he introduced the notion that
educational research is fraught with mythology, that is "a body of legends and
beliefs purporting to be the rationale, purpose, and methods of educational
research" (p. 149). Three of the research myths pertained to "methods,"
"practicality," and "statistics." In discussing these myths Kerlinger leveled
honest, and often blunt, criticisms toward the educational research community.
Nevertheless, he possessed an unflinching optimism as he contemplated the future
of educational research, predicting a progression toward excellence in the
practices employed by the next generation of researchers.
Three of these research myths Kerlinger discussed were "methods,"
"practicality," and "statistics." This digest will examine these myths and
discuss whether educational research still contains deleterious mythological
perceptions and practices.
THE METHODS MYTH
The methods myth (Kerlinger, 1960) is
centered about the naive misperception that research design is synonymous with
research methodology. Becoming an educational researcher simply involves
learning about methods for collecting and analyzing data. In correct practices,
the researcher should not be so much concerned with determining "whether this
method or that method should be used" (Kerlinger & Pedhazur, p. 450).
Instead, the researcher should be concerned with answering the important
questions of "which methods of observation, measurement, analysis--help the
development and testing of theory?" (ibid).
Unfortunately, the methods myth tends to perpetuate itself as commonly-used
educational research textbooks generally emphasize methods over design
(Kerlinger, 1960). As the "professors of the next generation are selected from
the doctoral students of this generation" (p. 151), the currently used textbooks
will influence how the future professors will teach and what they will teach
about educational research. Hence, researchers pass on from generation to
generation the tradition of blindly applying "standard" data collection and
analytic strategies without regard for larger research design issues.
THE PRACTICALITY MYTH
Initially conceptualized as an "overconcern with practicality" (Kerlinger, 1959, p. 282) and later designated
as the "pragmatic-practical misconception" (Kerlinger, 1977), the practicality
myth is characterized by a preoccupation with usefulness (i.e., expectation of
an immediate "payoff") when designing, conducting, or evaluating research.
Researchers motivated by this myth would erroneously view the identification and
solution of practical problems in education as the general purpose of
educational research. However, "the solution of a research problem is on a
different level of discourse than the solution of an action problem" (Kerlinger,
1979, p. 288). The actual objective of educational research is the advancement
of theory. Although the advancement of theory can lead to the solution of
practical problems, educational research should not be primarily driven by the
desire to resolve specific difficulties.
The educational community and educational policy makers have historically
favored and continue to favor research that has immediate practical implications
(Kaestle, 1993; Kerlinger 1969, 1977, 1979). Hence, there has generally been a
bias toward educational research projects with a practical focus (Kerlinger,
1959). Critics of basic research (e.g. Ebel, 1973) have argued that basic
research promotes the virtue of uselessness and offers little hope for the
improvement of the process of education. Nevertheless, basic research is more
promising than applied research as a means for understanding educational
phenomena (Kerlinger, 1959, 1969).
THE STATISTICS MYTH
While Kerlinger never indicated what
precisely he meant by the "statistics" myth, a critical analysis of his writings
would indicate he may have intended to use the term to denote at least two
distinctive, though related problems: a) a fundamental disregard for statistics
as an informational and methodological tool (Statistics Myth I) and b) a failure
to understand that research design and statistical analysis are intimately
related (Statistics Myth II).
Adherents to Statistics Myth I view statisticians as methodological shamans
who "perform complex and abstruse operations with numbers derived in mysterious
ways" (Kerlinger, 1979, p.81), with the result being a multifarious series of
numerical abstractions that have little or nothing to do with reality. They also
are prone to believe that behavioral constructs cannot and should not be
quantified. Nevertheless, the purpose of behavioral statistics is not to attempt
to mirror the reality of any particular individual within a given data set, but
instead its purpose is to help researchers understand and interpret sets of data
Statistics Myth II assumes that the researcher and the statistician are two
different (and unrelated) persons, and that forethought as to what statistical
procedures will be utilized to analyze the data from a study is unnecessary.
This myth causes researchers to settle for less sophisticated data analytic
methods and/or do a poor job of interpreting the results of the methods they
use. Additionally, limited knowledge of basic statistical concepts can also lead
to inappropriate interpretations of statistical results (Tate, 1965). Chief
among these misinterpretations of statistical results is the common
misunderstanding of statistical significance testing, the assumption that a
statistically significant result is necessarily a noteworthy result.
All statistical methods have certain inherent strengths and limitations, and
each method implies certain assumptions about the data being analyzed. Because
of this, statistical methods are very likely to influence both the nature and
selection of research problems to some degree (Kerlinger, 1969, 1986; Kerlinger
& Pedhazur, 1973). Therefore, it is imperative that researchers give
considerable attention to the selection of statistical methods; these decisions
will help direct the research.
STATUS OF THE MYTHS IN CURRENT RESEARCH PRACTICE
substantial move has been made towards eradicating the methods myths, at least
in regards to using the correct structural framework. The curricula in
educational graduate programs indicate that, at least structurally speaking,
research design serves as the foci of the various "methodology" courses.
Additionally, most "educational research" or "social science statistics" textbooks anchor their discussion of methodological issues within the framework
of research design.
Despite these advances in educational research curriculum and course
materials, considerable evidence shows that the previously noted problems
associated with the misapplication of methods are not defunct. Studies of
educational dissertations have consistently found numerous instances of
inappropriate or indiscriminate applications of methodological procedures (cf.
Eason & Daniel, 1989).
Unfortunately, the practicality myth seems to be very prevalent in society.
Even though educational research is probably more theory driven than it has been
in past years, the public's quest for accountability frequently demands that
there be an immediate and measurable payoff when efforts and money are expended.
Policy makers still criticize and often fail to adequately fund educational
research and development because there is no immediate payoff (Kaestle, 1993).
Policy makers also frequently complain that research is not practical and should
not be trusted because it is too confusing (Cooper, 1996). Hence the lure of
practicality still serves as "a social norm, a rule of proper educational
research behavior, that tends to force the scientist away from the really
significant scientific problems in education" (Kerlinger, 1959, p. 286).
The basic misconception that statistical information is mysterious and
difficult to understand remains a problem (Holmes, 1990). An awe and fear of
statisticians causes many to either put blind faith in those who are expert in
statistics (Holmes, 1990) or to doubt the validity of statistical claims
(Kerlinger, 1979). Many also believe that statistical analysis cannot be trusted
and that statistics is too rife with technical jargon to be of any practical use
(Sprinthall, 1990). Nevertheless, there has been some progress made towards
discrediting the assumption that research design and selection of statistical
procedures are unrelated processes (statistics myth II). Studies of
methodological practices employed in published research (e.g. Crandall, 1982)
have indicated that the appropriate application of multivariate statistical
methods has increased over time. Unfortunately, these studies have also
identified other types of methodological problems that are still quite prevalent
in research practices.
Despite Kerlinger's bright hopes for the future,
he also foresaw the stalwart nature of the myths, noting that the mythology of
educational research "has an essentially mystical character which seems to be
rooted to the past. To question the mythology amounts to heresy" (Kerlinger,
1960, p. 149). Even though educational research in the 1990s is not "myth free,"
thoughtful researchers are willing to commit "heresy," working both individually
and collectively to deal with the problems inherent to the presence of the
Cooper, H. (1996). Speaking power to truth:
Reflections of an educational researcher after 4 years of school board service.
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practices in several cohorts of dissertations. Paper presented at the annual
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