Earl Babbie教授:Using and Teaching an Evolving Science

美国著名社会学家、《社会研究方法》作者Earl Babbie教授演讲

 

Using and Teaching an Evolving Science

 

I would like to thank Professor Fan <and others> for the fine hospitality you have shown my wife, Suzanne, and myself. You have already made us feel as though we are a part of the Chinese sociological and survey research families.

 

For me, this event has a very special meaning. About thirty years ago, I had the honor of meeting Professor Fei Xiao Tung, when he and some colleagues were making a tour of the United States. Professor Fei had been given the task of reinstating sociology in the People's Republic after a thirty-year hiatus. He visited several American universities to establish ties and to get a some ideas that might be useful to his efforts at home.

 

I was his last American stop, at the University of Hawaii. Whereas his previous contacts had shown much interest in joint research projects and exchange programs, I think I was the first to hear another question Professor Fei had asked everywhere he visited: "What do you teach in Introductory Sociology?" Not sure I had heard him correctly, I cautiously showed him the introductory sociology textbook I had written, and his face lit up. I was encouraged by that reaction to show him the textbook I had written in research methods, and Professor Fei left Hawaii with both books in hand. I believe he used those books in his early courses in 1979 and after, and I am delighted that a Chinese edition of the research methods book is currently published in Beijing.

 

Although I will devote most of my remarks to contemporary survey research, I want to start by noting it is an ancient research technique. The ancient Egyptians, for example, conducted surveys to help them plan the future need for crops and other resources. And Christians believe Jesus was born in Bethlehem because his parents had to report there for a regular Roman census. (Those were the old days, when survey researchers could order respondents to report to a location to be surveyed.)

 

Today, I have been asked to briefly address two topics: (1) developments in survey research in the United States and (2) ideas about teaching social research methods. Let me begin with some current developments in survey research.

 

When I wrote my first textbook in survey research in 1973, I suggested there were two well-accepted ways of conducting surveys: in face-to-face interviews and in self-administered questionnaires, typically through the mail. I also indicated that researchers sometimes conducted surveys over the telephone, but this was known as a  "quick and dirty" technique and was not very well respected. My textbook addressed all the problems inherent in telephone surveys.

 

As you know, over the years since then, the methodology of telephone surveys has much improved, and they have become much more acceptable by researchers and by the public. Researchers have loved them because they are so much easier and cheaper than face-to-face household surveys. To some extent, I think it became more acceptable to a public that had grown wary of strangers appearing on their doorsteps asking to come into their houses to conduct an interview.

 

One of the chief problems with telephone surveys initially was that the most obvious sampling frame--telephone directories--did not contain everyone with a telephone and those same directories contained numbers for businesses, government offices, and other agencies inappropriate for the survey. The development of Random Digit Dialing was a major advance, allowing the selection of random numbers within the ranges of active telephone numbers, whether they were listed in the published directories or not. Omitting the ranges of numbers set aside for government and some others inappropriate to the survey made the process more efficient.

 

Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) allows interviewers to call randomly-selected numbers and read questions displayed on the computer screen, using the keyboard to enter responses directly into the growing data base. Laptop computers are sometimes used by interviewers in a similar fashion in face-to-face interviews. Going a step farther, sometimes respondents are given a laptop computer for a self-administered survey, reading the questions and entering their own answers. This is especially good in surveys of sensitive issues which respondents might not feel comfortable discussing with a stranger.

 

Robo Surveys involve computers even more deeply in survey research. When the respondent answers the telephone, a recorded voice introduces the survey, and asks a question. When the respondent answers, voice recognition software identifies and records the response. Then the recorded voice asks the next question. While this is obviously a very inexpensive way of conducting surveys, it has not always been well received by the public, at least according to the comments I have heard. The negative reception has been worsened by the use of Robo Calls to advertise products or political candidates.

 

Over the past thirty years, telephone interviewing has become a main workhorse of survey research in the United States. However, as this method has become a well-honed professional tool, it has begun experiencing new problems. Initially, respondents were not accustomed to researchers calling them to conduct a survey, but over time it became more familiar, and some respondents undoubtedly have felt important to have been selected to express their opinions. In recent years, however, such calls have become too familiar, and completion rates  have declined. Refusals to participate in telephone surveys have been worsened by telephone advertising campaigns, especially those that masquerade as opinion surveys. Similarly, some unscrupulous political campaigns engage in “push-polls” that pretend to poll opinions but are really intended to spread negative images of opponents.  For example, “Would it affect your vote if you learned that Mr. Smith had been accused of sexually molesting children?”

 

One of the most serious problems complicating telephone surveys at present involves the role of cell phones. Initially in the United States, cell phone users had to pay for each call made--including those received from others. As a consequence, researchers and advertisers were prohibited by law from calling cell-phone numbers. At first, this was not considered a significant problem, since there were relatively few cells phones and those who had cell phones also had regular land-line telephones which would be available for selection in survey samples.

 

In recent years, however, the number of cell phones has increased a great deal, and many people use their cell phone as their only telephone. (I realize this is much more common in many other countries, including China, I imagine.) This creates a difficult problem for survey sampling. It is now legal to call cell phones for surveys, and to ignore that population would risk skewing the sample selected--since we know that cell-phone users tend to be younger and cell phones are more common among some ethnic groups than among others.

 

At the same time, including cell phones in survey samples runs the risk of giving some people too great a chance of selection: those who have both a land lines and cell phones. At the very least, it is important to ask respondents how many telephone numbers they have and take that information into account in weighting respondents.

 

I’m sure that telephone surveys will remain a common research technique in the future, but some methodological adjustments will have to be made.

 

I want to say a word about another survey technique that is gaining popularity at present: online surveys. Ironically, I now find my textbooks saying the same things about online surveys that I said about telephone surveys thirty years ago. First, they are quicker and cheaper than the established methods. Initially, online surveys were  a novelty, unfamiliar to potential respondents. Some were no doubt wary about participating. Only short and reasonably simple surveys seemed possible. And, the chief problem was representativeness. In the case of online surveys, clearly not everyone has access to the internet, and those people who do not--a non-random sample of the population--will be unrepresented in an online survey.

 

There are, however, some surveys for which the online respondents are the perfect people to hear from. For example, if you are running a website and want to know how well it works for those who visit it, you are directly in touch with precisely the population you wish to survey. Asking questions of a sample of those who visit your website will give you exactly the information you want. Similarly, when I call a help line, I am frequently asked if I would be willing to participate in a survey afterward, to learn how satisfied I was with the service.

 

Some populations are sufficiently present on the internet to make online surveys quite appropriate. College students would be an example. Perhaps student email addresses could be sampled and questionnaires sent to them. Or they could be directed to a website containing the questionnaire.

 

There are now programs available for conducting online surveys. The best known is Survey Monkey (at surveymonkey.com). This service is free of charge for limited surveys, and, of course, you can pay for the Professional version with more capabilities. I have found this a useful device for teaching students about online surveys.

 

In addition to these specialized uses of online surveys, American pollsters are attempting to use them for more general purposes: such as political polls. The Harris company, for example, has been very involved in developing this usage. While they have shown some impressive results at times, they have been very secretive about their techniques.

 

In addition to these and other developments in the conduct of surveys, the secondary analysis of survey data has become easier and easier. Since the 1970s, the National Opinion Research Center in Chicago has been conducting a large-scale survey of the American public: The General Social Survey. The explicit purpose of this activity has been to provide a large data base available for analysis by students and faculty everywhere. Initially, it was necessary to obtain a physical copy of the data set to be analyzed with SPSS or a similar program, but today there are effective online analysis programs that can be used to analyze the GSS data without ever downloading a copy of the data file.

 

So, in sum, survey research is alive and well in the Unites States, as elsewhere. It serves as a vital source of information for scientific, governmental, and other purposes. Moreover, survey research is an evolving methodology, and I am excited to see what new forms it takes.

 

Finally, I will say a little about the teaching of survey and other social research methods. Though I began my career as an active researcher, the writing of research-methods textbooks has made me more of a teacher than a researcher. So let me mention a few of my observations as a classroom teacher and as a textbook author.

 

One of the decisions teachers must face is whether to focus on the fundamentals of research or attempt to include as much advanced materials as possible. I have mostly taken the first of these options. My feeling is that advanced techniques will keep evolving, and what you teach today may be outdated by the time students need to use it. If they are firmly grounded in the fundamentals of social research, students will be able to learn and employ new techniques as they come along.

 

Some of the fundamental concepts of social research can be difficult to grasp. Please realize that I am speaking from my experience with American students, and I know that cultural differences can affect these. I’ll mention three ideas that seem especially hard for my students and perhaps for yours as well.

 

Probabalistic causation. Everyday notions of cause and effect sometimes conflict with the notion of causal relationships in social research. When I report to students that women are more religious than men in the United States (and elsewhere), they often object that they know of contradictions to that causal relationship: very religious men and very irreligious women. They need to learn that one variable can “cause” another even when it does not do so in every case. This is all the harder when percentages on the dependent variables are low. For example, I report that children from broken homes (e.g., parents divorced) are more likely to become delinquent than those brought up in intact homes: even though only a small percentage of those in broken homes become delinquent--but a higher percentage than for others.

 

Units of Analysis. This is a critical concept since it resolves many miscommunications about research results. I’ll give you an example from my own university. Students were concerned that the administration was using more and more part-time faculty members (cheaper for the university) than full-time, tenured and tenure-track faculty. They did some research and published their complaints in the school newspaper, indicating that half the faculty were part-time. The administration responded by reporting that not half but three-fourths of the courses were taught by full-time faculty members. You may have noticed the shift of units of analysis: the students spoke of faculty members, the administration spoke of courses.

 

Both assertions could be right. If the average full-time faculty member taught 3 courses and the average part-time faculty member taught one course, and if the students were right about equal numbers of faculty in the two types, then the administration would also be right. You can see this easily if you think of a pair of faculty members: one full-time and one part-time. Half of the pair is full-time, but that full-time faculty member teaches three of their four courses.

 

The shifting of units of analysis explains a lot of the seemingly contradictory claims made in political arguments: whether unemployment, the cost of living, crimes, etc. have gone up or down.

 

Nominal definitions. Social researchers study things that ordinary people talk about and think they understand: political orientations, social class, prejudice, etc. Students must be taught that all such concepts are socially defined, none are “real” the way physical objects are real. What is social class? In the United States, it can be defined in a number of ways, involving income and wealth, education, occupation, etc. Different definitions are likely to produce different research results. I often tell my students that while I may teach them some new things, it is also my job to take away many things they think they already know. They are seldom happy with that prospect.

 

I hope these comments will provide some useful views of the evolution, use, and teaching of survey research and social research in the United States. I will be very interested in learning from the others at this conference, from China and elsewhere. Over the years, I have tried to make my textbooks and teaching more and more global, and I look forward to learning about some research techniques and research examples from the other participants at this conference.

 

Finally, I would like to thank the organizers again for their hospitality and for organizing this opportunity for this survey research family gathering. Survey research is more than a data-collection method for academic researchers. It is also a voice for the people of a society, and I look forward to a continuing and expanding conversation among the many societies represented at this conference. I am deeply honored to be a small part of this great conversation.

 

非常感谢大家,非常感谢范老师邀请我来参加今天的研讨会,感到自己已经成为整个社会科学研究大家庭的一分子。非常高兴能参与这样的一个讨论,到中国上海的高校进行研究学习。刚才在外面拍照的时候我是唯一一个没有头发的,所以戴了一顶红色的帽子。

    30年前我有机会和我的一些同事在美国遇到费孝通教授,费教授在中国重建了社会学后对社会学的发展做了很大贡献。他在美国参观了一些大学,特别是一些学术著作和研究方法,这对重建社会学非常的有帮助。他的最后一站在夏威夷大学,我们非常有幸在研究方法上相互交换了一些意见。费教授提出一个问题,就是你在社会学中教什么课,他问这个问题的时候我就给费教授看《社会学概论》这本书,费教授非常的有兴趣。然后给他看的第二本书就是《社会学研究方法》,费教授也非常感兴趣,就把两本书带回到了中国。他认为这两本书在中国来说重建社会学起到了很必要的作用,里面的一些课程可以得到进一步的探索。

    尽管我的演讲特别强调一些在整个社会研究方法方面比较突出的贡献,但是我还是要从最早的普遍的研究方法讲起。人口普及主要是提供一些资料给当地的政府,我认为耶稣教里面耶稣是出生在雅特里布,当时是一些罗马人提供了一些非常古老的人口资料,这是最传统的资料。今天我强调两个主要的课题,第一个是讲一下整个社会研究方法在美国的发展,第二个讲一下在社会研究方法的教学方面的一些发展。

社会研究方法在社会学当中是如何开始的。在1973年的时候,我已经在做这方面的研究和教学,所以最主要的一个是面对面的访谈,另一个是问卷调查。同时我们还有一个电话访谈,用电话来做一些访谈,但是在当时没有得到非常好的效果。在我写的教材里面都已经非常详细,在调查当中电话访问当中存在的一些问题。那么经过这么多年来这种电话访谈的调查已经有所改善。现在来看都已经被更多的人接受,还有很多的途径和很多的变化,从经济来讲就是花比较少的钱可以得到比较好的效果。所以电话访谈跟上门直接面对面的访谈相比比较容易被接受。当时主要的电话访谈的问题就抽样,因为它是随机抽样,现在的科技解决了这方面的困难。因为这个电话的号码里面包括了很多的机构、公司或是政府部门,这些电话的话你不能用来做抽样的调查,这个问题现在已经得到了突破。现在电话访谈就是把一些政府和公司的电话剔除出来,形成一个抽样的群体,从而从中随机抽样,这样可以得到比较好的效果。电脑辅助电话调查,里面有一些抽样的方法,是随即的抽样,这已经有设计程序,在整个会议的发言当中已经有老师有这方面的发言,这也是我要讲的一个问题。任何你在电话当中的一些速录的东西,电脑会的自动的存到数据库里面。这类似于面对面访谈,用电脑把这些输入里面,电话访谈已经做到了这一步。面对面访谈的时候就是用电脑,手提电脑直接把对方提到的问题回答的问题速录到电脑里面,这就形成一个整个的数据库。特别是对比较敏感的私人性的问题,直接输入以后回答起来他就比较的放心,不用直接说出来就可以直接收入到电脑里面,避免了这方面的麻烦。这方面的访谈还是要依赖于用手提电脑才可以更好的工作。实际上就是机器配合的这种调查,现在在美国发展的更好,可以更好的获得数据。电话访谈的时候它就自动的把你的回答录音下来,然后自动的区分你回答的不同的选项,可以全部的自动把它存到数据库里面,避免了很多手工的操作。它可以辨别你的发音来确定你回答的这种态度和回答的选项,都是非常好地促进了电话访谈在美国的发展。如果你回答第一个问题它会自动转到第二个问题,如果你第一个问题是回答的“是”可以转到第二个问题,如果你回答“不是”的话它也会有一个逻辑的变化。尽管这方面已经有了很大的改善,有了很多研究的方法,但是根据我得到的一些资料,公众当中对这方面还是有一些疑虑。比较不好的这种负面的反应就是说,这种电话访谈的研究对政治上的一些,比如美国有很多的竞选,对政治有关的一些调查,这个的话公众就不是很感兴趣。

在过去的30多年里面,电话访谈是主要的研究。尽管电话访谈越来越专业化,但是目前来说还是存在一些新的问题。在最早的时候,因为一般的普通老百姓不太熟悉怎么去接受这么一个电话访谈,慢慢慢慢以后就越来越熟悉了。最近的调查显示,公众对这方面太熟了,所以实际上它整个的有效率有所降低,一直重复这样的情况过去的抽样调查比较容易接受,现在越来越多的老百姓对这个有了抵触。这种拒绝率的提高是因为有很多的调查是附带了一些广告,或是一些虚假的东西,或是跟政治的选秀联系在一起,所以现在出现了很多的拒绝回答。一些在政治上的这种互相之间的攻击,各种手段的政治上的斗争造成了老百姓对这种电话访问的一种抵触情绪。所以有的时候它是给你一种导向型的问题,使回答者吃不准该怎么回答,它给你一种导向性,其实这在社会学方法当中应该避免的。比如说你会投票吗这个问题,如果候选人有对儿童的性骚扰的话这种情况下你会投他票吗,这样的问题其实是有一些导向性的。

    另外一个比较突出的问题,因为大家现在大部分在使用手机,因为这是一个新的情况新的趋势,如何进行电话访谈这是一个新的问题。在最早的时候美国的手机跟中国一样,你接收进来的电话也要收费,这个会造成一些费用,大众不愿意接受这样的调查。这个时候他们制订了一些法律上的条令,来阻止电话访谈通过打手机的方法进行。最早这个不是很突出的问题,因为当时使用手机的人不是很多。当时他们有手机的这些人群同时还有在家里的电话线,所以可以给他们打电话。最近几年因为技术上越来越先进,所以用手机的人越来越多,同时这些人不需要再用家里的固定电话线,所以这样的问题就出来了。这个情况实际上发生在不光是美国,在其他的国家也是这样,特别是现在的中国也是一样。

我一个很重要的目的,在这里能参与这个会议是希望能学到更多的东西在与会者的身上。我想用一些例子,写在这个教材里面的例子,怎么样教这个社会调查方法的,我会讲一下。我希望我的这些例子帮助你们更好的理解社会研究方法在美国是怎么教学的。

最后表示感谢会议的主持者对我热情的招待。感谢你们能组织这么一个很好的会议,把所有的做中国社会研究的人集中在一起,像一个大家庭一样。社会研究实际上在学术研究方面是非常重要的,同时反映了民意和公众对社会的要求。所以我觉得更希望通过这么一个交流获得更多的信息,非常的荣幸能够成为整个大家庭的一部分,很荣幸成为这次会议的参与者。谢谢大家。

 

(由Texas A&M University孙嘉明教授翻译)

 

 

 

 (根据速记整理,未经本人审核)