Dan Chambliss Discusses Social Research

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    • 00:00

      [MUSIC PLAYING][Social Research][How would you define social research?]

    • 00:16

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS: I think of social researchas kind of the disciplined study of human social life.And so it's different from just everyday conversationsabout how people behave or how they'reacting, in that there are rules and there are guidelinesfor how to do the research properly

    • 00:36

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: so you've got evidence and logic and are not justmaking things up, basically.[What inspired you to start academic work in the fieldof social research?]I first became interested in doing social science researchwhen I was in high school, actually,because I wanted to be a swimming coach.I wanted to be a competitive swimming coach.

    • 00:59

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: And I thought to really be good at coaching,you would need to understand group dynamics and managementand leadership and things like that.So when I got to college, I started taking coursesin social psychology in order to be a better swimming coach.And what happened was-- actually,I followed that through for quite a while

    • 01:20

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: and I began doing research on Olympic caliber swimming teams.And my first book was about peoplewho trained for the Olympics in 1984-- long time ago--and what it was about the teams that they camefrom that made them so good.Well, along the way I realized, thisis also a great way to meet people who otherwise I'd

    • 01:42

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: never get a chance to meet.But you'd be amazed-- if you say to someone, I'm writing a book,they want to talk to you.Even if otherwise they'd never give you the time of day.So I expanded.I went on from there-- after the swimming work--and did research in hospitals.Spent a lot of time with nurses and doctors in hospitals,

    • 02:04

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: and watching surgery, and spending time in intensive careunits, things like that.And then later, went working in business corporationsand I've done a lot of work in higher education.But I find social research is justa great way to meet people and try to understand their lives.[What other academic areas interest you and why?]

    • 02:28

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: I'm also real interested in European philosophy.In modern 20th century European philosophy--phenomenology and existentialism.I also have devoted unbelievable amounts of timeto reading World War II history.So not just combat history but alsowhy the war happened and how the politics unfolded

    • 02:51

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: that this sort of catastrophe could hit, things like that.I also enjoy art history in a lot of ways.But mainly, I'm a sociologist, psychologist, I suppose,is my profession.[How can students benefit from having an understandingof social research in their studies or future career?]

    • 03:14

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: I think social research methods courses reallyhelp students, especially in-- well, in a couple of ways--mainly in being unafraid of numbers,or less afraid of numbers.But more generally, it enforces precision.You've got to think very, very clearly

    • 03:34

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: about exactly what you're doing, and whatarguments you're making, and why they work or don't work,and what the evidence is.And a lot of times, I find studentscome into the course with a lot of opinions about thingsand guesses about why people do what they do,but they don't really know how to prove it.And what we try to teach them is,

    • 03:55

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: here are the ways you can look at a situation,and at evidence, and what's happening, so that youknow if it's legitimate or not.Is this really a solid argument?Is there really evidence-- or are there data,we would say-- to really back that up?I also find it helps students see through bad arguments

    • 04:17

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: better.They become a little more skeptical of thingsthat people are telling them, because they know,actually, you can't prove that, and thereare reasons you can't prove it.So it's good for precision and skepticism.[How does social research differ from other types of research?]Social research differs from research

    • 04:39

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: in the natural sciences, for instance,in a couple of really important ways.The first one is what we call reactivity.If a geologist goes out and takes a hammer and hits a rockand the rock breaks in two, the rock doesn't careand the rock isn't going to stand up and run awaywhen they see a geologist coming with a hammer.

    • 05:00

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: But if a sociologist goes out and goes to some businessand said, gee, I'd like to sit here all day and watch youpeople work, they're going to think about it.And they're going to go, well, maybe we won't let you do that.Or if we do let you do that-- come in and watch us--your sitting there is going to change the way they behave.That's what we call reactivity.

    • 05:21

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: In other words, the things we study-- people--react to the fact that we're studying them.That's a serious problem.And it makes social research way more difficult in that sensethan, say, chemistry.I mean, if you look at chemicals under a microscope,they don't mind.If you look at people under a microscope, they care a lot.

    • 05:44

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: So that's one way.The other way that the social sciencesare quite different from natural scienceis, our subject matter-- people-- changes way morequickly, in some respects.If, for instance, if you're a biologistand you're studying the heart muscle,

    • 06:06

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: the heart muscle in 1915 was basically the sameas heart muscle is in 2015.But if I say, as a social scientist,I'm going to study families, the family in 1915was nothing like what we see as families today.And that means we have to keep redoing our research over

    • 06:27

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: and over.It's very hard to be cumulative in the waythat the natural sciences are, because the very thing we'restudying changes so quickly.[How has the field changed in recent years,and what developments do you consider most significant?]The big, obvious change in social science researchin the recent past-- in the past 20 years--

    • 06:49

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: has been the introduction of digital technologies.For instance-- I mean, it takes all sortsof forms-- digital recording of all kindshas made it much easier for us to gather informationabout-- video technology is so inexpensive now,for instance, compared to what it was even 20, 30 years ago--that it's easy to film people doing things,

    • 07:09

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: and watch what they're doing, and recordand playback, and look at it very close up, and so on.That's one kind of improvement.Another would be survey research--being able to do that online, computerized web-based kindof surveys, is a big step forward.It makes it much, much easier to collect survey data.

    • 07:29

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: On the other hand, some kinds of digital technologyhave actually made our work more difficult.For instance, lots of people now have mobile phones.Let's call it cell phones, smartphones-- mobile devices--instead of having landlines.That is, telephones used to be physically

    • 07:50

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: connected to a place, which made it much easier for us to samplepeople and find the kinds of people wewanted to talk to in surveys.Now, with everybody having cell phonesand we don't have telephone directories and so on,it can be very difficult to get a random sample

    • 08:11

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: in a survey, which is one reason why political polling is lessaccurate in the last five years than itwas in the years before that.Those are two big changes that haveoccured-- with digital technology,there's a big difference now.[Why do you think there has been growth in research focusedon social questions and issues in the last few decades?]

    • 08:32

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: Social research follows the society that it studies.And so, when there are big changes in a society,there's going to be changes in the kinds of thingssocial scientists look at.For instance, in the last-- well,let's say in the past 40 years-- in the United States,there have been huge changes in the role of women

    • 08:52

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: and what women can do and their place in the workforceand so on, in how families are structuredand what counts as a family and how people have kidsand how they raise kids, huge change in divorce rates,for instance.There have also been big changes in race relations--dramatic changes-- in the last 40 years.

    • 09:14

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: Changes in workplaces and how jobs are structured,the decline of unionized work, the decline of real jobsecurity, in a lot of ways.These are all tremendous changes in the society.And social science picks up on that and a lot of sociologists,in my field, for instance, spend a lot of time

    • 09:34

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: studying exactly those issues I've just mentioned,because they're interesting and important to people and folkslives are being affected in big ways.And they want to know, gee, why is this happening?And we try to figure that out.[What are some examples of key research in the field that hashad a direct impact on policy or practice outside of academia,and what changed as a result?]

    • 09:57

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: Criminology, the study of crime, and howthat works and trends in that.For instance, the broken windows theory of policing thatwas developed in the 1980s by some political scientists.Broken windows theory said, that if youlet small crimes go passed by unattended,

    • 10:18

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: they will lead to bigger crimes.And so the key to policing, in this model,is to really crack down on what we would thinkof as minor offenses-- you know, littering, trespassing,jaywalking, things of that sort."Lifestyle" kind of crimes, they think of.And lots of police departments in the United States

    • 10:40

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: over the past 25, 30 years have initiated policiesto crack down on low level crimes, with the idea,with the theory, that that will stop larger level crimes.Now, at this point, in 2015-- as we're talking--it's not clear that that worked.

    • 11:01

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: But that's definitely a social science theorythat really had a practical impact in the larger world.[What are the major academic debatesin the fields in which you work?What are the principal areas of contention and why?]I can think of two just off the top of my head,basically, that are really important.One, is the causes of crime.

    • 11:24

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: There's a huge amount of really first rate research doneon what causes crime-- crime rates, especially--to go up and go down.So crime has fallen dramatically in the last 20 yearsin the United States.They don't know why.Smart people don't know why.Now, a lot of people will claim, well,it's because we're locking up all the criminals,

    • 11:45

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: or because we've applied this broken windows theoryand police have cracked down in various ways,but it's really not clear when you look at the big picturethat policing, for instance-- different styles-- really havean effect on the crime rates.It's very hard to figure out what causes rises and dropsin crime.So there are big debates within social science

    • 12:06

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: about those issues.Another example of a big debate wouldbe about single motherhood.So we have a big rise in single motherhoodover the last quarter century.It's not clear, in the sense of, say, effecting children.Very contentious arguments over the research

    • 12:26

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: and the data on single motherhood-- changesin families, generally.[What are the key challenges of a course in this fieldfor a student, and what strategies would you adviseto counter these challenges?]Dealing with numbers.A lot of them come in literally afraid to look at percentages.And that's a big challenge for us, as teachers.

    • 12:49

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: My advice to students on that-- I guess therewould be a couple of parts.Number one is do the work.If you do your homework, it actuallymakes a big difference.And you can learn this stuff, but that's notwhat students want to hear.Pick a good teacher.That's really the answer.If you find the-- if you have any choice in the matter, whichyou may not-- but try to pick the best methods teacher

    • 13:12

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: you can find.Somebody who's going to be patient and understandingand can explain things clearly.And try to understand that it's a craft, in the sense of-- Ithink of wood working, for instance, or making something.

    • 13:32

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: If you take it step by step and learn one principle at a timeand apply it-- and again, do your homework--you can learn it.And then you get to the next step and the next stepand pretty soon, oh, I can actually do this.It's not rocket science, as they say.It's social science.[How do you think about the public impact of your ownresearch, and how do you assess the contribution of socialresearch to society?]

    • 13:57

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: I've done work in three different areas, really.And the first, I studied people trainingfor the Olympics-- competitive swimmers.It turns out that a lot of that researchhas been picked up by people who coach Olympic class athletesin a bunch of different sports.I could, but will not, name famous coaches

    • 14:20

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: in other sports who have inspirational quotesfrom my book on the wall of their training facilities,for instance.And they see-- well, what I talkedabout was the kinds of things thatgo into becoming a really first rate athleteand how to get there.So there's that.My nursing research-- I worked in hospitals for a long time--

    • 14:42

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: it turns out, gets used a lot in orientation programsfor new nurses.Telling them, here are the kinds of dilemmasyou will face in your job.And preparing them for the transitionfrom being a civilian, so to speak, to being a medical careprofessional, which is a vastly different proposition.

    • 15:03

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: For instance, sticking a needle into someoneis not this sort of thing most of us do every day,and nurses do it all the time.I mean, I dare you to just take a needleand stick-- you can't do it.It's hard to do.It turns out, you have to learn how to do that.And my book seems to help people make that adjustment.The most recent research I've done has been on colleges

    • 15:24

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: and what it is that colleges do--in a positive direction-- that can really help studentslearn better while they're in college.And a lot of colleges have picked this upand are taking my advice, basically-- our advice--I had a co-author on that book.So that's some impact but it's not huge.I haven't changed the world.

    • 15:45

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: Social science research generally,how it has affected the larger society-- the problem is,it's hard to know.It's hard to know.It gets folded into public policy debates of all sortson issues like health care, would be a good example.

    • 16:06

      DANIEL CHAMBLISS [continued]: The health care reforms, the Affordable Care Act,a lot of those debates were infusedwith what we know about how health care systems work.And that's been done by social scientists.[MUSIC PLAYING]

Dan Chambliss Discusses Social Research

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Abstract

Professor Daniel Chambliss describes his career in social science and the impact social research has outside of academia. He highlights debates on crime rates and single motherhood, and he discusses research he has done in athletic training, nursing, and college student learning.

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Dan Chambliss Discusses Social Research

Professor Daniel Chambliss describes his career in social science and the impact social research has outside of academia. He highlights debates on crime rates and single motherhood, and he discusses research he has done in athletic training, nursing, and college student learning.

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