Earl Babbie Discusses Social Research

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    • 00:00


    • 00:16

      EARL BABBIE: Social research is one of the most valuable thingsthat students can learn.Not because they'll become social researchers,and I've realized this forever with my studentsthat probably only a small fraction woulddo social research, but all of themare going to be reading about it,

    • 00:36

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: they're going to have to assess what they read, maketheir decisions based on that, and so understandingsocial research goes well beyond just doing it.It started in ninth grade with the teacher asking all of us,

    • 01:01

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: what did we want to be when we grew up?And I said I wanted to be an auto body mechanic.Because my mom, single mom, had just remarriedand I just adored my new dad and Icouldn't think of anything more noble than to do what he did.And my teacher is very good.He said, well that's wonderful, but you do well in school

    • 01:24

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: so maybe you should go to collegeand you could study engineering and that's probably somethinglike auto body mechanic.And so that was the first thought I ever hadof going to college.And when it came time to pick a college,I didn't know anything about that,but my best friend applied to Harvard

    • 01:46

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: and so I did, and happily was accepted.I didn't apply anywhere else.I didn't know you should.And I was accepted happily and went off thereto learn engineering only to discover they didn't offer it.And so I had to look around for something elseand, again, just by chance, I ended up in the social sciences

    • 02:09

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: and I've never left.I often say if I had to do all over again,I'd major in sociology.I'd learn to play the banjo.My biggest interest, and I don't have a professional expertise

    • 02:31

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: in it, but it's the problem of overpopulationwhich I think is the mother of all social problems.There are 7.3 billion people in the world now in a worldthat we estimate would support one and a half billion,perhaps, sustainably.And so demography has been kind of an avocation for me

    • 02:54

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: in sociology.And I'm on the board of some nonprofits thatdeal with that issue.While I was at Harvard, Talcott Parsons, who at that pointwas probably the most noted sociologist in the world

    • 03:17

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: I would think.I took more courses from him than from anyone else.And he's someone who I still find almost impossible to read.His books are very daunting and few peopleclaim to read them and understand them.And yet, sitting in classes, he would talk.

    • 03:40

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: It somehow it just connected, eventhough I think he talked about the same way he wrote,but somehow in class it worked.And he could explain concepts in a waythat you would say, OK, I understand it now.And then he'd add another dimension to itand you'd have to reconstruct your understanding,

    • 04:01

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: and then it would just keep goingas he'd keep taking away your understandingand you had to build another one.And I've told people that I wish one of my students,of 40 years of teaching, would tell mewhat I would say about him and thatis that every exam he gave, I came out of it smarter

    • 04:26

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: than when I went in.That he could frame questions in such a waythat you would have to think about thingsyou'd never thought about before.Yeah, we read that book and that oneand, oh, my lord, you know, he justhad a special gift for that.I wanted to talk to him about the profession of sociology,and I think we were about five minutes into the interview

    • 04:49

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: before he realized I wasn't writing a paper on professionsand interviewing him as a sociologist,that I blurted out I want to be one.He said, oh, OK, then you should go to graduate school.And so I wrote that down.And I said, where should I go?And he said, somewhere else.[LAUGHING]

    • 05:10

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: And I think he saw the look on my face and he said,everyone should go somewhere else.You shouldn't do all of your studies at the same place.And I said, where should I go and he said Berkeley.So I wrote down Berkeley, which is whereI went for graduate school.And there I met Charlie Glock, the directorof the survey research center.

    • 05:32

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: He became my advisor, my mentor, my boss, my good friend.In the sense they know too much.They know the way things are.

    • 05:53

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: And much of sociology is taking awaythe things they know and say, well, there's also this other.And that's a real challenge because a lot of the thingsthat they know for certain, or some of themhave a religious tinge to them, some of them are political,

    • 06:14

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: some are philosophy of life, family, and you know,these are pretty deep.And to have to look at those and considerthat maybe that's not true after all is really difficult.

    • 06:39

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: Well I've been writing textbooks on social researchfor long enough that I've seen many, many changes.I think when I first started, I hada section on telephone surveys in which I said,some researchers use this, but it's not very well respected

    • 07:04

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: and it's got all kinds of problems,particularly of representativenessand, after all, how many questions can youask during a telephone interview,and blah, blah, blah.And then, over the years as I revise books,I got to indicate that this is becomingone of the most frequently used techniques and the ways we'd

    • 07:28

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: solve the problems that had made itkind of weak in the beginning.And today, I would think online research, both activedoing a survey or an experiment or something,or what we call big data.That is just analyzing all the mass of data that's collected.

    • 07:53

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: And I find myself now writing that, well, some researchersare doing online surveys, but thereare real problems involved and they'reall the same problems I talked about in termsof telephone surveys.And every day, every week, researchersare finding ways to deal with these issues.

    • 08:15

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: And I have every confidence that thisis going to be a big part of, at least, the wave of the future.It's easy to predict what the future of social researchwill be.

    • 08:35

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: But to do it accurately, it's impossible.For me, at least, for my brain.I could extrapolate out from things that we have now so,as I say, tablets, tablets will get better,and probably a tablet you can't even think of now,

    • 08:56

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: it will be like a sheet of paper or something like that.The wristwatch, as I say, you may be able to use.I'm sure all these things will continue developing.But when I started out, you neverwould have thought of a laptop computer even.

    • 09:17

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: And certainly not a tablet, and certainly not a smartphone.I mean, these were such a break.I mean, Steve Jobs is one of my gurus.I mean, that he could see something that I certainlynever could have predicted and most people couldn't.

    • 09:38

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: And so I think that's where the future of social research lies,but who knows where that is?It's impossible to guess.We deal with the issue of determinism and free will,or agency it's called now.

    • 09:59

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: Nothing's free.And we have to deal with that in doing research.And I suggested to students the other day,imagine you want to find out if aluminum conducts electricity.So you get a piece of aluminum and you start going to work,and that it says, I could, but I don't want to.

    • 10:21

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: [LAUGHING]You know?No.That doesn't happen, you know.Or you want to study gravity and you drop an object and it says,I don't believe in gravity.We have to deal with things like, I mean that issue, agencythat the other sciences don't have to deal with.Sampling.If you wanted to study aluminum, you

    • 10:43

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: would not have to get a list of all the aluminum in the worldand then take a random sample.You'd send someone down to the hardware storeto get some aluminum, you know, and you go to work on it.But it gets worse.Recursiveness is an issue in the social sciences that,I don't think, comes up that much in the natural sciences

    • 11:05

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: or physical sciences.What we learn about society may end upchanging society, including that thing we just learned.And a very simplistic example, every now and then,Parade Magazine, you'll see the article of, these are the bestplaces to live in the United States,

    • 11:27

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: the best schools, the lowest crime rate, the bestenvironments, not over-crowded, and blah,blah, blah, like that.Well, what happens?Everyone moves there.[LAUGHING]And so suddenly, it's not such a nice place to live.But it's worse than that.That studying society, you're studying something

    • 11:51

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: where you actually live and what you do in it changes it,but the very thing you're studyingis creating itself all the time Chilean biologist,Umberto Martorano, coined the term,

    • 12:11

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: autopoiesis, for self creating, and that'swhat society is, if you think of the norms of society.I tell students there's a norm thatsays you have to wear clothes when you go out in public,even if it's hot you know.And I feel that's part of my dutiesto make sure they know that.

    • 12:33

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: And they seem to know that in advanceand so I say, where did that come from?Who made that the norm, you know?When did they do that?And they sort of think back of history or whatever.And I suggest, no, actually that norm was created this morning

    • 12:53

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: and you did it.We had a plebiscite this morning, and you got out of bedand said, all right, clothes or no clothes?Let me see.And you chose clothes you know?And you look around the room and that'show that norm got created today.So the thing we study and the impact we have on it,

    • 13:15

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: it's just inconceivable in terms of the easy sciences,like physics, chemistry, and biology.You couldn't find anything more noble.You couldn't find anything that would better

    • 13:37

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: equip you to make a difference in the world.Doesn't guarantee that you will, but it reallyequips you to do that.And I say that, not just because I say that,but I look at some of the people who have majored in sociologyand didn't even go on to become, quote sociologists.

    • 14:02

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: Michelle Obama, for example, majored in sociology.Martin Luther King Jr. Saul Alinsky,who in this city, Chicago, organized communitiesand really made a difference for millions of people.We have one president who majored in sociology

    • 14:26

      EARL BABBIE [continued]: and history, and I kind of tip it toward history, RonaldReagan, was a sociology major.[MUSIC PLAYING]

Earl Babbie Discusses Social Research

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Professor Earl Babbie discusses social research and how he became a social researcher. He explains the difference between social research and other types of scientific research, and he encourages students interested in studying sociology.

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Earl Babbie Discusses Social Research

Professor Earl Babbie discusses social research and how he became a social researcher. He explains the difference between social research and other types of scientific research, and he encourages students interested in studying sociology.

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