Fundamental Tension

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By Kaldari (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Today Cary Roseth talked about the fundamental tension of research: what we want to know vs. what we can know.  That’s right, we were yanked out of our ideal, “head in the clouds” world back to reality.  It was a great foundation to think about how studies are structured and how they are a representation of this fundamental tension.  Take a look at these examples:

Want to Know

Can Know

Statistics Population Sample
Measurement True value Measurement value
Construct Conceptual definition Operational definition

When you think about research from this perspective, you see that validity is capturing the difference between our conceptual and operational concept.  In other words, do we measure what we think we are going to measure? Reliability is another way to look at the tension as it looks at the relationship between the true value and the measurement value. It is looking at the consistency of a measure.

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