This is the last stats blog of the semester (and hopefully my life), so I thought I’d write it about something I actually had an opinion on to start with! Case studies!
There’s been quite a few blogs about case studies and whether they’re any good, and I think they’ve taken a fair beating. Personally, I think a lot of research would either not have started or wouldn’t be going anywhere if it wasn’t for case studies. Of course, they have their disadvantages (like everything does);
- Results from one case study can’t be generalised to a wider population
- Generally too unethical to replicate
- No control over environment, the case is studied purely in hindsight
Saying this, the disadvantages of a case study can often turn into an advantage;
- studying one person/case means you can’t generalise the results, but it does mean that you get more detailed data
- A lot of case studies can’t be replicated because it would be too unethical, but with case studies, we can still see the effects of a particular event that occurs naturally but would be too unethical to create. For example, sticking a metal pole through someone’s brain is an ethical no-no, but luckily for us (not so lucky for him…), this is exactly what happened to Phineas Gage (http://metablog.borntothink.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/1994-Damasio-Descartes-Error.pdf), and it gave researchers at the time something to go on when looking into what different parts of the brain are responsible for.
- We have no control over the environment (because we don’t know what’s happening at the time, we just hear about it afterwards), but this means that it is completely natural, so in a way doesn’t that make the results a little bit more generalisable?
Obviously, there are endless discussions about what’s good and bad about case studies and which is more important (do you want detail or generalisability?), but in my opinion, the benefits far outweigh the costs. Case studies have the ability to spark new research or give us more insight into topics that are too unethical to study, and for the control that case studies lack, follow up experiments based on said case study can make up for! Win-win for everyone, I suppose.
One case study that particularly got me on this pro-case study rant was the study of the ‘wild child’, Genie (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vnSUfZhZNQ). Anyone who did A-Level psychology probably already knows the details, but the general principle is that a child was brought up without any human contact – she couldn’t walk properly, speak and seemingly had no emotional attachments to anyone. The conditions she was brought up in were too unethical for any lab experiment to replicate, or even be remotely similar to, which is why I think (in this case especially) case studies are so useful. I found the study really interesting, and its worth having a look at if it’s the sort of thing you find interesting and you’d like to avoid all those assignments we have due in…