Quantitative methods were widely used in different spheres of researchers for a long time. In fact, those methods are the best proof of the statement that math is universal. Those methods allow to describe many different activities and processes, find out how they depend on each other, the extent to which they are connected, etc. Their application allowed the human to achieve the major progress in many sciences.
Quantitative methods are widely applied in such humanitarian disciplines as history, philosophy, and psychology. One should admit that the application of those methods contributed to the development of the sciences and made them more exact. However, at the same time, one should admit that the methods are incomplete and cannot be applied on their own. They are so one-sided that their application in many cases may lead to misleading results that can severely affect any research. It is essential to understand that danger and prevent possible harm it is worthwhile to examine the disadvantages of those methods (Jessie, 2004).
Quantitative methods in history
To address the issue in the best way one should probably address to the very beginning of that science. It was Herodotus who applied the quantitative methods in his works and tried to describe the event of his and previous ages with figures. As a result:
The “Father of History” is not considered by the generality of scholars of ancient history and culture to provide an example of the sound historical method. He is almost universally considered a man of mediocre intellect who believed all sorts of fairy tales, collected spurious anecdotes, and gullibly accepted partisan versions of events. (Herodotus and his critiques).
It is fair to note that at the time of Herodotus the quantitative methods were developed rather purely and many mistakes were made by one of the first historians. At this point, it is interesting to turn to the modern techniques that are much more developed and have a look at what they suggest for history.
Quantitative methods, of which today statistics is the most striking example, do not tell us all about social reality and can concentrate only on some skeleton points, but they provide us a principle for discriminating within the welter of natural generalizations (Herodotus and his critiques).
And chronology provides the simplest example of quantification in the field of historical science: to order the accounts and testimonies according to time, astronomical time, is the most common method of discrimination, even though it could be observed that it is quite a mechanical one and little related to the psychic time which is the true tempo of social events. History in pre-Greek times began by correlating events with astronomical cycles, and the modern historian who counts by centuries and years should know that he is following the same procedure (Herodotus and his critiques).
The citations mentioned above do not only relate to Herodotus who was one of the founders of the history, but also to almost any important research that was performed on him. It is especially true for the astronomical choose of time that is still applied widely in modern researches and is unlikely to change in the following decades.
Quantitative methods in community research
Without any doubt, the community research has to contain one or another amount of data. The researches are often based on the deep data analysis that helps to understand shifts in community life, the needs of the community, etc.
From the other hand, it should be noted that the methods are very complex. In other words, they require a large amount of time and money to be invested to get the results. Another disadvantage is that the results might be useless at some points. For the reason of complexity, they might just not be noticed or understood by the members of the community.
Critics of quantitative methods have also commented that it is difficult to get the “real meaning” of an issue by looking at numbers. Aggregate statistics are a relatively recent arrival in human history, which might explain our difficulties in comprehending probabilities and other statistical phenomena. It is apparent that we must devise ways of translating statistical information into a form comprehensible to our target audiences (Kruger, 2003).
Quantitative methods in geography
It is interesting to note, those quantitative methods became very common in geography, and probably it became the best implication for the methods among all the humanities. The application of those methods commemorated the shift from the idiomatic (or descriptive) geography to the nomothetic (an imperial lawmaking) geography.
The reason for that change in approaches can be seen in the crisis of geography. The crisis occurred in 1940-50’s and almost led to the downfall of geography as an academic science.
There were several reasons for that crisis:
- The division between Physical and Human geography. The Homan geography was thought to become and autonomic subject
- Geography was considered as an exclusive subject
- Many of the geographical departments were closed
- The debates about what geography is
- With the development of technology nomothetic sciences became more popular (Wikipedia)
All these reasons geographers started to seek new methods of research that would allow them to add a new stream in the science.
The revolution brought some statistical techniques like multi-variable analysis in the science and enabled the use of computers in the research. The new approach brought fresh stream in the science and allowed it to maintain and develop its academic status.
Here are some of the techniques applied:
- Inferential statistics
- Descriptive statistics
- Mathematics models and equations
- Stochastic models with the implication of the probability concept
- Deterministic models (Wikipedia)
As the result of revolution new schools of geography has emerged. Two new schools emerged from human geography, and new school of behavioral geography has appeared. The school of behavioral geography is dealing with humanity as the statistical phenomenon. In that examination economic aspects (and economic techniques) were widely used (Sheppard, 2000).
From all the facts mentioned above, it is obvious that there are some major disadvantages in the application of the quantitative methods in different spheres of science. In most of the cases, they are simply insufficient for the description of the certain processes and activities in any area of our life. Even in such disciplines that are highly dependant on those methods they are still very inferior and require additional analysis or require time lag. It is also important to note that the methods and their results are understood by the only small amount of people since our society didn’t form the mechanism of understanding of such data. For this reason, the application of positive quantitative methods and interpretation of their results is an expensive and complicated process.
However, on the other hand, geography is an excellent example of the science that found the best application for those methods and managed to survive and broad its potential thanks to them.
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