Doing social science is fun and frustrating, but nothing is as difficult as nailing your methodology. I work in media effects and political knowledge. It's messy stuff trying to tease out relationships, so when I saw this New York Times piece today about drinking and health, it struck me as eerily familiar. As you may know, drinking in moderation is often associated with health benefits. But ... moderate drinkers also tend to not smoke, to exercise, and either avoid or do all the stuff you're supposed to avoid or do to stay healthy.
So does booze really help? I like to think so. Helps me rationalize my evenings with wine, beer, bourbon, or of course the daddy of all drinks -- single-malt Scotch.
But I'm talking research methodology. Or as a sociologist quoted in the article says:
“The moderate drinkers tend to do everything right — they exercise, they don’t smoke, they eat right and they drink moderately,” said Kaye Middleton Fillmore, a retired sociologist from the University of California, San Francisco, who has criticized the research. “It’s very hard to disentangle all of that, and that’s a real problem.”
Yup. The same can be said for studying what people know. Knowledgeable folks in the first place tend to learn more from the same material than those with little knowledge. Motivation is a huge factor, as is cognitive ability (often measured as formal education, but that's problematic as well).
Disentangling all that equals heartache or a lifetime job. I'm going with the latter, though I often feel the former -- which usually means I need a drink.