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ManfromMiddletown:

There's a whole mess of fight on methodology here.

They use factor analysis. You can take any number of survey questions and get out a collection of "synthetic" factors which "explain" a large fraction of the variance in survey answers. You then try to assign a meaning to the factors, if you can come up with one, based on the weights each survey question has in each factor.

As a methodology it's just a dimension reduction technique. On whether you can then run with the factors and make inferences from them, this was thoroughly debunked by Stephen Jay Gould (a self-confessed fan of factor analysis as a data reduction technique) in connection with single-factor models of human intelligence (IQ) in The Mismeasure of Man.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 04:15:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have no idea what that means, but in the near future, I intend to find out.

In the meantime, I'll take your word for it :)

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 09:34:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
See Wikipedia
Factor analysis is a statistical method used to describe variability among observed variables in terms of fewer unobserved variables called factors. The observed variables are modeled as linear combinations of the factors, plus "error" terms. The information gained about the interdependencies can be used later to reduce the set of variables in a dataset. Factor analysis originated in psychometrics, and is used in behavioral sciences, social sciences, marketing, product management, operations research, and other applied sciences that deal with large quantities of data.
If you
have no idea what that means
maybe you shouldn't be saying
Nonetheless, I think certain inferences can be made
...

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 03:56:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So, a linearization, essentially...

Why do those seem to keep popping up in social, political and economic studies?

Wait. Don't answer that. I'm not sure I want to know.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 03:59:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
JakeS:
So, a linearization, essentially...
Dimension reduction - find a conveniently small subset of linear combinations of the mass of observed variables which captures a suitably large fraction of the total variance.
Why do those seem to keep popping up in social, political and economic studies?
Because linear algebra is the only thing we humans know how to work with...

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 04:03:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Dimension reduction - find a conveniently small subset of linear combinations of the mass of observed variables which captures a suitably large fraction of the total variance.

As hypothesis-testing goes, that strikes me as putting the cart before the horse. If they have a hypothesis for how the data should behave, then why are they not just fitting directly to their hypothesis? And if they don't have a hypothesis, then it sounds suspiciously like a fishing expedition. Which, like all fishing expeditions, runs a large risk of bycatch. Are they modeling signal, or are they modeling noise here?

Because linear algebra is the only thing we humans know how to work with...

And it is, after all, better to be very precisely wrong than to be roughly right...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 04:08:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
JakeS:
As hypothesis-testing goes, that strikes me as putting the cart before the horse. If they have a hypothesis for how the data should behave, then why are they not just fitting directly to their hypothesis?
Because they don't have a hypothesis. Factor analysis should be seen as an exploratory data analysis technique.

If you then colour-code the points and find that the former Soviet Republics and the English-speaking countries form two distinct clusters in the sense that the within-group variance in the two-factor space is smaller than the between-group variance, then you have discovered something. Assuming that the two factors, together, explain a sufficiently high amount of the overall variance to begin with.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 04:24:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Nothing wrong with trying to reduce complex phenomena to more simply defined ones - or at least to try to explain complex phenomena with respect to a few variables and see how well those variables can explain observed data.  But you then have to understand that you are working with your model of reality, and not with reality itself.  And the model you use may well help to determine the results you achieve.  The observer (and his/her mindset/model) is part of the processes he observes.

There is no doubt that the "modernisation" model appeals to (even if it is not confined to) the "advanced" societal mindset which implicitly sees a progressive evolution from feudal/agricultural to urban/industrial and post industrial "advanced" "knowledge" based societies.  It's about understanding (and helping) underdeveloped societies to develop and become more like us.

Its a sucker argument if you want to pull in the research funding dollars...

Equally, it can be argued, that even Marxist class based analyses also contain deterministic evolutionary elements (feudal, capitalistic, socialistic) or that a religious model - which defines everything in terms of a theological understanding of God/Allah's will - is also as much about shaping how societies can develop as it is about describing how they have/can develop.  Your research dollars come from different sources if these are the models you want to apply.

The "success" of the western modernisation model - as defined by its post WW2 - economic/political/technological/military success - has radically shaped hearts and minds - and it is not surprising that many people, in both the "developed" and "undeveloped" world subscribe to it - even if only unconsciously.  But is that a measure of the theory's innate explanatory power, or of the political/economic forces that have made it the dominant mode of popular (and elite) consciousness?

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 07:20:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
But is that a measure of the theory's innate explanatory power, or of the political/economic forces that have made it the dominant mode of popular (and elite) consciousness?

great question.

i think it's a case of overshoot, too much of a good thing, what starts off healthy move then morphs into a sick one.

for example,  'economic development' is a no-brainer Good Thing for the very poor, and at the other end of the scale, behold the corruption and headgames of the US financial usury machine/Ponzi scams industry.

(of course madison avenue and sheer novelty are the hook, the barb comes later, when the food aid displaces local businesses, the GM seeds supplant the traditional, IMF loans cripple the economy with debt etc etc...)

 

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 08:55:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
Nothing wrong with trying to reduce complex phenomena to more simply defined ones - or at least to try to explain complex phenomena with respect to a few variables and see how well those variables can explain observed data.  But you then have to understand that you are working with your model of reality, and not with reality itself.  And the model you use may well help to determine the results you achieve.  The observer (and his/her mindset/model) is part of the processes he observes.

There is no doubt that the "modernisation" model appeals to (even if it is not confined to) the "advanced" societal mindset which implicitly sees a progressive evolution from feudal/agricultural to urban/industrial and post industrial "advanced" "knowledge" based societies.

But the validity of factor analysis for "dimension reduction" is independent of the "modernisation" model or even the "modernisation agenda" you summarise as
It's about understanding (and helping) underdeveloped societies to develop and become more like us.


Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 09:24:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not querying the math - see first para. -  but saying that how/when/where it is applied may be a political choice or based on available funding.  Neither am I dismissing the modernisation theory entirely - it is a model that can be applied - just saying that it is not the only, or necessarilly the "best" theory, but that it is very congruent with the dominant western conceptions of development and underdevelopment.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 11:48:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can buy that. But then you'd need a new data set to test your hypothesis on. Preferably a reasonably independent data set... Presenting a hypothesis based on a data set, and then using the same data set to make predictions... that strikes me as falling dangerously close to a fishing expedition.

But of course it's possible that I'm applying the standards of physics (where you can almost always just take another data series) to a discipline to which it is not applicable (because we only have one data set - the Earth).

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 06:40:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Like almost anything ChrisCook says, the description doesn't help me. I'll have to get my hands on the tools, learn how, then run a factor analysis and view its strengths and weaknesses. I've never gone anywhere near trying that before.

Before the year is out. New goal.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 08:00:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have suggested reading the appropriate chapter of The Mismeasuer of Man by Stephen Jay Gould. You might also want to try chapter 5 (and possibly also chapters 4, 10 and 11) of Introduction to Multivariate Analysis by Chris Chatfield. I presume you have access to a university library?

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 09:15:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As to
get my hands on the tools, learn how, then run a factor analysis
just install R on your computer...

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 09:22:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The methodological concern relates less to operationalization than to conceptualization.

It's about something called subjective/intersubjective views of culture.

The subjective view of culture says that there is nothing that is shared across people in a society.  Culture is basically the sum total of all opinions in a society.  So that concepts don't have meanings that are the same across actors.

The intersubjective view of culture says that culture is more than the sum of opinions in a society.  It's something that has shared meaning across individuals.  So for example various words like democracy and the like have the same shared meaning to Swiss people in the four national languages.  But, the meaning is not the same between Swiss German and Bavarian German.  

I hope that was clear, but it's a huge issue.

The WVS relies upon methodological individualism, so there is in essence, no such thing as society.  Only individuals.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Sun Apr 19th, 2009 at 11:17:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How would you suggest to do a survey across countries? Is it impossible?

And, further, you can't ask a question of society but only of the individuals in it. So, methodilogical individualism is not so much of a problem as philosophical individualism.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 03:57:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How would you suggest to do a survey across countries? Is it impossible?

Now you've hit on a problem I can get my mind around! The simple linguistic challenge of asking identical questions, with identical cultural and emotional content across cultures is impossible. Due to the same factors they try to measure here.

It's analogous to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.

Excellent point.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 08:09:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
papicek:
It's analogous to Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.
No it isn't.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 09:08:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sure it is. Consider the same question in multiple languages. As one uses more precise language in an attempt to establish a correct response, the likelihood of the terms being misunderstood grows greater. I don't imagine there's anyway to measure the divergence.

Just because of the cultural/language dixconnect, there's always going to be an element of uncertainty, the degree of which is indeterminant, no matter what the sample size is. I'd expect to see this, anyways.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Tue Apr 21st, 2009 at 10:43:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But in the case of Heisenberg, 1) there's not only a way to measure the uncertainty but there's a formula for it; 2) the uncertainty principle applies only to individual instances of attempted simultaneous measurements - if you have the luxury of repeated measurements on a sample the uncertainty goes away.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Apr 21st, 2009 at 11:01:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Semantic differential is - at least was - the way to measure "meaning" across languages/cultures.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Tue Apr 21st, 2009 at 03:19:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem is that surveys get you the sum of attitudes in a society, and that may be somewhat different than culture.

Culture is often invisible to the person who is embedded in it, but controls and constrains their actions, and guides their beliefs.

Take the idea of an equality/efficiency tradeoff.  Where the idea is ingrained in the culture (US/UK) attitudes towards things like labor unions and other things that might bring about a more equal distribution of wealth are effected by this underlying idea in culture.

What you get when you do a survey that shows resistance to progressive taxation, etc, is what people believe, not why.  

And culture is at heart, the why factor.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 10:12:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ManfromMiddletown:
culture is at heart, the why factor
Interesting insight. But why people believe is unobservable, whereas what people believe is observable.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 10:18:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What is you can change why people belief through the creation of ideas, particularly economic ideas?

Think about how Keynes was killed off, and replaced by Milton Friedman and the Chicago gang.

Ideology is an important source of power in modern societies.  

Control how people see the world, and you can coerce them into doing what you want without them knowing it......

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 01:19:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ManfromMiddletown:
So for example various words like democracy and the like have the same shared meaning to Swiss people in the four national languages.  But, the meaning is not the same between Swiss German and Bavarian German.  

So shared meanings are defined by national boundaries and not by cultural/lingusitic ones?  Is there not a very overt nationalism or at least nation state bias in this approach?

One could argue that Irish middle class values are closer to British middle class values than they are to working class values.  So what is the relevance of the "national" boundary?  Of course subjective statements like that are subject to hypothesising and testing, and may actually be untrue.  But what I am objecting to is the a priori nation state focus of the methodology.  Why not test by class, age group, occupational grouping, public/private sector, as well nas nationality, and see which (somewhat artificially defined) factor is the most important, rather than assuming that the nation state is some sort of ahistorical and pre-created given.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 07:01:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
So shared meanings are defined by national boundaries and not by cultural/lingusitic ones?
MfM's point is that there are ways in which, say, Swiss German culture is more similar to that of the other Swiss linguistic communities than it is to other German-speaking communities in other countries.

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 07:05:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not arguing that national boundaries are not a factor, merely that you cannot presume, a priori, that they are a given, or the most important factor.  It seems logical that the citizen's of (say) Geneva - a cosmopolitan/international city will have more in common with each other (whether German/French or other mother tongue speaking - than they would have with a rural village in Bavaria, or even a (somewhat) comparable city like Munich. The more interesting/explanatory analysis may be by religious/non-religious background, age group, rural/urban, class, occupation, education level, linguistic abilities etc.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 07:30:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank Schnittger:
I'm not arguing that national boundaries are not a factor, merely that you cannot presume, a priori, that they are a given, or the most important factor.

...

The more interesting/explanatory analysis may be by religious/non-religious background, age group, rural/urban, class, occupation, education level, linguistic abilities etc.

The question of explanatory power is presumably an empirical question, unlike the question of what is "more interesting".

Most economists teach a theoretical framework that has been shown to be fundamentally useless. -- James K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 09:27:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So shared meanings are defined by national boundaries and not by cultural/lingusitic ones?  Is there not a very overt nationalism or at least nation state bias in this approach?

Not necessarily. That example relates to political concepts, which are intimately tied to the nation/state, but the in group/ out group can be put together entirely differently.

For example, a religious group group can have an understanding of salvation that cross national borders, but is incomprehensible to people who aren't members of that religious group.  For example, predestination versus good works.  

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Apr 20th, 2009 at 10:04:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You beat me to it.. the problem is not math (maths is generally correct if it is done by someon who knows).

To make a synthesis of both perception...Culture is a sum of attitudes which give you a plying field, so to speak. It is a playing field of common symbolic objects with a  set of particular players which give new meaning and redifine the playing field.

Exploring the playing field is tough... doinbg it with a survey... probably impossible...

I repeat again Man point...indudually you can not get the playing field of symbolic options...

It is like trying to understand soccer by just looking only at how the legs of a player move... tough...

You at least need to check how the players move so as to know what are the rules of the game.

Most anthropologists prefer the option of "playing the game".. this is.. trying to live among the group of people you are interested in and record them at the same time.

Anf I finish my metaphors here....:)

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Apr 21st, 2009 at 11:31:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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