On Keeping the Faith in Matters Scientific

By Miller, Gerald R.; Berger, Charles R. | Communication Studies, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

On Keeping the Faith in Matters Scientific


Miller, Gerald R., Berger, Charles R., Communication Studies


Evidence abounds that a segment of our field views the current status of communication research with alarm. Whether the specific issues involve the logic of theory construction, the methodologies employed in collecting and analyzing data, or the criteria used in assessing scientific evidence, the refrain is constant: prevailing research practices are fruitless and wrong-headed and our wrong-headedness will be remedied by an alternative approach that will lead to a tree scientific understanding of human communication. In other words, the lost souls responsible for promulgating heathen research practices of old are urged to repent and to accept the word of the philosophical and scientific messiahs who have come to save them.

A new gospel is compelling when sinners are convinced that they have really sinned or when they are persuaded that it is indeed new and better than the prevailing theology. Unfortunately, we find the scriptures of alarmists jumbled. Rather than presenting a ringing reaffirmation of our own faith, we will content ourselves with pointing out several of the confusions and ambiguities encountered in the critics' writings. There are two kinds of confusions and ambiguities: those associated with practices which are characterized as the "reigning paradigm" and those associated with certain alternative paradigms that have been advocated. Although our comments are relevant to the problem of assessing scientific evidence, they also relate to broader issues concerning the epistemological moorings of communication research.

INDICTMENTS OF THE REIGNING PARADIGM: OR, ARE YOU POSITIVE THAT'S A POSITIVIST?

Disciples of the new research order frequently warn that stubborn adherence to prevailing practices forces the researcher to worship at the pagan shrine of an outmoded, discredited logical positivism. Despite the religious fervor of their remarks, it is often difficult to discern just how or in what ways these critics equate current communication research practices with positivism. Indeed, some skeptics have dismissed the effort to make such an equation as a red herring which relies on a naive or distorted view of logical positivism. For instance, Robert Bostrom stated in a recent paper that "close attention to most of these polemics reveals a standard tactic: the construction of a far-fetched and altogether unrepresentative set of assertions which are blandly identified as the essence of the positivistic position."(1) As we attempt to untangle some of the ways that prevailing research practices have been linked with positivism, it will become apparent that we are at least partially sympathetic with Bostrom's indictment of this practice.

In some cases, allegiance to logical positivism is equated with paying homage to the covering law model of explanation. Typically, the argument proceeds as follows: (1) logical positivism champions the covering law model of explanation; (2) the covering law model demands universal, invariant generalizations; (3) no such generalizations have been discovered in communication; therefore, (4) the covering law model is deficient; and (5) logical positivism is deficient.

This argument is patently specious, both on intellectual and practical grounds. Nowhere in the literature of logical positivism does one encounter the claim that covering laws constitute the sole acceptable means of scientific explanation. In his classic analysis, Carl G. Hempel distinguishes three types of scientific explanation, two of which rely upon statistical or probabilistic premises.(2) An astute critic of the law-governed approach to theory construction, Donald Cushman, has characterized the logical positivist position regarding explanation thus: "According to this view [positivism], laws enunciate the uniform concomitance of phenomena, the prototype instance of which is either a universal implication (all A are B) or a problematic correlation [italics ours]."(3) Simply stated, total allegiance to the covering law model of explanation is not an inherent feature of a positivistic perspective, nor does knowledge of one's position regarding the efficacy of covering law explanations permit his or her classification as positivist or non-positivist.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

On Keeping the Faith in Matters Scientific
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.