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Saturday, January 29, 2011

You Say 'Methodology', I Say 'Method'

Folks, don't say 'methodology' when you mean 'method.' You had a method with which you conducted your recent study, not a methodology. 'Methodology' is what you do when you, say, study different ways of doing such a study and compare them.

This may seem like nitpicking, but it is important because it is an exemplar of a general class of problems: the idea that using fancier language somehow makes our results 'deeper' or more 'scientific.' Such a notion is, of course, destructive of real insight, since the blizzard of high-falutin' words serves to obscure rather than to reveal the reality one seeks to explore.

Try goggling 'methodology' and scanning the results: in almost every case on the first couple of pages, either the word 'method' or the word 'methods' could have replaced the word 'methodology' with an increase in clarity.

6 comments:

  1. This may seem like nitpicking, but it is important because it is an exemplar of a general class of problems: the idea that using fancier language somehow makes our results 'deeper' or more 'scientific.'

    I think it would have been clearer if you had used "example" instead of "exemplar," Mr. Fancy Pants.

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  2. Yeah, but I meant 'exemplar', not 'example'!

    By the way, did you did algebraic toppology in your game theory course at NYU?

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  3. Isn't this Bob Murphy's point?

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  4. Isn't what Bob Murphy's point, Ian?

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  5. I seem to remember that Bob made that very same point (against confusing the words "method" and "methodology") in like 5 or more of his lectures with the Mises Institute.

    I came to associate that point so strongly with Bob that it struck me in a really bizarre way when I read this blog post. For a second, I thought that you were Bob or something. Or that I was going insane.

    Also the fact that Bob didn't even bring that up in his response added to the surreal experience that I was going through.

    So admit it. You stole this point from Bob.

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  6. Well, Ian, given that Fritz Machkup wrote an entire essay on this 70 years ago, and both Bob and I are "descended" from Machlup through some of our teachers whom Machlup taught, and I don't think it's puzzling that we both make this point!

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