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Discussion: Research Area
Topic: February 2003: Question 3


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Subject:   Question
Author: grc
Date: Mar 29 2003
Does education research regularly use math models to predict outcomes?  At least
math models, depending upon the strength of the models, bring in scientific
objectivity beyond the personal perspective of the researcher.  Even if the
researcher is coming from a position of bias, and is looking for particular
results, the outcome is often contrary to what a researcher is trying to
confirm.  

For instance, Richard Posner, an economist of law and founder of the law and
economics movement, frequently addresses in his books a need for the social
sciences in general to be more objective and scientific by using more math
models in their research, and he has been attacked for voicing it.  

Biology long thought that they were above math, maybe I'm not saying it right,
but that math could not model complicated biological systems in a representative
way.  But this assumption has turned out to be false.  Computers have changed
that, and math biology researchers using math models of complex biological
systems put in highly simplified form are achieving results that are significant
in biology, turning the tables maybe not 180 degrees but they have turned in
favor of using math in biology.  A couple of years ago, I attended an biology
education seminar specificall addressing the need to incorporate math into
biology textbooks from elementary school up, because biology has traditionally
hardly addressed math in their curriculum, and now all of a sudden it has to be
dealt with at very high levels, and biology students aren't prepared for it.

I going to guess that education research has not traditionally incorporated a
lot of math models.  If this is the case, education researchers may well deserve
the criticisms of their research being nonscientific in nature.  Science has to
be able to describe and predict, right?  Predictions have to have properties of
objectivity associated with them.  Developing and/or using good math models is
at least one path to try to achieve objectivity and scientific results in
research.

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