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Honors Thesis Archive

Author Brianne Barclay
Title Statistics in the Social Sciences: Inferential Statistics as Rhetoric in Sociology
Department Sociology
Advisor Keith Doubt
Year 2004
Honors University Honors
Full Text View Thesis (375 KB)
Abstract This mixed methods research looks at the usefulness of viewing statistics from a rhetorical perspective and what this means for the understanding of quantitative analysis in sociology. The study explores the rhetorical function of the null hypothesis in the practice and teaching of inferential statistics. Data is first collected from various literary sources associated with teaching statistics from a social science perspective as well as those related to the demystification of statistics and its theoretical assumptions. Literature, including Emile Durkheim's work on rituals, Bertrand Russell's theory of knowledge, and Max Weber's concept of the ideal type, is then used to formulate and reflect upon the taken-for-granted character of the null. Themes from this data are then developed into an online survey (administered to a sample of students and professors from a variety of fields, including Economics, Management, Mathematics, Psychology, Sociology, and Statistics) to test their ideas of the null hypothesis. In particular, inferential statistics is treated as a means to better understand interpretations and evaluations of significance levels and p-values. This paper is an exercise in the sociology of sociology and, more specifically, an exploration into the sociology of statistics, focusing on the rhetorical structure of inferential statistics.

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