The Looking Glass

The Looking Glass

The Department of Psychology


Michelle Butler

The extent to which a finding can be generalized does not indicate whether or not a study is science or, whether it is valuable. Studies done on gay, lesbian and bisexual youth suicide run into the argument that subjects who have attempted suicide do not belong to the population of those who have completed suicide. Therefore, the findings cannot be generalized. This is a ridiculous argument that prays on the impossibility of obtaining an interview with subjects who belong to the population of successful suicides. Findings can claim only that 30 to 40 percent of the gay, lesbian, and bisexual population under the age of 19 have attempted suicide. Most of the findings lack a heterosexual control group. While some of the studies could be improved by following the scientific method more rigorously, it is not the topic that limits the scientific quality. Significance comes with comparison groups, but the percentage is important despite the inability to generalize the findings. It certainly warrants further research.

Attacking the legitimacy of a scientific focus is an illegitimate argument against the unrelated issue of misguided science. The issue is not whether social context or psychoacoustics are viable, valuable scientific endeavors, but whether social scientists know enough to be assuming that the experience of one cannot be understood by someone who has not had the same experience. To assume such a thing eliminates their science. If no one can know the experience of another there is no way to study the impact of experience.

There is this thing called association. I may not be Jewish-Mexican, but I have had experiences that I can associate with the experiences of someone who is Jewish-Mexican. In my communication with someone who is Jewish-Mexican I can come to understand their experience. This might even be called the ability to generalize. This focus of study is hardly "trivial." It is, however, very political. It is important to all humanity that social scientists not make the mistake of assuming that humans lack the capacity to generalize experience. Without that ability any effort to get along is futile, and social science is trapped in a pointless existence.

I would agree that true science is blind to politically correct demands. It may be politically incorrect of me to say that straight, white, Christian men have the capacity to understand the experience of a Mexican-Jewish lesbian, but I'm sure that any real science would find that to be the case. It's simply a matter of explaining an observable fact. On the other hand, note that my hypothesis is based on capacity, and does not claim an inevitable likelihood that one will make the effort to understand. Do you understand?

See Dr. Perrott's article.
See Tanya Madden's article

Prepared -- This edition update by

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