It has been written that there are the trustworthy ‘hard sciences’ such as astronomy, biology, chemistry and physics and there are the not so trustworthy ‘soft sciences’ such as anthropology, ecology, political science and sociology
Hard sciences are characterized as relying on experimental, empirical, quantifiable data, using the scientific method, and focusing on accuracy and objectivity.
Soft sciences are less quantifiable and considered subjective. Most social sciences are classified as soft sciences.
Psychology, a social science because it involves interactions between and among people, is usually classified as a soft science because it gathers subjective data, even though that data may be analyzed objectively. So psychology may be part hard science and part soft science, sort of like a zebra.
Research studies in the social sciences seeking clear answers to specific questions often end up with different and conflicting conclusions, because there is no single method for researchers to use in collecting data and analyzing it to come up with reliable results. In the hard sciences on the other hand, the scientific method is used in experiments, gathering data, analyzing it, and writing the conclusions and summary report.
The author of this book points out that oftentimes, there are mountains of sometimes inconsistent conclusions from original research studies in the social sciences, and trying to make sense of them can be frustrating. Enter meta-analysis. What is that?
Meta-analysis, as described by the author, is “a suite of techniques for drawing generalizable conclusions from a set of sometimes inconsistent original studies.”
This book is principally about meta-analysis. The book – described as ‘ground-braking’ by some reviewers – provides a proven set of tools for helping make sense of the conclusions derived from different studies. That set of tools called meta-analysis consists of a six-stage process, namely:
- Literature Search
- Data Coding
- Calculating and Combining Effect Sizes
- Explaining Differences in Effect Sizes Across Original Studies
- Identifying Areas for Further Research
This book provides statistical approaches to meta-analysis that researchers have found to be useful in the area of public management and policy. Besides that, the author and his team provide four original research studies in this area that he and his team conducted. The studies pertain to:
- School vouchers
- Performance measurement
- Public housing decentralization
- Public service motivation
A detailed discussion of the step-by-step process on how to conduct a meta-analysis is offered to students in this book.
The author first encountered meta-analysis in 1987 at the University of Michigan when it was not yet developed and he found it not very useful for social scientists. But by the year 2000, advances had come rapidly in econometrics, and the quality of social science research had improved greatly.
He writes that today, “the techniques of meta-analysis now can be used effectively not only to synthesize the results from original quantitative research in public management, public policy and the social sciences, but also account or systematic variation in the conclusions from the original research.”
His hope is that from a practical standpoint, this book can lead to‘more effective governance.’ He urges scholars of public management and policy to look into ways how their research studies can lead to evidence-based management.
In other words, in my opinion, let us have people in government make informed decisions based on gathered data and analysis, instead of guessing or shooting from the hip, or out of political motives.
The exciting idea of improving the way we govern ourselves through this newly-developing area of meta-analysis is extensively and intensively discussed in this unique book. It is not only for students of research and public policy, but also for those who would improve government through research.
Evan J. Ringquist is professor and director of the Ph.D. programs in Public Affairs and Public Policy in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. He also holds affiliate appointments in the Department of Political Science and West European Studies.
Mary R. Anderson is an assistant professor of government and world affairs at the University of Tampa. She holds a B.A. degree in history and political science from the University of Central Florida and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Florida State University.