Fast forward five decades to 2016, I am continually surprised, sometimes shocked, to see that in some fields where qualitative research can add so much weight and create real-world impacts still have little to no utilization of this methodology and its methods. These fields are so numerous that I almost can’t list them all, but at least include epidemiology, public health, medicine, and many others that have the word “science(s)” attached to it.
In late 2015, a letter from the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that openly dismissed qualitative research in a journal article rejection letter (see this Twitter link) created outrage among qualitative researchers from around the world.
As a social scientist trained in BOTH qualitative and quantitative research methods, on top of a pure mathematics and Geographic Information Science (GIS) background, I sometimes find it hard to interact with people from certain fields. While we are required to take statistics and modelling classes for our degrees, they could have finished graduate school and advanced way ahead in their academic, industry or government careers without ever doing one proper qualitative interview or understanding its importance (no, a five-minute patient history conversation does not qualify as an interview). Do you think some randomized controlled trials will really work without consideration of the real-world context? Do you think some double-blind experiments with a random sampling will really result in effective health promotion programs without taking account of multiple aspects of the participants’ lives? Yet, these are the people who always say such phrases as “I’ve never done qualitative research, I just don’t believe in it” or “I’m a scientist, I don’t do qualitative research.”
Qualitative methods, if done right, have the potential to significantly increase the real-world impact of research in an academic or industry setting. I sincerely hope that more and more researchers will learn about and incorporate this research tradition into their work, so that our research becomes more relevant, contextual and effective in solving problems of our contemporary world. I am glad that the little I am doing as a consultant and a researcher contributes to this goal.
Notes: This post is purposefully kept short to fit with the length of a blog post and the ideas presented are solely of the author’s.