Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.
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In Defence of Ideas
One of the criticisms a few academic social scientists have made about my book is that it isn’t based on hard evidence. Indeed one commented in a report on my work that the contention that there were substantial differences in the attitudes of Scots and English people just wasn’t borne out by the attitude surveys which have been carried out. In other words, there was little empirical evidence for my thesis so it must be wrong.
Now I believe that empirical evidence is important. In fact one of the Centre’s initiatives this year is to run action research training courses to encourage people to measure the impact of their projects. But empirical evidence only takes you so far. In the case of differences between how the Scots and the English view the world perhaps this doesn’t emerge in how they answer surveys but that doesn’t mean there aren’t differences. It might just mean that social scientists can’t come up with sophisticated enough questions or that there are some attitudes which are so deeply embedded, almost subliminal, that they aren’t open to being measured in this way. What’s more the fact that when Scots go to England they have the sense of being in a different country, and vice versa, must mean that there are real differences between the countries and that these differences must be based on something. What I did in my book is try to catalogue these and give, what I consider anyway, plausible explanations for where they come from.
So, of course, measurement and evidence are important but there must also be room for ideas – hunches, speculations, notions. If these ideas seem plausible then they can form the basis of future surveys. In other words, ideas often precede evidence. I had a good discussion about this yesterday when I had lunch with Mike Smith, a psychiatrist who is involved in public mental health and he told me that this very theme is on the cover of the latest edition of the doctors’ journal – The Lancet. It reads: “If everything has to be double-blinded, randomised and evidence-based where does that leave new ideas?” Precisely. I rest my case.
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