The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

The Role Quantitative Research Plays in Shaping the Science of Social Work

Friday, January 17, 2014: 10:00 AM-11:45 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 003B River Level (San Antonio, TX)
Cluster: Research Design and Measurement
Symposium Organizer:
Shenyang Guo, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
John S. Brekke, PhD, University of Southern California and Mark W. Fraser, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Recently there is a movement toward shaping a science of social work among advocates and prominent social work researchers nationally and internationally. In United States, social work started as a profession in 1955 when the National Association of Social Workers began and joined together seven professional social work organizations (Brekke, Research on Social Work Practice, 2012). Although the call for “strengthening the scientific base of social work practice” was declared 50 years ago (Boehm, 1961, Social Service Review, pp. 144-152), social work has not been practiced and viewed as a scientific discipline. Using two indicators (the total number of journals and the impact factors of those journals), John Brekke (2012, pp. 1-10) showed that social work’s contribution to expanding the scientific knowledge base has been relatively limited: we are lagging behind our adjacent disciplines such as nursing, clinical psychology, and psychiatry. Brekke further shows that science is not mentioned in the Preamble to the NASW Code of Ethics and the word research appears once in the Preamble; in contrast, this is not the case in the similar documents of the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association.

In this symposium, we will focus on a crucial issue of science: methods; specifically, we aim to use evidence and examples to address an important question that has not been discussed in prior literature along this line: what role should quantitative methods play in shaping the science of social work? Our discussion relies on the following proposition: mathematics is a fundamental method for all sciences, and should be used as the key method of social work science.

The symposium is organized as follows. In the introduction, we discuss the role of quantitative research in generating scientific knowledge from the perspectives of positivist tradition of social research and evidence-based practice in helping professions. Quantitative research emerged from the positivist tradition in the 1820s promoted by French philosopher Auguste Comte, who applied principles of the Scientific Revolution to practical social purposes. In contemporary social sciences, logical positivism is often narrowly defined by equating it with the hypothetic-deductive approach. The recent philosophical shift among the helping professions emphasizing evidence-based practices has propelled the use of quantitative methods in social work research. This starting point is in general consistent with views most social work researchers currently hold. We then move to a discussion about pros and cons economists viewed on the following question when they faced the same challenge of shaping economics into science: how much math should be used in economics and whether the degree to which math is used should be the sole standard assessing the maturity of science?

Following the introduction, three presenters will show examples of applying statistical methods (i.e., structural equation modeling, item response theory, and advanced statistical models for causal inference) to elevate the level of scientific inquiry and to address challenging social work research questions. The discussion will focus on fundamental issues Brekke raised—for instance, how these statistical methods help us publish in journals with high impact scores?

* noted as presenting author
Structural Equation Modeling's Role in Social Work Research
Natasha Bowen, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Harnessing the Power of Item Response Theory in Social Work Science and Practice
Michael Canute Lambert, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Causal Inference: Models and Methods
Roderick A. Rose, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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